What Is Vegan Cheese Made Of?
For those that are veterans of a plant based diet, the phrase will likely conjure up an image of unnaturally yellow slices or blocks of flavourless substance that belong as far away as possible from a plate of food.
However, as veganism has become more popular over the years, burgers and sausages have been perfected, enough different kinds of milk have become available to make your head spin and many omnivores (admittedly or not) would have a hard time telling between real and mock products.
Consumers, supermarkets and producers alike have jumped on to the plant based bandwagon, with the meat-free and dairy free vegan categories doubling in size over the last 5 years to a combined value of £600million each.
The UK’s biggest supermarkets have increased their plant based ranges by up to a staggering 175% and demand for plant based foods outside of the supermarkets has been spurred on by food establishments from fine dining restaurants to fast food joints.
Despite all of this progress, vegan cheese has been seemingly left behind – until now.
With veganism’s explosive rise in popularity showing no signs of slowing up any time soon and the market expected to be worth £2.8bn by 2024, a plethora of new dairy free cheeses have ‘apparated’ on supermarket aisles; sitting smugly by their dairy counterparts to tempt in ethically minded and curious consumers alike.
This new breed of ‘cheese’ goes big on taste and texture, with mock versions of popular types of cheeses – from creamy cheddar and Camembert to flavoursome Gouda, Halloumi & nacho cheese.
Whilst real cheese traditionally comes from cows, goats or sheep – we have soy, oils and nuts to thank for giving us an environmentally friendly, ethical and progressively delicious alternative to the substance that holds so many back from making the switch to veganism.
In this article, we take a look at the key ingredients that are used to make dairy free cheese, what unique properties they bring and the health benefits they offer.
There are so many different ingredients that can be used, and we expect there are even more that are yet to be discovered.
Take a look at the most popular ingredients used to make cheese – from the obvious to the more obscure.
Soybeans have been an ally of veganism since the early days, being responsible for the creation of staples including tempeh, plant milk, tofu and several meat substitutes.
Cheese made from soybeans won’t have you mistaking it for the real thing, but grated and sliced varieties lend themselves well to burgers, pasta and pizzas where a scattering of well-melted cheese is enough to make the difference.
Low in fat, low in cholesterol and a good source of protein – these cheeses made from soy, can be enjoyed relatively guilt-free.
The Achilles heel of cheese made from soybeans is that allergies to soy are not uncommon, leading supermarkets and restaurants to favour more allergy-friendly alternatives.
Several types of nuts can be used to make dairy free cheese including cashews, almonds and macadamias – offering a naturally rich and nutty taste that is found in traditional cheese.
As the process of making cheese with nuts is more labour intensive and the raw ingredients are costlier, many kinds of cheese made with nuts are small-batch artisan style.
Nuts are naturally high in fat so it’s best to avoid eating them by the wheel! The added health benefit of small scale production is that the product is usually less processed and more natural.
Like soy, nut allergies are not uncommon so some producers avoid using nuts in their production processes.
With nuts and soy both being relatively common allergens, many producers turn to oil to make their cheeses. Coconut oil is by far the most popular oil that is used and is the most common ingredient you’ll spot whilst browsing the ingredient lists of popular supermarket cheeses such as Violife, Sheese and Applewood.
Coconut oil is touted to have many natural benefits but like nuts, is naturally high in fat so enjoy in moderation. Consumers should also be conscious of what additives and preservatives are added in packs of vegan cheese available on supermarket shelves.
Sunflower oil and palm oil can also be used to make dairy free cheese. In the case of palm oil, producers must be conscious of how this is sourced if they are to win over the ethical consumer that opts for the vegan version.
Nutritional yeast or ‘Nooch’ as it’s known is a staple vegan cupboard filler that has provided a nutty and cheesy flavour to vegan dishes since its inception in the 1950s.
With a flaky consistency, Nooch is a super versatile essential that brings an extra dimension to soups, salads, pasta and just about any other dish whilst providing the B12 that vegans so crave.
To make plant based cheeses, nutritional yeast is combined with ingredients such as paprika, garlic and chilli to create parmesan style cheeses that can be shaken onto dishes for added flavour.
