While meat alternatives have been trending recently, vegan cheese options aren’t lagging so far behind.
Data from Grand View Research predicts that vegan cheese sales will grow at a cumulative annual growth rate of 12.6 per cent from this year through to 2030 when the market will be worth US$7.1 billion as more consumers transition to vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets.
Another study revealed that awareness of climate change, animal cruelty, and health benefits are driving the growth of the vegan cheese market, along with those who are lactose intolerant.
Soaring demand for plant-based food has driven innovations that offer consumers flavours that aren’t far off the “real thing”, allowing people to conveniently swap their favourites for vegan options – including vegan cheese.
Today, Viable.Earth explores some of the most popular vegan cheese options.
Environmental impact of cheese
BBC’s climate change food report, which used data from a study from Oxford University, revealed that a 30g serving of cheese, eaten three to five times a week for a year would generate an estimated 201kg of greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent to driving a car for 800km.
In addition, the dairy industry has been found to use approximately 83 per cent of the world’s farmland and emit 56 to 58 per cent of emissions.
How is vegan cheese made?
Creating vegan cheese use a similar process to traditional cheese-making, sans animal milk. Plant proteins are separated using bacteria, and ingredients like oil and thickeners are added to help create the desired consistency. The resulting flavour depends on the ingredient used.
Various products are used to create vegan cheese, including oils, nuts, and even root crops.
The 10 most popular vegan cheese options
Soy is one of the most common ingredients for plant-based substitutes – including alt-cheeses.
To create soy cheese, vegetable oils, gums, and spices are combined to help mimic the taste and texture of actual cheese. However, it is important to note that some soy-based cheeses contain casein – a milk protein – to allow it to melt like traditional cheese.
Cheese made from cashew nuts boasts a sharp, tangy taste with a creamy flavour because it is fermented with live culture. It is marinated in oil and infused with spices like pepper, corn and garlic to taste. It has a similar texture to feta cheese and can stretch and melt like mozzarella.
Commercial versions of almond cheese are similar to cheddar, while homemade versions tend to be less processed with a soft taste and texture, offering a mild, nutty flavour.
This nut-based cheese is combined with casein and milk protein to improve its “stretch”, so be wary in checking the product’s ingredient list before purchasing to ensure it is vegan.
The high-fat content of coconut makes it a creamy cheese alternative. It is combined with other ingredients like agar-agar (seaweed), cornstarch, potato starch, or tapioca to mimic the texture and density of dairy-based cheese.
One disadvantage of coconut is its intense flavour and aroma, which overpowers its taste, so it’s not as “cheese tasting” as other alternatives. Salt, garlic, yeast, and lemon juice are often combined to improve their taste.
Regarded as the best dairy-free cheese alternative, it looks, feels, and works like fresh mozzarella. In addition, it melts without dissolving, browns, and stretches, making it a suitable ingredient for burgers or pizzas.
Tapioca cheese is made with ground tapioca flour, yeast, lemon juice, olive oil, and coconut milk.
If other starches are unavailable, Arrowroot flour is a great substitute for creating vegan cheese. It can be used to thicken soups and sauces, and combining it with any vegan cheese can turn it stringy and stretchy without the need for casein.
Aquafaba is the liquid leftover from canned chickpeas. It is usually discarded and considered waste, but did you know it can also be used as an ingredient for vegan cheese?
To create Aquafaba cheese, it is combined with other ingredients such as agar-agar, cashews, and coconut to make cheese that resembles dairy.
What’s nice about Aquafaba cheese is that it can also withstand high heat, allowing the product to melt like regular cheese.
Last but not least are root crops like potatoes and carrots. Root crop cheese has a soft, gravy-like cheese texture.
To create root crop cheese, the vegetables are boiled until soft and blended with oil, water, and spices to create a smooth and creamy consistency. It is recommended as a great alternative to cheese spreads.
Where to buy vegan cheese
You can find vegan cheese in the refrigerated sections of supermarkets, both specialty and conventional. Some are also stored near the regular cheese, or it might be in the vegetarian section, along with other plant-based products.