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Consumer perception of Cheddar cheese color

Cheddar cheese color consumer perception dairynews7x7


The color of Cheddar cheese in the US is influenced by many factors, primarily the amount of annatto added as a colorant. The US FDA is currently reviewing its definition of the term “natural” on food labels, which may result in the use of colorants being restricted in natural cheeses. The objective of this study was to evaluate how consumers perceive Cheddar cheese color to better understand how changes to legislation surrounding colorants in natural Cheddar cheese may affect consumption. We were also interested in determining if a relationship exists between color and other perceived characteristics of Cheddar cheese.

Two online surveys on Cheddar cheese color and flavor attributes (n = 1226 and n = 1183, respectively) were conducted, followed by a consumer acceptance test on 6 commercially available Cheddar cheeses (n = 196). Overall, consumers preferred light orange color in Cheddar cheese over dark orange or white Cheddar cheese, but segmentation was observed for Cheddar color preference. Light orange Cheddar and white Cheddar were perceived as approximately equal in terms of “naturalness.” White and light orange Cheddars were perceived as more natural than dark orange Cheddars conceptually and in consumer acceptance testing.

White Cheddar was considered most natural by 50.3% of n = 1283 survey participants and 43.4% of n = 196 consumer acceptance test participants, while light orange Cheddar was perceived as most natural by 40.6% and 45.9% of these groups respectively. A bimodal distribution was observed in both the online survey and in consumer acceptance testing for “naturalness” of Cheddar cheese color, with a subset of consumers (31.4% of n = 1183 survey participants and 30.6% of n = 196 consumer testing participants) indicating that white Cheddar was the least natural option. Consumers associated orange color in Cheddar cheese with more “sharp” flavor both in an online survey format and consumer acceptance testing.

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The growing demand for “natural” products has led to discussions surrounding its definition, with the FDA seeking input from consumers on the use of “natural” labels. This poses a challenge for Cheddar cheese makers, as traditional methods of coloring may not meet potential new criteria.

Cheddar cheese, a significant player in the natural cheese category, relies on annatto for its distinctive orange hue. However, if stricter “natural” definitions are enforced, Cheddar cheese with added annatto may lose its natural label.

Furthermore, while the FDA provides standards for Cheddar cheese production, it lacks guidelines for flavor intensity or labeling. This leaves sharpness labeling up to manufacturers, often based on aging, leading to varied flavor profiles.

Research on consumer preferences for Cheddar cheese color suggests a preference for moderate orange hues. Yet, little is known about how consumers perceive the “naturalness” of Cheddar cheese color or its relationship with flavor attributes.

This study aims to evaluate consumer perceptions of Cheddar cheese color to understand views on “naturalness” and cheese color, as well as perceptions of cheese sharpness and color interrelation.



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