Sunflower seeds are a lesser-used ingredient which result in a creamy substance that can be substituted for both cream cheese or semi-soft cheddar.
Due to the soft texture, cheese made with sunflower seeds can easily be packed with other ingredients such as olives, peppers and chillies to create flavoured cheeses.
Sunflower seeds are a superfood which are naturally rich in protein, healthy fats and vitamins including vitamin A, B1 & B6.
Sprouted brown rice was originally used by MozzaRisella to create their line of award winning cheese, this was also the first plant based cheese to be made in Italy.
Since then, other producers have taken on the idea of using sprouted brown rice to create cheeses, resulting in a creamy soft cheese that melts well and is perfect for spreading.
Germinated brown rice is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres – making this cheese healthier than most others.
More producers and consumers are beginning to realise the true value and versatility of hemp, resulting in a host of new products being released; from beauty to foodstuffs.
With a naturally rich and nutty taste, hemp makes for the perfect alternative for those of us that cannot enjoy nuts due to allergies.
In the world of fromage, hemp is mixed with sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast and spices to create a parmesan style cheese that adds flavour to salads, soups and more.
Given the success of oat milk as a delicious, environmentally friendly milk alternative, it was only a matter of time before we saw an oat-based cheese grace our shelves.
The varieties made with oats is semi-soft, easily flavoured and can be combined with real ingredients to create flavoured cheeses.
Brands including Lauds, Miyokos, DIVA, Rooted Delights and giants Oatly all have cheeses within their range that use oats as the base ingredient.
Lupine (sometimes spelt ‘Lupin’) is a plant that produces lupin beans, a popular food in traditional Mediterranean cuisine.
Lupin beans are used as the primary ingredient in Veggie Karma’s range of artisan cheese which includes aged cheeses, parmesan and Sant Andreu aged. Other producers use lupin beans to create mouth-watering soft spread cheeses.
As well as being lower in carbs than wheat products, lupine contains prebiotic fibres that can assist the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.
No longer reserved exclusively for body butter and creams, shea cheese is a real thing!
Extracted from the nut of the African shea tree, shea is used by cheese producers to create a myriad of different styles of cheese including the holy grail that is vegan camembert.
Shea is a natural antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also great for your skin; but we wouldn’t recommend rubbing cheese on your face!
Another lesser used ingredient that some producers are having wild success with is wheat.
Due to the fermentation process involved, the cheese is able to develop flavours that are simply not found on supermarket shelves.
Producers including Max & Bien and Herbie are both utilising wheat in their cheese making processes – with award winning results.
Plant Based Milk
Of course, plant based cheese can also be made with plant based milk. The best milk will be dependent on the cheese which you wish to create.
Unlike traditional cheese, cheese made with plant based milk does not coagulate the same way and should therefore be aged with other methods.
Plant based milks including coconut, soy, rice, almond and oat can all be used to create innovative cheeses – all offering their own unique qualities to the finished product.
Due to the unique properties potato starch offers, it is possible to create delicious, gluten-free cheeses using it as the main ingredient.
Cheese made with this starch is semi-hard and melts beautifully, making it ideal for pizzas, nachos and cheese on toast.
Go Veggie uses potato starch in their plant based shreds range which includes mozzarella, Mexican and cheddar products.
We’re not kidding! Whilst uncommon, carrot is now being used as the key ingredient in cheese and in the world of vegan substitutes, there are certainly more unusual ones out there.
Soft texture, sweet flavour and natural orange colourings – why didn’t we think of this sooner? What’s more, carrots are loaded with good stuff like fibre, vitamin K and potassium.
Producer Vertigo uses carrot as the primary ingredient in their cheddar range which includes spicy cheddar, dill cheddar and ‘freestyle’ cheddar – the products have fantastic reviews so let’s see if it catches on.
Still not kidding…
Producer WayFare use butterbeans as the primary ingredient to their range of soft, spreadable cheeses which are almost identical in taste and consistency to leading brands of cream cheese.
