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What Is Vegan Cheese?

Cheese forming in cheesecloth.
Vegan cheese is often flavored to taste like popular dairy cheese varieties like cheddar.
Palm oil's use in cheese is a topic of debate for vegans.
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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Vegan cheese is a product designed to take the place of cheese for people who do not eat dairy or animal products. Cheese substitutes are often soy-based, but may also be made from rice, nutritional yeast, almonds, and many other non-dairy ingredients combined to create a cheese-like texture and flavor. While vegan cheeses never use dairy products, many do use casein, which is an animal product.

Given that these substitute cheeses are not made from dairy, they often do not melt or taste like the cheese they are intended to imitate. Varieties of vegan cheese are usually classified and marketed according to its dairy counterpart. These varieties include cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, blue, and many other types. In an attempt to blend in well on the shelf and meet consumer expectations, vegan cheeses are often packaged to look like much like the dairy counterparts. For example, Parmesan may be sold grated in a shaker, mozzarella may come shredded in a bag, and American cheese may be sold in slices, though because of the way the cheese is manufactured the process of getting the product into these forms may be very different from the way this is done with dairy cheeses.

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While the intended consumer of vegan cheese is often assumed to be vegans, it is also eaten by people who are lactose intolerant but otherwise eat animal products. Dieters also sometimes turn to vegan cheeses because they are less caloric than dairy versions, though they often have as much fat as low-fat dairy cheeses. Since not everyone who eats vegan cheese is primarily concerned with its lack of animal products, there are many non-dairy cheeses that still use animal products as minor ingredients.

As cheese substitutes are not made of dairy products, they cannot always be directly substituted for dairy cheeses in meals. For example, a recipe that requires melted cheese may not work with vegan cheese, though newer vegan cheeses do sometimes melt. A recipe that is heavily flavored by cheese will not taste the same with a vegan replacement, and it may not have the same consistency because of the unique properties of vegan cheeses. Experimentation is necessary to determine how a recipe must be modified to accommodate vegan ingredients.

Some vegans maintain that even cheeses lacking any animal product are not truly vegan because they contain palm oil. These objectors contend that because ingredients such as palm oil cause animal deaths by the aggressive destruction of habitats involved in oil production and by actions taken on the part of palm oil producers, vegans should not eat vegan cheese. To avoid eating something unintentionally, it is particularly important for vegans and other consumers to look at the ingredients in vegan cheese to decide if the product adequately complies with their ethical or dietary ethos.

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candyquilt
Post 3

@SarahGen-- Many people who follow a vegan diet substitute regular milk with coconut, rice or almond milk. You can probably use coconut milk and cream, along with a vegan starch to make your own vegan cheese at home.

literally45
Post 2

@SarahGen-- I buy vegan cream cheese that tastes very good and has a texture and taste similar to regular cream cheese, but it's made with soy and cashews. I bet you could find one that's made with only cashews though. Almond "cheese" would probably work as well.

If you don't like nuts or if you're allergic to them, I'm afraid that there aren't may vegan cheese options that are soy-free.

Another possibility would be finding a soy cheese that's made with non-genetically modified soybeans. Check out all natural and organic stores for options.

SarahGen
Post 1

What's a good vegan cheese that's both dairy-free and soy-free?

I'm looking for something that tastes similar to cream cheese, but not made from soy. I'm avoiding soy ever since I found out that most soybeans are genetically modified.

Can anyone make a recommendation? I'm planning to make vegan cheesecake with it.

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