If you’re following a vegan or plant-based diet but craving for some cheese, you may not need to skip it. While real cheese traditionally comes from the milk of cows, goats or sheep, alternatives made with nuts, nutritional yeast and vegetable oils. Thank food technology, human ingenuity and the popularity of vegan diets for bringing cheese into the dairy-free world. But what exactly is vegan cheese and what do you need to know before you try it?
What Ingredients Are in Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheeses are 100 percent animal-free and made using vegetable proteins. Usually they’re made from soy; nuts, such as cashews and almonds; and vegetable oils, such as coconut oil. You can also find cheeses that derive from agar, tapioca, peas and arrowroot. Many contain added starches and thickeners such as carrageenan and xanthan gum.
How Is Vegan Cheese Made?
When vegan cheesemakers first began creating vegan cheese, the main goal was to make it look like traditional cheese. But over time, they realized that wasn’t going to cut it. They had to figure out ways to make the animal-free cheese taste and act more like the real deal-think melting on toast.
Vegan cheese is created using a process that shares some similar steps with traditional cheesemaking-sans animal milk, of course.
Plant proteins are separated using bacteria. Then ingredients such as oils and thickeners are added to help create the desired cheeselike consistency.
Just like traditional cheeses, the next big thing needed for a tasty vegan cheese is time. The vegetable protein and bacteria sit and break down further. Unlike the animal proteins in dairy cheeses, however, those in vegan cheeses don’t naturally bond to one another. The result is flavors that tend to not be as complex and unique.
Does Vegan Cheese Taste Like Cheese?
The biggest thing you’ll notice with a lot of your dairy-free cheese is that it doesn’t melt quite the same. Don’t expect quite the same ooey-gooey experience with many of them when you top your pizza with vegan cheese. Keep in mind that all brands are different, so if you try one brand you don’t like, don’t give up on the rest. Vegan cheesemakers are coming up with new processes all the time that are making these cheeses taste even more like the traditional stuff.
Is Vegan Cheese Healthy?
If you’re avoiding regular cheese because of the saturated fat, you may not need to. Recent research shows cheese may actually be good for your health and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Vegan cheeses are typically lower in fat, protein and calcium than regular cheese and are likely gluten-free. Because vegan cheese is a processed food, it tends to be higher in sodium, so check your labels. Vegans can’t count on vegan cheese as a protein source, the way that vegetarians may sometimes rely on regular cheese. So while it’s not a super vegan health food the way kale and lentils are, vegans may rejoice in eating pizza, grilled cheese and queso dip again.