Butterbeans are a nutrition powerhouse packed with minerals, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and protein. Perfect for mac and cheese!
Ok, now we are kidding. But hey, anything is possible!
Lab-Grown Cheese – Coming Soon!
One of the most exciting developments to rock the plant based cheese world is the potential of lab-grown cheese. You may have heard of lab-grown meats that are being developed, but how exactly does cheese work?
In Israel, start-up ‘Remilk’ is taking a completely different approach to creating the perfect cheese – using bacteria to grow casein (one of the key ingredients in cheese) and using it to create the real thing without a drop of cow’s milk involved.
This approach to creating a cheese that’s identical to a traditional cheese in every way except the use of animals will surely be enough to sway the “I’ll just miss the cheese” gang.
So when can you expect to see it on your shelves? The company recently completed a million dollar funding round and expect that their product will become commercially viable by the end of this year!
Plant based Cheese Flavourings
By default, vegan cheese can be fairly dull and tasteless. Whilst this is not an issue for pizzas, nachos, pastas and other foods where you just require a melted texture – it does cause issues with any fromage lovers that crave the rich creamy taste offered by dairy cheese.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of ingredients that can be added to vegan cheese to create a sensation of the taste buds. Some of the most popular flavourings and additions include:
- Sundried tomato
- Caramelised red onion
With vegan cheese, we are still in the early days of development in comparison to traditional cheese.
There are no strict rules on how a certain cheese must be made, which means that producers can get creative and trial new ways of doing things to create new and innovative products.
How Is Vegan Cheese Made?
The process of making vegan cheese will depend on the base that is being used as the primary ingredient for the product.
In most cases, it’s simply a case of blending up ingredients including the flavouring before leaving to set and then serving.
Generally speaking, the other ingredients include water, starch, oil, spices and seasoning. Some recipes may ask for more specialised ingredients like citric acid, gellan or xanthan gum which bring their own unique properties to the product.
If you plan to make vegan cheese at home, we would suggest opting for a recipe that uses nuts, (please check allergies!), as these methods require no specialist equipment other than a blender and can be made in a short time with minimal cooking experience required.
However, if you really want to develop the flavours like artisan vegan cheese, time is key. Many professionals in the vegan cheese game will wait weeks or even months to ensure that the full potential of their product is realised, even threading copper wire to mimic blue cheese.
Health Benefits of Vegan Cheese
The health benefits of vegan cheese you are enjoying will largely depend on what ingredients it is made from. However, you can generally expect the following benefits:
- Lower in fat than traditional dairy cheeses.
- Lower in cholesterol – most vegan cheeses contain none!
- No growth hormones.
- Protein-rich versions are available.
- Free from carcinogenic animal protein.
- Free from saturated animal fat.
- Can be fortified with B12 and other vitamins.
Like dairy cheeses, vegan alternatives should be enjoyed in moderation and consumers should be mindful that supermarket cheeses are processed foods that are often high in sodium.
Why Choose Vegan Cheese?
With new tastes and styles being developed constantly, we don’t expect it will be long before vegan cheese will rival or even surpass the taste of traditional cheese.
For non-vegans, unlike meat where an animal is directly involved, it can be hard to make the connection with vegan cheese and understand why people choose to eat it.
Here are some of the reasons why you might choose it over dairy cheese on your next shop:
- Generally lower in fat.
- Lower environmental impact.
- No animal involved or harmed at any stage of the process.
- Similar price to dairy cheese.
- Range of flavours and styles available
- Wide range available right here!
With more products than ever now available and supermarkets making them prominent throughout their stores, we expect that many curious omnivores will be tempted to slip a packet into their basket (we won’t tell).
So there you have it – just about any ingredient you can use to make vegan cheese, we hope this has helped you understand more about vegan cheese and how it’s made.
If you’d rather cut the wait time and order a delicious pre-made vegan cheese, you’re in the right place. We have a range of cheeses available to buy online including blocks, slices, spreads and grated cheeses.
We offer vegan cheeses from some of the most exciting producers on the market, from Camembert and brie to aged cheddar and flavoured cheeses.