Vegan cheese can either be a pleasant surprise or a deal-breaker. However, since the first synthetic offerings, vegans can now choose from some excellent options. So, cheese lovers don’t despair – read on for the lowdown on dairy-free cheese and which are some of the tastiest brands to try.
What’s wrong with cheese?
There are several ethical, environmental, and health reasons to avoid cheese.
With a vast selection of dairy-free alternatives now available, it’s easy for people to make ethical and healthy choices.
So, let’s look at what’s wrong with cheese.
1. The dairy industry exploits animals
The dairy industry exploits cows and their calves, subjecting them to cruelty and unacceptable conditions. PETA describes how mother cows call for their calves for days after farmers tear them away from them after their birth.
Dairy cows are artificially inseminated and forced to produce more milk using drugs and machines. As a result, PETA says that 16.5 percent of cows suffer mastitis, which is the leading cause of death.
A cow’s natural lifespan is about 20 years, but the dairy industry typically slaughters cows after five years because their bodies are worn out from constantly lactating and being pregnant.
In addition, nearly 50 percent of these cows are lame when farmers kill them due to standing on concrete floors in filthy and cramped conditions.
2. It’s not beneficial for health
Vegans believe that humans should not be depriving calves of their mother’s milk and drinking the milk of another species. Indeed, many people are intolerant to lactose in milk, causing bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Viva! explains that adult mammals, including humans, have no need for digesting lactose as they are not supposed to suckle, so it’s not surprising that some people can’t digest milk.
Full-fat dairy cheese is a source of saturated fat. Although the subject is currently controversial, experts generally recognize that avoiding dietary saturated fat reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise people to consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calories as saturated fats.
However, up to 75 percent of Americans exceed 10 percent, and cheese accounts for four percent of their daily saturated fat intake.
3. It’s not good for the planet
There are also environmental reasons not to eat dairy cheese.
According to a 2020 report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 13 of the world’s largest dairy corporations combined emitted more greenhouse gases in 2017 than major polluters BHP, the Australia-based mining, oil, and gas giants, and Conoco Phillips, the United States-based oil company.
The report comments that even though evidence suggests our food system is responsible for up to 37 percent of all global emissions, there is little public pressure to hold worldwide meat and dairy corporations accountable for their emissions.
What ingredients are in vegan cheese?
Although brands vary, some of the common ingredients in typical vegan cheeses are:
- coconut and other vegetable oils
- coconut cream
- starches such as potato, tapioca, and corn starch
- pea protein
- nutritional yeast
- added B12
- binding ingredients such as xantham gum and carrageenan
- thickeners and flavorings
Manufacturers use ingredients such as nuts to make artisan cheeses which are usually more expensive to buy.
Is vegan cheese healthy?
As a processed food, many vegan cheeses are not particularly healthy to eat.
For example, 100g of a Violife cheddar flavor block contains 19g of saturated fat – the same as 100g of dairy cheddar.
Violife cheddar contains no protein compared to 23.3g of protein per 100g of dairy cheese.
Therefore, people who are new to a plant-based diet must ensure they do not regard vegan cheese as a protein source as they may have done previously.
However, cheeses with nuts as the main ingredient provide a source of protein. People can also make cheese sauces using cashew nuts, plant milk, and nutritional yeast.
Vegan cheese provides a convenient way for people to enjoy meals they may have previously eaten, such as mac n cheese and pizza. Restaurants also now offer more vegan meal options because of the rise in vegan cheeses.
In summary, choosing a whole-food diet and avoiding processed foods is the healthiest way to eat. You can enjoy occasional foods such as vegan cheese but should not rely on them too much.
Does dairy-free cheese melt?
When making a grilled cheese sandwich or topping a pizza, it’s essential to select a vegan cheese that melts nicely, bubbles, or stretches.
Brands melt at different temperatures, with some brands staying too solid and others melting to a liquid-like consistency. Therefore, people should heat most vegan cheeses on a lower setting and keep an eye on them to avoid burning.
According to Vegancheese. co, the best brands for melting are as follows:
- Applewood vegan
- Follow Your Heart smoked gouda
- Violife Epic Mature Cheddar flavor block
- Sheese Cheddar style with jalapeno and chili
How does vegan cheese taste?
Vegan cheeses have a unique aroma and flavor.
People making the change to a plant-based diet can sometimes find they don’t like the taste of vegan cheese.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to allow at least a few weeks, or preferably months, between transitioning from dairy to vegan cheese.
This approach gives someone time to forget what dairy cheese tastes like and lets them start afresh with new flavors.
Types of vegan cheese
Nowadays, there’s a vegan alternative for just about every type of cheese from feta to Camembert, cottage cheese, to mozzarella.
Furthermore, manufacturers use different ingredients as a base for vegan cheese. Coconut oil is a common ingredient, but some cheeses use sunflower seeds, oats, or butter beans as a base.
