When it comes to easing away from meat and dairy and adding more plant-based foods to your diet, one of the biggest problems lies with how to recreate the foods you’re most familiar with. Meat tends to be the easiest to replace, thanks to dozens of store-bought options that can stand in for almost any variety, from chicken to beef. It’s also easy to make your own meat substitute and capture the flavor you know and love. Cheese, however, tends to be a different story.
What makes cheese so difficult to give up? Apart from being featured in many beloved dishes like mac and cheese, lasagna, quesadillas, and more, cheese itself has been proven to be addictive. When casein, the protein found in milk, is broken down in our stomach, it releases casomorphins. This substance triggers the reward centers of the brain, creating an addictive response. Yikes!
Luckily, we here at One Green Planet are all too happy to help you learn how to cut ties with dairy. We browsed through the vegan cheese section of the Food Monster App and found some common ingredients used by food bloggers to make vegan cheese taste as authentic as possible. Here’s what we learned:
Most vegan pantries are never without this ingredient! Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is sold in the form of yellow flakes and powders. It is most often grown on blackstrap molasses, then harvested, heated to halt growth, then crumbled and packaged so it can be sold to consumers. It has an uncanny cheesy, nutty flavor that makes it especially useful in making cheese and cheese sauces. You can buy nutritional yeast online, from the bulk section of some grocery stores and, recently, you can find it at Trader Joe’s.
Nutritional yeast is the main source of cheesy flavor in this Herbed Soft Cashew Cheese, this Black Sesame Cheddar Cheese Ball, and the cashew mozzarella in these Quesadillas. Learn more about this ingredient by reading our Ingredient Spotlight on Nutritional Yeast.
You’re likely already familiar with miso paste from its use in Japanese dishes such as miso soup, but as it happens, this ingredient can be helpful in bringing a more authentic flavor to vegan cheese. Miso, or fermented soybean paste, is a salty, savory ingredient that adds umami flavor to dishes. Depending on the variety you choose, it can vary from mild to very intense. White miso has the mildest flavor, red miso is the most intense, and yellow sits somewhere in the middle. If you are soy-free, then there is also chickpea miso, though it might prove more difficult to find than other types. Look for miso in grocery stores that carry a lot of specialty items, like Whole Foods, or look for it near the tofu in Asian grocery stores.
Yes, Dijon mustard can make your vegan cheese taste better! Who knew? Traditional Dijon mustard is made from ground white and brown mustard seeds, white vinegar, salt, and other spices. It also includes verjuice, a juice made from unripe grapes that gives Dijon mustard its characteristic flavor. When it comes to making vegan cheese, smooth Dijon mustard is preferable to the whole grain variety, as the latter might result in chunky cheese if you’re not working with a high-speed blender.
A squeeze of lemon juice brings that slightly sour flavor that you get from dairy-based cheeses. Simple enough, right? It works when you want to recreate versions of cheeses that air on the tangier side. Try it in this Baked Almond Feta, this Tofu Ricotta, or this Gorgonzola.
Garlic and Onion
Another unexpected pair of everyday ingredients that can enhance the flavor of homemade vegan cheese is garlic and onion, as well as garlic and onion powder. Bonus, you likely already have all four of these ingredients stocked in your pantry! Garlic and onions are both considered to be aromatic ingredients in cooking and are the foundation of flavor in many dishes. They add a savory, umami flavor to dishes, which is what makes them a great addition to vegan cheeses as well! If the vegan cheese sauce you’re making doesn’t include onion or garlic, we highly recommend sautéeing about a quarter of a minced onion and a few minced garlic cloves and adding it to the ingredients.
Red Bell Pepper
While we’re not entirely sure why it works, blending red bell pepper into vegan cheeses and cheese sauces enhances flavor. The crisp, sweet flavor of red bell pepper seems to work best in softer varieties or sauces. If a cheese sauce you’re trying doesn’t include bell pepper, why not try adding a small portion of finely diced pepper? We suggest roasting it beforehand to further deepen the flavor!
More Fermented Food!
You won’t find this tip in any recipes — this is my own, personal favorite hack when it comes to making vegan cheese sauce taste cheesy. Before blending your ingredients together, try adding a splash of the liquid from a jar of sauerkraut, kimchi, or any fermented vegetables you have in your fridge. It’s that easy! Interested in fermenting your own veggies? Read The Master Guide of Materials You Need to Make Homemade Fermented Vegetables and 5 Fun Ways to Get Started Fermenting.
If you’re looking for more delicious and seasonal plant-based recipes, then we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Raw Cashew Almond Cheese