Vegan cream cheese is a type of non-dairy cream cheese substitute made with plant oils and proteins and usually tofu. Suitable for the lactose intolerant or those who want to completely eliminate animal-based products from their diets, vegan cream cheese may taste very close to actual cream cheese or bear little flavor resemblance. There are several commercial brands available for purchase, and vegan cream cheese can also be homemade.
Depending on how the cream cheese substitute is made, its flavor and texture may be very close to dairy-based cream cheese. This similarity usually comes at the cost of healthy ingredients, however. Hydrogenated oils, which contain high levels of trans fat, are generally responsible for mimicking dairy cream cheese well. Health experts advocate avoiding consuming trans fat whenever possible.
The alternative to hydrogenated oils are non-hydrogenated oils. Non-hydrogenated oils blend several difference fats together, so instead of using just soybean oil, other oils, such as palm, are included as well. This results in a healthier cream cheese at the cost of some flavor and texture. Vegan cream cheeses that use non-hydrogenated oils are usually less flavorful than the hydrogenated versions and may have a slightly gritty or gooey texture.
Whether hydrogenated or non-hydrogenated, vegan cream cheese can be used to top bagels or in cheesecakes, frostings, or other baked goods and dishes. Commercial brands can be found online, in health food stores, or in the health food section of many grocery stores. Some stores may even include the vegan options with the dairy-based cream cheese.
For those who cannot find the commercial products or wish to have more control over their cream cheese ingredients, homemade vegan cream cheese can be made with relative ease. Firm tofu and lemon juice, as well as either brown rice syrup or maple syrup are almost always included in homemade recipes. Barley malt syrup, however, may be used instead. Yeast flakes and flavoring such as nutmeg, salt, or garlic granules can also be included in homemade versions.
Some versions will include cashews. When blended with water, raw cashews create a cream that aids in the texture of the finished cheese. Since non-roasted cashews do not have much flavor of their own, including cashews in the cream cheese mixture provides the familiar creamy texture of dairy-based cream cheese without adding unfamiliar flavorings.
To make vegan cream cheese, the tofu is first wrapped in a towel to remove excess moisture. Then, the ingredients are combined in a blender or a food processor and mixed until smooth. Once complete, the cheese is chilled overnight to better combine the flavors.