Does Nacho Cheese Have Dairy? (Answered)

This article explores the topic of whether there is dairy in nacho cheese. It looks at the ingredients of popular nacho cheese brands to determine if they contain dairy or if they are dairy-free. Here is what you need to know about dairy in nacho cheese…

Is There Dairy In Nacho Cheese?

When you see the word “cheese”, it is a good sign that a food contains dairy. Cheese is derived from milk. It is created by coagulating milk until cheese curds are formed. The solid curds are separated from the liquid whey and then typically molded into a cheese shape.

Nacho cheese has dairy because cheese is a dairy product. It can be made at home, for example, by slowly melting down cheddar and/or other cheeses and mixing in milk with a thickener like cornstarch.

There are variations in how different nacho cheese is made because there is no standard process for producing it. As Peggy Armstrong of the International Dairy Foods Association told Food & Wine, “There is no definition or standard for nacho cheese”. In other words, manufacturers, home cooks, and chefs have a lot of liberty in deciding their version of nacho cheese.

To give you an idea of what is in store-bought nacho cheese products, the table below provides their ingredients and whether they contain dairy. As a spoiler, all of them have dairy.

Nacho Cheese ProductContains Dairy (Yes or No)?Ingredients
Ricos Gourmet Nacho Cheese SauceYesCheese Whey, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Vegetable Oil (Contains One or More of the Following: Canola, Soybean, Sunflower), Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto), Contains Less than 2% of Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Jalapeno Peppers, Sodium Phosphate, Distilled Vinegar, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Anhydrous Milkfat, Lactic Acid, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Natural Flavors, Tomato Paste, Citric Acid, Nonfat Dry Milk, Xanthan Gum, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Caramel Color (Contains Sulfites), Annatto and Turmeric (as Colors).
Tostitos Medium Nacho Cheese DipYesWater, Canola Oil, Maltodextrin (Made from Corn), Modified Corn and Tapioca Starch, and less than 2% of the following: Natural and Artificial Flavors, Milk, Cream, Enzymes, Salt, Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Yeast Extract, Xanthan Gum, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Blue Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Citric Acid, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Sugar, Spices, Jalapeño Pepper, DATEM, Mono- and Diglycerides, Artificial Color, Glucono Delta Lactone, Phosphoric Acid, and Acetic Acid.
Doritos Nacho Cheese DipYesWater, Rapeseed Oil, Sour Cream (from Milk) (8%), Mature White Cheddar Cheese (from Milk) (5%), White Wine Vinegar, Modified Maize Starch, Dried Skimmed Milk, Sugar, Whey Protein Concentrate (Whey Protein (Milk), Full Cream Milk Powder, Cream Powder (Milk)), Salt, Dried Egg Yolk, Spices, Acidity Regulator (Lactic Acid), Garlic Purée, Stabiliser (Xanthan Gum), Garlic Powder, Colour (Paprika Extract), Dried Red Pepper, Onion Powder, Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Oregano, Dried Chillies.
Gehl’s Cheese Sauce YesWater, Cheese Whey, Palm Oil, Modified Food Starch, Maltodextrin, Contains 2% Or Less Of Each Of The Following: Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Lactic Acid, Vinegar, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Nonfat Milk, Citric Acid, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hexmetaphosphate, Butterfat, Phosphoric Acid, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Cream, Annatto Extract (Color), Paprika Extract (Color), Beta Apocarotenal (Color).
Rosarita Nacho Cheese SauceYesWater, Cheddar Cheese (Cheese [Cultured Pasteurized Milk, Salt, Enzymes], Water, Salt, Potassium Sorbate), Soybean Oil, Modified Corn Starch, Contains 2% or less of: Chili Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Cheese Blend (Cheddar, Granular, Semi-Soft, and Blue Cheese [Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Water, Salt, Lactic Acid, Vinegar, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor), Tomato Paste, Salt, Disodium Phosphate, FD&C Yellow 5 & 6, DATEM and Citric Acid.
