Sodium Citrate: Secret Ingredient to Smooth Melted Cheese

If you want to prepare the perfect cheese sauce for mac and cheese or pour it on a vegetable plate, you need to know the right way to melt it to get a delicious result with the perfect consistency.
While melting cheese seems easy enough, some factors will contribute to the success of your melted cheese.

Not all cheese is for melting.

To begin with, you need to know which cheese is best for melting and which is not. Since lean, slightly moist cheese (think Romano and Parmesan) burns quickly, these are not ideal processed cheeses. Yes, they melt into threads suitable for sitting on pasta, but they don’t become a sweet, smooth and creamy melted cheese sauce. Note: It is important to eat mindfully.

Cheeses with more moisture and low melting points provide delicious creamy sauces. Cheddar is one of the most common choices, but Swiss and Gruyère are also excellent options.

Smooth melted cheese secret ingredient

When a sweet young Monterey Jack cheese melts, it becomes soft, exudes and stretches smoothly. A lot is going on in this simple action. The fat and moisture that make up most of the cheese is an emulsion with fat particles in an aqueous medium. They are joined together by proteins which ultimately act as emulsifiers. And proteins come along with the help of calcium and form a net in the whole cheese.

As the fat heats up, it changes from solid to liquid, causing the oozing process to begin. At the same time, proteins loosen their delicate mutual grip with heat and form a sloppy matrix that expands together with the emulsion that now flows. The water in it remains juicy mixed with the fat. Perfect

Unfortunately, not all cheeses melt gently like Jack. For example, long-standing and robust Gruyere tends to separate into a lumpy, thick protein lump that is found in a pool of liquid fat. Not perfect

The reason?

Much of its water evaporated during the months in which the Gruyere aged. This concentrated its excellent taste – one of the reasons we love aged cheese – and increased its relative fat content. An emulsion is a delicate thing, and if there is less water to hold its side of the assembly, the fat is much more likely to break from its emulsified state and dissolve as it melts.

Furthermore, ageing causes the aggregation of cheese proteins into small compact groups. These tightly grouped tangles of aged protein are too tight to emulsify well, and since they are so intertwined, they don’t dissolve as easily when heated. Instead, they sit as the fat melts and drips around them.

A Salt Solution

Producers of smooth cheeses like Velveeta or American cheese have a solution: a saline solution. Sodium citrate is the best known of several ingredients known as melting salts which facilitate the melting of old or stubborn cheeses.

It is a white powder with a salty-acid taste, but its flavour is undetectable with cheese. The close-knit proteins that hinder the natural fusion process are connected with the help of calcium ions. When heating its mixture with the addition of liquid and a small amount of sodium citrate, sodium is replaced with a portion of calcium which helps the proteins to retain.

When it is heated, the proteins separate from each other and act again as emulsifiers, which strengthen the emulsion by keeping fat and water together.

The result is a stable, smooth, lump-free and leak-free melting, perfect for fondues and cheese sauces. “Nacho” is spelt out of the chemical formula for sodium citrate. See:

 

Coincidence? You tell me.

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