The Secret to the Silkiest Queso? Sodium Citrate

One of our favorite challenges in the Bon Appétit test kitchen is turning popular restaurant dishes into easy-to-follow recipes. Kendra Vaculin, an associate food editor, was assigned to evaluate the queso fundido at the Yellow Rose restaurant in New York City as a result. Yet sodium citrate was one component that made her hesitate.

Owners When it comes to making the creamiest, silkiest queso, David and Krystiana Rizo swear by it. But there had to be a better choice since most home cooks probably don’t have sodium citrate on hand, right? Vaculin was confident that she could find a solution.

To achieve an equal and emulsified cheese-melt, she experimented with several different methods. It is said that evaporating milk with baking soda and lemon juice can produce a silky queso. Vaculin adjusted the ratios, but eventually realized that something was wrong. It’s effective up to a point, but the queso definitely became more clumpy as it rested, she added. In the end, it was impossible to duplicate sodium citrate’s miracle. This is why:

Normally, the fat and proteins in cheese start to separate as it melts; however, sodium citrate “binds them together so that when they melt, they do it uniformly and homogeneously,” according to Vaculin. This queso fundido will endure the test of time if the mixture is kept homogenized. In this recipe, sodium citrate cannot be substituted, as Vaculin learned during her testing. The sodium citrate version was excellent in that it maintained its beauty and viscosity even sitting on the pass for hours, which was kind of astonishing and helped convince us that it was worthwhile.

Despite having a relatively scientific name, sodium citrate is not hard to find. It can be found at some niche grocery stores as well as on Amazon. Any cheese can melt uniformly thanks to sodium citrate, thus it may also be used for gourmet dishes like macaroni and cheese or fondue. You’ve probably already consumed sodium citrate, which aids in the uniform melting and separation of cheeses like Velveeta and American cheese.

The queso recipe from Yellow Rose is thinner than some other versions—more akin to a sauce than a cloyingly thick scooper. Vaculin explains, “This is more like the consistency of a hot fudge.” It will still coat your chip, but it won’t be a large scoop that you pile on top of itself. With the help of sodium citrate, cheddar, which may be tricky to melt depending on how old it is, can serve as the base while beer adds a malty taste. Chorizo and Oaxaca cheese finish off this melty beauty after chopped jalapenos add some heat.

Red pot of queso fundido topped with cilantro being scooped by a hand with a tortilla chip

This recipe is all about a few simple tricks that’ll keep the melted cheese ooey, gooey, and dippable from first chip to last.

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