Brands design the taste and textures to emulate the mouthfeel and application of their cheeses—for example, mild-tasting stretchy mozzarella for pizzas and crumbly, salty feta for Greek salads.
Vegan cheese brands
People can choose from a wide variety of vegan cheeses and may need to try a few if they are new to a plant-based diet.
Here are some well-known brands offering a number of delicious varieties…
1. Follow Your Heart
As an already popular brand in the US, Follow Your Heart products now stock a wider range in the UK.
Follow Your Heart told Plant Based News: “Vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, and those seeking healthier and more sustainable options are choosing the Follow Your Heart range of products due to their taste, texture, and versatility.
“Our dairy-free cheeses, for example, rival their dairy-based counterparts in flavor and meltability in a host of recipe applications.”
The company offers different flavored blocks, slices, shreds, and specialty cheeses such as parmesan and feta crumbles. The Smoked Gouda Slices receive excellent reviews on TheVeganKind Supermarket, with users commenting they are good in sandwiches and burgers.
To reflect their values, the creators of Daiya originated the name as a play on the words ‘dairy’ and ‘dayaa’, which in Sanskrit stands for ‘loving, kindness and compassion.’
Daiya cheese is available in the UK, US, and other countries worldwide. They sell a wide range of cheese products, including sauces, cheesecakes, and Cheezy Mac.
The brand uses ingredients such as tapioca starch, coconut oil, and pea protein to make its cheese blocks. All their products are free from common allergens, but they are not entirely certified as non-GMO.
Violife is a popular dairy-free cheese brand that uses coconut oil as its base. They offer blocks, slices, and cream cheese, and their Epic Mature Cheddar is consistently rated highly as an excellent dairy-free alternative that melts well.
Violife also sells cheese boards which are particularly popular at Christmas.
Bute Island Foods sell Sheese in stores across the globe and online. The company has been making plant-based cheese for 30 years, and many vegans know the brand well.
Bute Island Foods told PBN: “We’ve spent years perfecting the products so they replicate perfectly the functional properties consumers desire of a cheese – products that stretch for use in pizzas, crumble for using with salads, melt for toasties, and so on. This has been the key driver for the success of Sheese.”
The multi-award-winning cheeses are available as creamy spreads and in blocks, slices, and shreds. In addition, there are a wide variety of styles and flavors to choose from, such as French-style blue and sweet chili spread.
People can find out more from their website here.
Applewood vegan is a delicious smoky cheese made with coconut oil.
Since its launch in 2019, it has become a hugely popular dairy-free cheese, winning awards and making up 20 percent of the brand’s UK sales, according to a news report in October last year.
Reviews suggest that Applewood tastes great in mac n cheese, cheese toasties, and a classic vegan BLT.
On their website, Applewood assures people with nut allergies that their cheese doesn’t contain nuts and there is no risk of cross-contamination.
Visit the Applewood website here
Nush is a UK brand that makes cream cheese using almond milk. They add vegan cheese cultures and British sea salt to produce a clean, light cheese that is great for spreading on crackers or using in recipes.
A 150g tub contains 60 almonds and 13.5g of protein.
Vegancheese.co thoroughly recommend Nush almond milk cheese, commenting that it has a pleasant yogurt aroma and is thick and delightfully creamy. Nush cream cheese is available in natural or chive flavor.
You can find out more from their website here.
7. Tyne Chease
Tyne Chease offers cultured and aged artisan products that they create using traditional cheese-making processes for something a little more unique.
They use ethically sourced cashew nuts and organic ingredients where possible. They don’t design the cheese to melt but rather to eat with crackers or include in recipes. The cultured nature of the cheese gives them a natural tang.
Tyne Chease products are natural, with the only ingredients being cashews, water, natural flavorings. As a fermented food containing probiotics, Tyne cheese may help to support a healthy gut microbiome.
The cheeses are priced between £7-95 -£8.95, and you can order from their website here.
Supermarket own brands
Most UK supermarkets offer their own dairy-free cheese brands, and many of these tend to get good reviews.
For example, Asda’s Free From mature cheddar alternative was the winner of a BBC Good Food blind taste test, with Ocado Cheddar-Style in second place.
UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Morrisons also sell own-brand vegan cheese.
Vegan cheese recipes
Here’s a small selection of ideas and recipes to start using vegan cheese.
Daiya lists a recipe for Baked Cheezy Mac that includes Brussels sprouts and crimini mushrooms for extra nutrients.
Try this gluten-free Cheesy Lentil Lasagna for a wholesome supper with 519 calories and 17g of protein per serving.
When you’re craving nachos, Loving it Vegan’s recipe for fully loaded Vegan Nachos will hit the spot.
The recipe links instructions to make a cashew cheese sauce, but someone could use shreds or ready-made cheese sauce instead.
If someone wants to try making their own vegan cheese, Vegan Food and Living provides the 23 best ever vegan cheese recipes on its website.