If you’re new to the vegan lifestyle, cheese might be one of the things you might find yourself missing the most. Dairy cheese typically comes from cows, goats, sheep, and in some cases donkeys, but vegan cheese has found a way to get around the livestock part of the equation. But what is vegan cheese made of and how have the culinary geniuses responsible for its creation managed to make it taste as delicious as the “real” stuff?
What is vegan cheese made of?
Vegan cheeses use a wide assortment of ingredients to make them taste and behave like dairy cheese. According to Eating Well, some are made from cashews, macadamias, and other nuts. Others make use of nutritional yeast, vegetable oils, or coconut oil. Soy, peas, agar, tapioca, various seeds, and starches, derived from root vegetables such as arrowroot, round out the list.
Like regular cheese, vegan cheeses come in a whole variety of flavors. Depending on the variety, vegan cheese can be a flavorful part of a healthy diet. That said, not all cheeses are alike. As with dairy cheese, some plant-based cheeses are more processed or calorically dense than others. Those that are highly processed might add thickeners into their mix such as xanthan gum, carrageenan, and other food-like substances.
Is vegan cheese healthy for you?
It really depends on the type of vegan cheese you’re talking about. According to Go Veggie, those who follow a vegan diet that eschews eggs, meat, and dairy, tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol than those who dine upon animal-based fare. In addition to never containing cholesterol (which is only found in animal products), vegan cheeses (as with all plant-based foods) never contain hormones or antibiotics. Thus, eating vegan cheese is definitely a healthier idea than eating regular cheese.
Nevertheless, eating too much cheese, vegan or otherwise, can have an adverse effect on one’s health, especially if those plant-based products could be considered junk food. There are almost as many unhealthy plant-based products as there are conventional ones and many dairy-free kinds of cheese can wind up becoming junk food if they aren’t eaten responsibly. The trick is to read the labels on the foods you buy, to determine what ingredients may or may not be ideal.
For those trying to eat as healthy as possible, Mama Sezz recommends looking for vegan cheeses that contain whole foods and minimal ingredients. Avoid any cheese that lists fillers or gums in their ingredients, try to find cheeses that contain low sodium, and look for cheeses that contain "healthy" fats like cashews as opposed to oil.
What does vegan cheese taste like?
Many varieties of vegan cheese taste and behave just like the real thing. They melt well, they can be creamy, spreadable, sliceable, or crumbly. In addition, certain types of vegan cheese contain yeast that gives them that funky, cheesy smell and tastes that most people desire when it comes to their cheese craving.
That said, the folks at Spoon University fully admit that not every vegan cheese is the same when it comes to taste. In a taste test of mozzarella cheese, some brands, specifically those whose main ingredient is soybean oil, behaved and tasted more like dairy mozzarella than those with tapioca flour or potato starch.
According to BBC Good Food, top-rated cheddar cheese alternatives have the same cheesy bite, crumbliness, milk-like smell, and lactic acidity as conventional English cheddar. The main ingredients in that particular cheese were coconut oil, corn starch, and potato starch, so it’s clear that different ingredients work for different purposes.