Cheese is ordinarily a dairy product, which means it is gotten from the milk of cows, goats, sheep or other dairy animals. That is not good news for vegans who follow a strict plant-based diet, or people who are allergic to dairy. Fortunately, several companies have invented a range of vegan cheeses that neither contain milk nor animal-based enzymes. Additionally, many of the vegan cheeses are delicious enough even to satisfy the lovers of dairy cheeses. Vegan cheese is available in multiple varieties, such as ornate rounds, shreds and slices. And, it is made from a broad range of plant-based ingredients.
What is vegan cheese made out of? Depending on the recipe, vegan cheese may be made out of soy protein, solid vegetable oil, nutritional yeast, nuts, thickening agar, flakes, tapioca flour, assorted bacterial cultures, natural enzymes, arrowroot, pea protein, vegetable glycerin or even bacterial cultures.
The origin of dairy-free cheese is believed to be 16th century China. During that time, the cheese was made from fermented tofu or whole soy. It became commercially accessible in the eighties under the “Daiya” and “Follow Your Heart” brands. The initial non-dairy cheese products were of poorer quality compared to regular cheeses. During the early nineties, Soymage was the only vegan cheese brand in the USA. Since that time, the range and flavour of dairy-free cheeses have improved substantially.
- Are you wondering, what is vegan cheese made out of?
- Is vegan cheese healthy?
- Does vegan cheese have the same taste like “real” cheese?
In this article, I aim to answer those questions and more.
What is Vegan Cheese Made Out Of?
The first non-dairy cheeses of the 1980s were not very palatable. But, over the years, the vegan cheese market has grown greatly. Now, there are numerous delicious varieties for all types of consumers to enjoy. They are usually crafted from all sorts of plant-based ingredients and can be store-bought or made at home. The following are some of the common ingredients used for making vegan cheese.
Soy is usually the most common ingredient in plant-based substitutes for animal products, and cheese is not an exception. A variety of commercial brands provide vegan cheese made out of different types of soy protein like tofu. The manufacturers also add vegetable oils and gums to help mimic the flavour and texture of traditional dairy cheese.
It’s worth noting that a few soy-based kinds of cheese contain the milk protein, casein. The protein is incorporated to let the processed product melt like dairy cheese. Such soy-based cheeses with casein are not considered vegan, but may still be safe for anyone with a lactose allergy.
Nuts and Seeds
Vegan cheese made from various nuts and seeds is popular among DIY cheese-makers because they are simple to make at home. Such types of cheese alternatives are also available in grocery stores. Since nut- and seed-based vegan cheeses require minimal processing, they are a huge draw to cheese producers. Generally, the process involves soaking, blending and fermenting the nuts or seeds with the same bacteria types utilized in dairy cheese. Salt, nutritional yeast and herbs may be incorporated as well for flavour purposes.
Pine nuts, almonds, pecans, macadamias, cashews, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are the most popular ingredients in a nut- and seed-based vegan cheeses.
Coconut Milk, Cream or Oil
The high-fat content in coconut makes for a creamy, non-dairy product. However, extra ingredients such as agar-agar, cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca, and carrageenan are usually added to the coconut to mimic real cheese. Since coconut has a naturally strong flavour that is not similar to cheese, other taste-boosting ingredients are usually added, like salt, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, garlic powder and onion powder.
Several vegan kinds of cheese are made using a mixture of various starchy flours, like arrowroot, all-purpose flour, tapioca or potato. Usually, the flours are combined with other suitable ingredients, such as almond milk, cashews, white beans, almond milk or coconut to form the final product. Vegan cheese recipes that incorporate bigger flour amounts result in a sauce-like cheese rather than a sliceable, block-shaped cheese. However, the results vary based on the specific recipe and ingredients utilized.
Aquafaba is basically the liquid derived from canned chickpeas. The liquid serves many unexpected purposes in vegan baking. Aquafaba is often utilized as a substitute for egg whites in baked products, but can also be used to make cheese. It is a convenient ingredient because it lets the final product melt when exposed to heat just like what real cheese does. The end product still needs binding ingredients, like agar-agar, carrageenan, coconut and cashews.
