by Zara Mohammed, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 19th April, 2019
If you are a newly converted vegan and you miss your favourite cheesy dishes, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about vegan cheese - the vegan's alternative to dairy.
Cheese is an important ingredient in many of our favourite well-known recipes, and most of our favourite home-cooked and restaurant meals and take-outs wouldn't be the same without it. There is just something so delicious, so satisfying, so familiar and comforting about a really cheesy lasagne, pizza or baked potato, not to mention a simple cheese and tomato sandwich.
Obviously dairy is one of the main things you want to give up if you are on a personal journey to become a vegan, because the dairy farming market is appalling and surely nobody in their right mind wants to be part of such cruelty? Giving up the things you love and have known all of your life can be difficult though, and this is where vegan alternatives can play their part.
There is a vegan alternative to pretty much anything you have given up to start living your new vegan lifestyle, and this includes cheese.
The cheese everybody is familiar with is made essentially from the protein and fat derived from milk, which comes from an animal.
The milk is first pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria, and then transferred to a vat at optimal temperature so that starter cultures can grow. Cultures are a crucial ingredient in cheese affecting the consistency and flavour development. Rennet is then added, which may be of either animal or vegetable origin, and this transforms the cheese into a soft gel.
Once firm, it is cut into smaller pieces so that the liquid whey can be separated from the solid milk curd, and then gently cooked to remove more whey. Salt is added once the cheese has been formed, and this aids in the flavour and ripening, and works as a natural preservative.
The cheese continues to be compacted so that more whey can be removed, and the blocks are finally stored in temperature controlled rooms and left to mature as required for different types of cheese.
Vegan cheese is entirely plant-based. The making of it involves the combination of protein mass which is derived from a variety of plant sources, and lactic bacteria is often added for acidity. Different kinds of vegan cheese can be created, including firmer types, by adding oils, emulsifiers and thickeners.
There are three different types of vegan cheese available on the market:
Let's look a little closer at the ingredients that go into making vegan cheese.
If you are a vegan that probably means that you are much more conscious of what your food actually contains than most people. Let's face it, that's why you are reading this article. It's probably not enough that there is a vegan alternative for cheese - you want to know exactly what the stuff is made of, and I don't blame you.
The ingredients often depend on the brand, so take a look at the packaging next time you are in the supermarket. The types of vegan cheese that are on the shiny, thick or rubbery side are often made from soy protein.
Other ingredients include:
Cashews are a popular ingredient in vegan cheese due to the versatility and extra creaminess. A wide variety of vegan cheeses can be made from cashews. In fact at the end of this article you can find a recipe including cashews for homemade vegan cheese! Other nuts like almonds may be used for different textures.
Tapioca is a starch that is included when making vegan cheese because it allows it to melt and stretch just like real cheese does. This is great if you want to melt cheese on toast, pizza or in a jacket potato.
Coconut Oil is what lends that familiar fattiness to vegan cheese that you may have enjoyed previously in dairy cheese products. When mixed with tofu or potato starch coconut is awesome for recreated indulgent dairy-free cheeses that are perfectly gooey.
Tofu, as mentioned above, is a really good malleable ingredient in vegan cheese-making when mixed with other ingredients.
Nutritional Yeast is a staple and belongs in every vegan's kitchen cupboard, as it is the perfect vegan alternative to Parmesan cheese. It is great for making a cheesy nacho dip, which you can find a homemade recipe for at the bottom of this article!
There is some controversy as to whether or not vegans should avoid eating commercial vegan cheese. Many vegan cheeses are highly processed and may not offer very much nutritional value. Of course this will depend on the brand.
Keep reading to compare the pros and cons of vegan cheese.
In conclusion I would say that vegan cheese shouldn't be seen as a replacement for dairy cheese in terms of nutrition, but it doesn't hurt to include vegan cheese in your diet occasionally if you enjoy it or want to replicate your favourite cheesy dishes. Everything is fine in moderation, as they say!
This herby cream cheese is 100% dairy free and can be enjoyed on toast, with pitta bread, or stirred into a pasta dish to make it extra creamy. The best thing is that it is easy to prepare, includes minimal ingredients, and involves no cooking at all.
250g Cashew Nuts
2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast
The Juice of One Lemon
Chopped Chives (optional)
Put the cashews in a bowl and cover with water. Place some cling film over the bowl to cover it and leave to soak for at least 4 hours. It's easiest to leave it soaking overnight, o perhaps during the day while you go to work.
Once they have been soaked for long enough, drain and rinse the cashews, and blend fully with the nutritional yeast and lemon, including1/2 tsp of salt for flavour, and 1 tbsp of water for consistency. If you whizz the mixture in your blender for about 5 minutes you will get a lovely smooth texture. You can stop at intervals to scrape down the sides of your blender to make sure that everything is blended evenly.
Stir in your chives once you have transferred the mixture to a dish if you are using it straight away. Alternatively you can cover the dish with cling film and pop it in your fridge for about an hour to firm up. You can keep the mix refrigerated for 3-4 days for use during the week.
This yummy super-cheesy sauce can be used as a dip for all sorts of snacks as well as the traditional nachos. Try making sweet potato chips, or use the sauce to make a delicious cauliflower or broccoli cheese dish!
1.5 tbsp oil, olive oil or organic safflower
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper, finely chopped
3.5 tbsp flour, unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp each of cumin, garlic powder, dried oregano
1/4 tsp chipotle pepper powder or 1/2 tsp adobo sauce
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp ground mustard optional
1 3/4 cup unsweetened non dairy milk, such as almond milk or soy milk
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp nutritional yeast, less or more to suit your preference
1 tsp soy sauce optional
2 tbsp salsa
2 tbsp chopped, pickled jalapenos for garnish
Cilantro for garnish or lemon for tang.
Heat the oil in a saucepan on a medium heat.
Add garlic and onion and cook for 2 minutes.
Mix in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Mix in the bell pepper and cook for 30 seconds.
Mix in the spices.
Mix in half of the non-dairy milk and all of the nutritional yeast.
Keep whisking to remove lumps.
Add the remaining milk and bring to the boil, cooking until thickened.
Taste and adjust the flavour to your preference with salt, cumin, paprika for smokiness, or chipotle for heat. You can add a pinch of turmeric for colour if desired.
Cool the mixture now and blend if you want it to be more creamy and smoother. (optional)
Transfer to a bowl, mix in the salsa if you are using it, and add your chosen garnishes.