The Scandalous History Behind Kraft Mac and Cheese’s Neon Orange Color

Have you ever stopped to wonder why Kraft Mac and Cheese is such a bizarre, unappetizing shade of orange? You might assume it’s just food coloring, but the story behind this neon hue is far more sinister than you could imagine. Buckle up, because we’re about to expose the seedy underbelly of everyone’s favorite cheesy pasta.

1. The Great Cheese Fraud of the 17th Century

The scandalous saga of orange cheese began way back in 17th century England. At the time, the color of cheese was seen as a mark of quality. The most prized cheeses had a natural yellowish-orange tint due to the beta-carotene in the grass eaten by certain breeds of cows, like Jersey and Guernsey.

But some scheming cheesemakers realized they could make more moolah by skimming the cream off the top of the milk to sell separately or make butter. The problem? This process stripped away the natural orange color, leaving behind sad, white cheese that no one wanted to buy.

Rather than fess up to their cream-skimming scam, these cheesemakers decided to dye their inferior product using everything from saffron to marigold to carrot juice. Voila! Instant “quality” cheese that fooled unsuspecting customers. The orange color became a symbol of deceit and trickery.

2. The American Cheese Conspiracy

Fast forward a few centuries, and the orange cheese con made its way to America. Cheesemakers in dairy-centric states like Wisconsin and New York began adding coloring to their cheddar, partly to mimic the look of pricier English cheeses and partly to stand out from the competition.

But not everyone was on board with the orange cheese agenda. In New England, dairy farmers thumbed their noses at the tacky trend, sticking with au naturel white cheddar. They saw orange cheese for what it was: a cheap marketing ploy designed to trick consumers.

As the 20th century rolled around, the American cheese industry doubled down on the orange deception. Processed cheese products like Kraft Singles and Velveeta used artificial dyes to achieve an even more vivid, unnatural hue that screamed “fake cheese.” But Americans ate it up, literally and figuratively.

3. The Mac and Cheese Massacre

Enter Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, the nuclear orange abomination that took the cheese fakery to a whole new level. Launched in 1937, Kraft Dinner (as it’s known in Canada) quickly became a cheap, filling meal that kids loved and parents tolerated.

But here’s the dirty little secret: that neon orange “cheese” powder is about as far from real cheese as you can get. It’s a cocktail of chemicals, artificial flavors, and petroleum-based dyes that have no business being in anyone’s body, let alone a child’s.

The most egregious offenders are Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, two synthetic dyes that have been linked to hyperactivity in kids, skin rashes, asthma, and even cancer. These dyes are so sketchy that they’ve been banned in some European countries, but here in the good ol’ USA, we can’t shovel them into our kids’ mouths fast enough.

4. The Kraft Kover-Up

Faced with mounting criticism over its use of artificial dyes, Kraft decided to do some damage control. In 2016, they announced that they were removing Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 from their Mac and Cheese products marketed to children.

But don’t break out the celebratory boxed wine just yet. Kraft didn’t actually get rid of the dyes – they just replaced them with natural colorings like paprika, turmeric, and annatto. While these spices are definitely less toxic than the artificial stuff, they still serve no purpose other than to perpetuate the orange cheese lie.

And let’s be real, Kraft didn’t make this change out of the goodness of their corporate heart. They were facing a massive public relations nightmare as more and more people woke up to the dangers of artificial dyes. It was a calculated move to protect their bottom line, not our health.

5. The Sad State of Boxed Mac Today

Despite Kraft’s half-hearted attempt to clean up their act, the majority of their Mac and Cheese products still contain artificial colors. Only the ones specifically marketed to children got the natural dye treatment, because apparently Kraft thinks adults are fine with eating petroleum products.

And let’s not forget about the countless other brands of boxed mac and cheese that are still peddling the orange lie. Annie’s, Velveeta Shells and Cheese, Cracker Barrel – they’re all guilty of using sketchy dyes to make their products look more appealing than they actually are.

It’s a sad state of affairs when we’ve been so conditioned to expect our cheese to be orange that we can’t accept the reality of white cheddar. We’ve bought into the lie so completely that we don’t even question why our food looks like a traffic cone.

6. The Grass-Fed Cheese Renaissance

But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. With the rise of the artisanal food movement, more and more cheesemakers are embracing the beauty of naturally colored cheese. By allowing their cows to graze on beta-carotene-rich grasses, they’re producing cheeses with a delicate golden hue that puts Kraft’s nuclear orange to shame.

These small-batch, grass-fed cheeses are a revelation for anyone who’s only ever known the rubbery, artificially colored stuff. They’re proof that we don’t need to rely on synthetic dyes to make our food look appealing. Mother Nature’s got it covered.

7. Taking Back the Cheese

So what can we do to break free from the tyranny of orange cheese? It starts with education. We need to spread the word about the dirty history of cheese coloring and the dangers of artificial dyes. We need to demand better from the big cheese companies and vote with our dollars by supporting artisanal cheesemakers who prioritize quality over cosmetics.

But most importantly, we need to redefine what “good” cheese looks like. It’s not about the color, it’s about the flavor. It’s about the care and craftsmanship that goes into every wheel. It’s about celebrating the natural beauty of real, unadulterated dairy.

So, the next time you reach for that box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, take a moment to reflect on the orange lies you’ve been fed. Then put it back on the shelf and go find some real, honest-to-goodness cheese. Your taste buds (and your body) will thank you. Because let’s be real, if your cheese is the same color as a traffic cone, you might want to rethink your life choices.

David Wright
David Wright
David Wright is a seasoned food critic, passionate chef, and the visionary behind GrubFeed, a unique food blog that combines insightful culinary storytelling with mouth-watering recipes. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, David's fascination with food began in his grandmother's kitchen, where he learned the art of traditional cooking and the secrets behind every family recipe.

Must Read

Related Articles