Pace Medium Nacho Cheese SauceYesWater, Modified Food Starch, Heavy Cream, Wheat Flour, Salt, Cheddar And Semisoft Cheese (Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Cheese Paste (Monterey Jack Cheese [Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Surface Ripened Semisoft Cheese [Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Whey, Water, Salt), Cream Cheese (Milk And Cream, Cultures, Salt, Carob Bean Gum), Sugar, Distilled Vinegar, Butter, Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, And/Or Soybean), Yeast Extract, Sour Cream, Whey, Milk, Milkfat, Natural Flavoring, Annatto Extract For Color, Lactic Acid, Vinegar, Soy Lecithin.
Mrs. Renfro’s Nacho Cheese DipYesWater, Dried Cheese Mix (Corn Starch, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Salt, Whey Protein Concentrate, Inactive Dry Yeast, Cheese Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Enzyme Modified Soy Lecithin, Annatto & Paprika Extracts as color, Gum Arabic, Spices.), Tomato, Onion, Tomato Juice, Green Chile Peppers, Cheese Flavor (Cheese Flavor, Mozzarella Cheese [part skim low fat milk, cultures, salt, enzymes], Sodium Citrate, Xanthan Gum, Salt, Cheddar Cheese [pasteurized milk, cultures, salt, enzymes]), Sweet Red Peppers, Sweet Green Peppers, Canola Oil, Palm Oil, Coconut Oil, Jalapeño Peppers, Gluconic Acid, Natural Flavor, Tomato Puree, Dried Garlic, Acetic Acid.
Fritos Mild Cheddar Cheese DipYesSkim Milk, Water, Canola Oil, Modified Corn Starch, Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Maltodextrin (Made from Corn), and Less Than 2% of the Following: Natural Flavors, Salt, Disodium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Yeast Extract, Annatto, Cellulose Gum, Monosodium Glutamate, Acetic Acid, Datem, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, and Mono- and Diglycerides.
La Preferida Nacho Cheese SauceYesCheese Whey, Water, Vegetable Oil (Contains One or More of the Following: Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, Soybean Oil), Modified Food Starch, Contains 2% or Less of: Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Pasteurized Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Natural Flavors, Maltodextrin, Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Jalapeno Peppers, Distilled Vinegar, Monosodium Glutamate, Datem, Mono-and Diglycerides, Color Added, Yellow 5, Yellow 6.
Chef-Mate !Que Bueno! Nacho Cheese SauceYesWater, Aged Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Soybean Oil, Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste, Citric Acid), Modified Cornstarch, 2% Or Less Of Jalapeno Peppers (Jalapeno Peppers, Salt, Acetic Acid), Cornstarch, Green Chiles, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Datem, Mono- And Diglycerides, Turmeric Oleoresin (Color), Paprika Oleoresin (Color).
Great Value Nacho Cheese SauceYesWater, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following: Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Sunflower Oil), Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Modified Cornstarch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Colors [Beta Carotene, Paprika, Annatto]), Cornstarch, Jalapeño Peppers, Nonfat Dry Milk, Sodium Phosphate, Vinegar, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Tomato Paste, Cellulose Gum, DATEM, Mono- and Diglycerides, Milkfat, Cultured Cream, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Annatto Extract (Color), Whey, Paprika Extract (Color)
Kroger Nacho Cheese SauceYesWhey, Vegetable Oil (Contains One or More of the Following: Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, Soybean Oil), Modified Corn Starch, Water, Tomato Paste, Jalapeno Puree (Jalapeno Peppers, Salt, Acetic Acid), Natural Flavor, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Distilled Vinegar, Onion Powder, Mono-and Diglycerides, Dolor Added, Spice, Yellow 5, Yellow 6.

Non-Dairy Nacho Cheese

Of course, in today’s world, there are non-dairy alternatives for most dairy products. Here are some dairy-free nacho cheese options you might consider if you wish to avoid dairy: