Abstract Twelve samples of calcium caseinate were examined for their hydration characteristics, progress of particle swelling and viscous flow behavior. The characteristics of the caseinates were related to their performance in production of imitation processed cheese (IPC), where water is limited and high shear is common. Hydration of the insoluble fractions, measured by a centrifugal method, was positively correlated with swelling as measured by the water absorption of the powders and with the shear stress developed at a shear rate of 100 s −1. Shear stress at 100 s −1 was positively correlated with both water absorption and particle surface area and inversely correlated with the particle diameter. Caseinates, characterized by rapid swelling and subsequent rapid particle disintegration, displayed typical pseudoplastic behavior which persisted until higher shear rates were attained. Caseinates, characterized by slow water absorption and limited swelling, also exhibited an initial pseudoplastic behavior but with a marked change occurring at relatively low shear rates (<75 s −1). From a comparison of these properties with the functional performance in IPC, it was concluded that the best cheese emulsions were associated with caseinates which hydrate and disperse quickly and which retain their pseudoplastic behavior over an extended range of shear rates.