Can you taste the difference between two similar foods, even if you can’t see them?
Have you ever heard the saying “You eat with your eyes”? Do you think what our food looks like is part of its flavor? Find out by taking away your sense of sight as you taste two samples of cheese that have a lot in common—but not their color. Can you taste the difference if you can’t see what you’re eating?
In this activity, you and your family or friends will take turns seeing whether you can taste the difference between 2 very similar foods that happen to be different colors: white cheddar cheese and yellow cheddar cheese.
Choose 1 person to give out the cheese samples (or ask an adult to do this so everyone else can participate in the experiment). Everyone else will be a taster. Each taster should put a small plate in front of them and then put on their blindfold.
Once blindfolds are on, place 2 slices of white cheddar cheese on 1 side of each small plate. Place 2 slices of yellow cheddar cheese on the other side of each small plate. (It’s fine to stack the slices.)
Tell tasters to pick up 1 piece of cheese at a time. They should take small bites, chew slowly, and breathe through their noses as they chew and swallow. Ask the tasters to think about which slice is the white cheddar cheese and which slice is the yellow cheddar. Ask tasters to eat only 1 slice of each cheese at this point.
Once everyone has finished tasting, ask tasters to hold up the piece of cheese that they think is the white cheddar cheese. Then, ask tasters to hold up the piece of cheese that they think is the yellow cheddar cheese.
Have everyone taste the 2 samples of cheese without the blindfolds—do they taste different now that you can see them?
(Optional) Swap roles: Have anyone who hasn’t yet been a taster put on a blindfold and put a plate in front of them. Repeat steps 3–7 with these new tasters.
Once everyone has had a chance to be a taster, spend a few minutes discussing whether tasters thought the cheeses had different flavors or textures. What did they find different about them? Check out Food for Thought below to learn the real difference between white and yellow cheddar—and where cheddar cheese got its start!
Cheddar cheese originally hails from . . . wait for it . . . the town of Cheddar, England. Folks in Cheddar have been making cheddar cheese for more than 900 years. In the beginning, cheddar cheese was naturally yellow-orange because the cows’ milk also had a yellow-orange hue, thanks to a pigment in the flavorful grass the cows ate. That grass was more plentiful in the warmer months, so cheddar made during that time was yellow-orange and had a different flavor than the cheddar made during cooler months. The cheddar made during cooler seasons, when the cows were eating other grasses or hay, was more white-beige.
Cheese manufacturers eventually realized they could conceal these differences in cheese color by dyeing the milk bright orange using something called annatto extract. Made from annatto seeds, the dye is completely natural—and tasteless. So, in theory, there shouldn’t be any difference in flavor between the two colors of cheddar, right?
When we did this experiment in our lab at America’s Test Kitchen Kids, many of our tasters did detect a difference between the two colors of cheddar—though they often couldn’t determine which sample was the white cheddar and which was the yellow. We wondered if our cheeses might have different ingredients. When we looked at the ingredient lists on most packages of cheddar cheese, we saw the same things: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures (good bacteria that create a lot of flavor in cheese), salt, enzymes, and annatto (if the cheese is yellow). If annatto is flavorless, why were so many of our tasters able to detect a difference in flavor between the two cheeses?
After doing more research, we learned that some manufacturers make their white and yellow cheddars differently. They might use milk from cows that live in different areas of the country—and eat different food, which can give their milk different flavors. In some cases, one type of cheddar might contain more fat or moisture than the other, which could cause taste differences as well. But there might be another reason yellow cheddar tastes different from white: New research suggests that annatto might affect the microbes in cheese (the good bacteria that help form cheese and give it flavor). That would change the yellow cheese’s flavor, too.
Do you prefer white or yellow cheddar?
Do you prefer white cheddar or yellow cheddar? The answer likely depends on where you live. White cheddar cheese is more popular along the East Coast of the United States, particularly in the Northeast. (Have you heard of Vermont cheddar cheese? It’s white.) The rest of the United States is definitely on team yellow cheddar.