While rare, some vegan cheeses contain root vegetables like potatoes and carrots as the base ingredient. This type of cheese-making produces delicate, gravy-like cheese. The root veggies are cooked first until they become very soft and then mixed with other ingredients, such as water, salt, oil and several spices to form a smooth and creamy texture.
Is Vegan Cheese Healthy?
Whether vegan cheese can be considered healthy or not depends on the type chosen and rates of consumption. Vegan cheeses can constitute a healthy diet at any table, but should not be depended on as a sole nutritional source. Eating too much of one food may be unhealthy, particularly if it is replacing other essential dietary nutrients.
Generally, vegan diets have more fiber and certain vitamins and minerals in comparison to omnivorous diets. Additionally, they may contribute to a healthier gut and digestive system.
The primary concern with some vegan cheeses is the quantity of highly processed ingredients they might contain. Studies show that diets that feature more whole foods than processed foods have higher nutrient levels and are healthier in general.
Some of the highly processed vegan cheeses contain high quantities of refined oils, colour additives, sodium and preservatives, but lack enough nutritional value. Overall, such types of foods should be eaten minimally or avoided completely.
On the other hand, some vegan cheeses are mainly composed of whole foods, such as ground nuts and seeds, cooked veggies and spices. The minimally processed types are likely to provide more nutrients in the form of fiber, essential micronutrients and healthy fats. In that way, vegan cheese may be considered healthy.
Nutritionally speaking, the best for vegan cheese is a homemade product or choosing a pre-made choice with the best whole-food ingredients.
A well-balanced healthy diet needs to include a range of different fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Replacing vegan cheese with any of those primary food groups may throw one’s diet out of balance and pose a nutritional deficiency risk. Like with anything else, moderation and balance are critical when it comes to consuming vegan cheeses.
Vegan cheese may be healthy or disadvantageous depending on the ingredients and how it is consumed. Minimally processed types tend to offer more nutritional benefits than the ultra-processed version. It’s essential to always read the label before purchasing a vegan cheese from the store since vegan does not always mean healthy.
Does Vegan Cheese Have The Same Taste As Real Cheese?
The primary difference between dairy cheese and vegan cheese is curd, a consolidated protein. Regular cheese passes through phases where proteins bind to one another physically. That is why it’s possible to get multiple unique textures and tastes from ageing real cheese.
Vegan cheeses do not undergo any change in proteins like dairy cheeses. Therefore, they might not deliver the same sophisticated flavours as milk that goes through coagulation, acidification, pasteurization and ageing. However, numerous vegan cheese manufacturers are incorporating bacterial and ageing processes to make products that rival the texture and flavour of dairy cheese.
Generally, dairy-free cheese does not melt exactly the same as real cheese. It may not offer the same gooey experience when it’s topped over a pizza. However, each brand is different; therefore it’s worth trying several brands before finding the product that fit’s one’s personal needs. Makers of vegan cheeses are coming up with newer production methods all the time, which are making the cheeses taste more like real cheese.
Vegan cheese is available in many different forms including shredded, cream cheese, block and sliced, soft cheese, nacho cheese dips and parmesan-style. Some of the brands that offer high quality pre-made vegan cheese are Toffuti, Go Veggie, Kite Hill, Miyoko, Parma and Violife.
Making Dairy Cheese vs. Vegan Cheese
Dairy cheese is made out of casein, which is a type of milk protein derived from cow, goat, sheep or buffalo milk. During the production process, an assortment of enzymes, called rennet, is incorporated into the milk. Rennet is released in the stomach of the dairy animals and it is responsible for the coagulation (curding) of milk to form cheese. While there are some alternative methods for making dairy cheeses, rennet allows for the production of cheeses of various styles, flavours and textures.
On the contrary, vegan cheese is wholly plant-based and involves fortification of protein mass from different plants with lactic bacteria. Emulsifiers, thickeners and oils are frequently used too in the production process to make firmer vegan cheeses.
The options of vegan cheeses on the market have increased over the years, making it easier for people to follow vegan and other dairy-free diets. So, if you want some vegan-friendly cheese, then you know what you’ll get!