What Is Vegan Cream Cheese?

Angie Bates

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.

Some vegans have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy products or avoid them for ethical reasons.
Some vegans have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy products or avoid them for ethical reasons.

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.

Homemade vegan cream cheese is often flavored with maple syrup.
Homemade vegan cream cheese is often flavored with maple syrup.

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.

Vegan cream cheese can be used to top cheesecakes.
Vegan cream cheese can be used to top cheesecakes.

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.

Some vegan cream cheese are made with cashews.
Some vegan cream cheese are made with cashews.

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Discussion Comments


For a while, I thought that everything vegan has to be automatically natural and healthy. Clearly, that's not true.

Cheese is one of the hardest things to find a substitute for, but some variations do come close. For desserts, I love using vegan cream cheese made from coconut milk. I think it's better than regular cream cheese for desserts. It's creamy, rich and delicious.


@SarahGen-- If you don't mind a vegan cream cheese icing that doesn't taste as good as good as the real thing, I recommend nut cheeses like almond or cashew. A combination of cashew and soybeans is good too.

If you want something that tastes better, I'm afraid you will have to get one with hydrogenated oils, which is not good for health. I bought a vegan cream cheese that was made with tapioca starch and hydrogenated oils once. It had a texture similar to cream cheese and it tasted good too, but I can't imagine eating that on a regular basis as it's so unhealthy.


What is the best vegan cream cheese for frosting?

I don't have the time to make my own, so I'm going to buy it. But what type is best for frosting and icing?

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