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vegan cashew cheese sauceAs more people adopt a vegan diet or flexitarian lifestyle, demand has grown for meat and dairy substitutes. Vegan cheese has been around for decades and today, choices range from traditional soy to nut-based products.

The taste and experience have also improved. Vegan cheese now softens for better meltability and can replicate the taste and texture of parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta. If you want to try vegan cheese, learn more about the options.

Sources of Vegan Cheese

The first dairy-free cheese goes back to the late 19th century, when John Harvey Kellogg introduced Nuttolene. Made from nuts, it provided a protein source that looked and spread like cream cheese.

Whether you’re thinking about making pizza or a sandwich, sources of vegan cheese include:

  • Soy: These products start with soybeans and are prepared in a manner similar to tofu. Soy cheese tends to come in slices, rather than a full block.
  • Nuts: Tree nuts like cashews, almonds and macadamia nuts are fermented and combined with probiotic cultures. Nutritional yeast is added for flavor and the length of aging creates multiple consistencies. Less time is needed to make a cream cheese-like product, while several weeks are needed for a harder variety.
  • Tapioca Starch: Derived from the cassava plant, this product is often used as a natural thickener. For a non-dairy cheese, it’s used in sheet and shredded forms for its ability to brown and soften.
  • Coconut: Coconut milk or cream may be used to create a lighter, more spreadable cheese alternative.
  • Aquafaba: The liquid found in cans of chickpeas has proven to be a reliable egg substitute and provides similar properties for vegan cheese – particularly, its ability to soften and melt. This product may be combined with a binder or thickener and nut-based milk.

Despite this variety, vegan cheese still has yet to provide the same nutritional benefits as dairy products. Although they are lower in fat, vegan cheeses are also lower in calcium, protein and have more sodium.

How Vegan Cheese Is Made

Fermentation is key for creating vegan cheese. Protein gets extracted from the rest of the plant source, then an oil and thickening agent like carrageenan gum may be added to create a food that physically cuts, crumbles or spreads. This combination sits for as long as two weeks and bacteria breaks down the protein further. During this time, flavoring agents like nutritional yeast or truffle oil may be included.

In certain cases, casein – the product that gives dairy cheese its melty quality – may be added. Yet at this point, the product can no longer be considered “vegan” but a cheese substitute. In terms of nutritional benefits, vegan cheese is increasingly fortified with B12 and other vitamins to supplement a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Replicating Dairy Cheese

Vegan cheese now spans multiple varieties, from spreadable to hard blocks and nacho cheese. These developments have expanded the possibilities of vegan cooking and using dairy substitutes. Common forms include:

  • Vegan parmesan, which is primarily based around the flavor of nutritional yeast.
  • Vegan cheddar, often in shredded and slice forms that provide a degree of meltability.
  • Vegan mozzarella, which can be added to pizzas and eaten uncooked in salads.
  • Vegan ricotta, which has a softer, crumblier consistency.
  • Vegan cream cheese, which is a spreadable nut or soy-based product.
  • Soft cheeses mimicking brie, camembert and nacho-ready cheese.

Explore all possibilities of vegan cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner at Colony Diner. Check out our vegan menu today!