Vegan Cheese 101

Vegan cheese recently exploded onto the market to meet the growing demand for dairy-free products. However, plant-based cheese alternatives have been around longer than you think. Fermented tofu was the first cheese-like product vegans could enjoy, and brands like Soymage and Soyarella have been making soy-based cheese since the 1980s.
Today, dozens of vegan-friendly cheese options suit every recipe and budget. What’s more, its taste, texture, and aroma have drastically improved since the first formulations.
How is Vegan Cheese Made?
Vegan cheese contains no animal products, including milk, casein, or rennet. To make it cheesemakers follow a similar process to making dairy cheese. First, they add live cultures like bacteria or yeast to plant-based milk to separate the proteins. This step is comparable to separating curds from whey in traditional cheesemaking.
The most commonly used protein in vegan cheesemaking today is cashew nuts. They have a creamy texture and add fat to the final product.
Once the proteins are separated, many cheesemakers add thickeners and fats, such as carrageenan, potato or pea starch, and coconut oil, to recreate the cheese-like texture. High-quality vegan cheeses undergo extensive fermentation and aging to enhance their flavors and aromas. Additionally, some cheesemakers add natural flavorings to their products.
Types of Vegan Cheese
Today, there are plant-based versions of the most popular cheese varieties, including mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, and ricotta. Different types of vegan cheese are engineered for different purposes, and not all of them will melt and stretch like dairy cheese. One can generally divide plant-based cheese into two categories:

  1. Semi-hard cheeses
    Hard vegan cheeses come in cubes, wedges, slices, and wheels like dairy cheese. They typically take longer to make because they require aging to dry out and develop a firm texture. Some cheesemakers use starches like potatoes or rice flour to thicken their recipes. These vegan cheeses often contain herbs, spices, and plant extracts to create smoky, peppery versions of the product.

  3. Soft cheeses
    Most vegan cheese is soft, spreadable, and comparable to cream cheese. Cheesemakers often use soy, legumes, and coconut oil to create a creamy, fatty texture for soft cheeses. They take less time to make than their semi-hard alternatives.

Casein is an animal-based protein that gives dairy cheese the ability to melt. Cheesemakers can produce semi-soft vegan mozzarella using plant oils instead of casein to create a similar effect.
Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese
Unlike dairy cheese, vegan cheese does not contain animal products and is often lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. However, some plant-based cheese formulations contain coconut oil, which is 100% fat, 82% of which is saturated. Therefore, while some vegan cheeses may be healthier than dairy cheese, it’s always important to read the label if you’re trying to cut down on fat.
Vegan cheese made from cashew nuts typically contains 5 – 10g of protein per 100g, similar to eggs but not as high as dairy cheese. However, it does have more fiber than traditional cheese. When it comes to micronutrients, many cheesemakers fortify their plant-based offerings with vitamin B12 to improve their nutritional value.
Flavorings for Vegan Cheese
Vegan cheese can be flavored too! Just like with dairy cheese, adding liquid smoke can give plant-based cheeses a more robust flavor. Cheesemakers may even add onion extracts, chili peppers, rosemary, basil, and thyme to create unique artisan cheeses without animal products.
Advanced Biotech offers a range of plant-based herb and spice extracts and flavorings for the cheesemaking industry. Contact us to find the perfect ingredients for your next plant-based product.