The Chemistry of Mac & Cheese


Mac & cheese is a delicious composition of cheese and noodles and salt. I chose to research the chemistry of mac & cheese because it’s my favorite food and seems really simple but is actually pretty complex. My life is not too affected by mac & cheese but I would eat it every single day for the rest of my life if I could.

Composition of ...Enriched macaroni product-

Wheat flour, Niacin, Iron, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Folic Acid

Niacin- C6H5NO2

Cheese Sauce Mix

Whey, Milkfat, Milk protein concentrate, Salt, Sodium tripolyphosphate, Citric acid, Lactic acid, Sodium, Phosphate, Calcium phosphate, Milk, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Cheese Culture

Salt- NaCl

Macaroni Noodles

Wheat flour, Salt, Egg, Water, Vegetable oil

Salt- NaCl

Shredded Cheese

Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto, Potato Starch and Powdered Cellulose, Natamycin

Milk- water: H₂O, Salt: NaCl, Lactose: C12H22O11

Heavy Cream

Heavy cream, skim milk, milkfat

Heavy Cream- water: H₂O, Salt: NaCl, Lactose: C12H22O11

Table salt

Salt, calcium silicate, dextrose, potassium iodide

Salt- NaCl

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Two Main Components- Salt and Milk

Salt- NaCl

Milk- water: H₂O, Salt: NaCl Lactose: C12H22O11

Chemistry's Role

Salt- Salt can either be man-made or mined. Salt can be created by combining sodium and chloride.

    • Solar Evaporation Method: Oldest method of salt production, only practical to use in warm climates where the evaporation rate exceeds the precipitation rate.
    • Rock Salt Mining Method: Most dramatic method to obtaining salt, large machines pass through passages to perform multiple operations to gather salt, salt mines are the safest mines and are always a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit, salt may appear in veins
    • Vacuum Evaporation Method: produces very pure salt that is fine in texture and used in things requiring highest quality salt, wells are drilled and connected by little passageways where water is pumped through and salt is dissolved and then forced to the top and into a brine, the solution is then put through 3-5 pressure chambers where the salt is forced out of the solution and then is on it’s own.

Milk- Milk is taken from a cow.

    • Rearing: cows are fed grass, grain, or chud in order to keep them fat and healthy
    • Harvesting: cows are milked at least twice a day, milking can take down to 5 minutes because of new suction machines
    • Storing: milk is stored in refrigerated silos, the silos are agitated often to make sure the fat doesn’t separate in the milk
    • Transportation: milk is transported by tankers which pick up new milk every 24 to 48 hours
    • Lab testing: samples of milk are taken from the original, untouched batch of milk and tested for antibiotics and quality is rated
    • Processing:
      • Pasteurization: heating and then cooling milk so there’s no contamination
      • Homogenization: milk is pushed through atomizer so that fat is evenly distributed
      • Separation: milk is spun through a centrifuge to separate cream from milk, then remixed to get desired fat content (i.e 1% milk, 2% milk, whole milk)
      • Further processing: milk can be flavored, turned into yogurt, or cheese, if desired
    • Packaging: milk goes through pipes to automatic packing machines that fill and seal in paper cartons or plastic jugs and then an expiration date is printed onto it
    • Selling: The milk is stored in a giant, refrigerated room until it is put onto shelves in a store.

Background Research

Salt- Either mined or man-made. Salt has a very pungent taste, so when it is used in small amounts, it helps express other flavors. In mac & cheese, salt is used to keep oil and water together.

Milk- Milk is taken from cows. Milk is used to make the cheese that goes into mac & cheese.


    • When melted, high quality cheese separates and cannot be mixed back together.
      • Solution: Mornay sauce… combo of flour, butter, milk (tastes more like flour than cheese bc flour masks cheese flavor).
    • Canadian born James L. Kraft discovered a better solution around 1912
    • Solution: add a small amount of sodium phosphate to keep oils from separating and cheese from clumping
      • Lead to canned and shelved cheese
      • Sold to the US military during WW1
      • Creation ultimately lead to the creation of Velveeta and processed cheese
    • The same chemistry can be applied to high end cheeses to achieve gourmet mac and cheese
    • Today, sodium citrate is used in place of sodium phosphate
    • Sodium citrate: salt that ties together two impossible-to-mix components: oil and water
    • When cheese is a solid, it is a stable emulsion.
    • Tiny drops of milk are dispersed within the cheese and are held together by a net of interlinked proteins.
    • When cheese melts, the protein net is broken down
      • Oil and water break away from each other

    • Sodium citrate forms bonds with the separated fat and water molecules and holds everything together
    • End Result- smooth sauce
      • Cheese can be cut into processed slices
    • For every 100 grams of cheese and 93 grams of milk or water, 4 grams of sodium citrate is added.
    • When compared to Mornay sauce, Kraft’s idea results in more of a rich flavored cheese
    • Sauce reheats easily and can be kept cold

    • Emulsion: a fine dispersion of minute droplets of one liquid in another in which it is not soluble or miscible.

    • Salt

    • Water is a chemical
    • Acts as a reactant in cooking macaroni
    • Chemistry of water’s breakdown is called Electrolysis

    • Stovetop Mac and Cheese
      • 1 ½ cups macaroni
      • 6 oz processed, shredded cheese
      • ½ shredded cheddar cheese
      • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
      • Salt to taste!page=product&id=F21A55E2-169F-11E0-BF92-FEFD45A4D471

    • Kraft Mac and Cheese
      • enriched macaroni product
      • cheese sauce mix

    • Milk has casein in it
      • casein - type of protein that clumps together to form micelles
      • Have negative charge
    • When milk is treated with an acid and heat is applied, the electric charge of casein reaches a tipping point
      • Molecules cling together forming curds
      • Squeeze out any excessive liquids

    • Shredded cheese ingredients
      • Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto, Potato Starch and Powdered Cellulose, Natamycin)

    • Noodle ingredients
      • all-purpose flour, salt, egg, water, vegetable oil!page=product&id=F21A55E2-169F-11E0-BF92-FEFD45A4D471

    • Kraft ingredients
      • enriched macaroni product (wheat flour, niacin, iron, vitamin b1,vitamin b2, folic acid), cheese sauce mix (whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate,Yellow 5, Yellow 6, cheese culture).

    • Heavy cream
      • Heavy cream, skim milk, milkfat,,,

    • HOW:

deep-shaft mining, solution mining or solar evaporation.

    • WHAT:


    • 40% sodium
    • 60% chlorine

One of the most abundant minerals on Earth

    • WHEN:

Discovered 6050 BC

Used as religious offering by ancient egyptians

    • WHY:

Table salt is used to flavor food

    • WHERE:

China is the biggest salt producer

    • Table salt
      • Salt, calcium silicate, dextrose, potassium iodide*,

    • HOW:

Milk is produced naturally in cows

    • WHAT:

an opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young.

    • WHEN:

Milk is gathered when a female cow is milked. This can take 5 minutes depending on the machine used.

    • WHY:

Milk is used to fulfill dietary needs of a mammary animal’s young, human just capitalize on it and use it for our nutrition as well.

    • WHERE:

Milk is used in all dairy products such as cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese. There are many other uses though.

About the Author

Kelsey Sargent is a junior at Billings Senior High. She plans on playing college volleyball in California while majoring in marine biology and zoology. Kelsey has 2 dogs named Mowgli and Stan and a cat named Punkin’. In her spare time she likes to travel to the Crazy Mountains and hike with her dogs and take pictures of the stars. Kelsey’s favorite food is macaroni and cheese (clearly) and her favorite color is blue.