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Vegan cheese: what’s in it?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 234 views

Mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar – the selection of vegan cheeses has exploded on supermarket shelves in recent years. But what exactly is in the substitute products and are they healthy? Read more about vegan cheese here.

What is vegan cheese?

Cheese is one of the most popular foods in Germany. According to Statista, in 2020 alone, per capita consumption in Germany was 25.4 kilograms – higher than ever. Anyone who eats a vegan diet avoids all animal foods and must therefore also do without cheese. However, the selection of vegan substitute products has increased significantly in recent years.

Sliced ​​cheese, parmesan, mozzarella, cream cheese and feta. Vegans no longer have to put up with almost any restrictions in terms of variety and taste when it comes to plant-based alternatives.

Vegan cheese is often made from soybeans, nuts or flour. Industrially manufactured products often contain various additives to create a cheese-like consistency and color – locust bean gum or guar gum , for example. If you want to avoid additives, it is best to look out for organic seals: they limit the use of additives.

Since cheese is a protected term, it is taboo for vegan substitutes. Instead, manufacturers use words like “grating pleasure”, “slice”, “pasta topping” or “block” to describe their vegan substitute products.

What can vegan cheese be made from?

Vegan cheese is made from different ingredients. Soybeans, nuts, flour or aquafaba are often used. We will introduce you to the various ingredients in more detail.

Military

Soybeans are popular for making vegan cheese. For example, vegan mozzarella can be made from silken tofu. With its slightly nutty taste, tempeh (fermented soybeans) is ideal for making vegan camembert.

nuts and seeds

Vegan cheese substitutes often contain nuts and seeds such as

  • Macadamianüsse
  • Cashewkerne
  • almonds
  • Pecannüsse
  • pine nuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • pumpkin seed

One of the biggest benefits of vegan cheese made from nuts is that it requires relatively little processing. For example, if cashew nuts are soaked in water and pureed, a cream cheese-like substance is created, which can be mixed with any herbs and spices. A firm nut cheese can be made from soaked macadamia nuts and sauerkraut juice.

coconut

Another possible vegan cheese base is coconut milk. Their high fat content ensures a creamy product. However, it is necessary to add other ingredients to get the texture of cheese. These include the vegetable gelling agent agar-agar, carrageenan or potato starch.

Salt, nutritional yeast, or lemon juice are often added to neutralize the exotic coconut flavor.

flour

Various types of starchy flour are suitable as additional ingredients for making vegan cheese. Examples include tapioca and potato flour. They are often combined with soy and almond milk, cashew nuts, coconut or white beans.

Vegan cheese made from flour often has a sauce-like consistency. It is therefore suitable, for example, for gratinating casseroles and for pasta or pizza.

Aquafaba

Aquafaba is the liquid from canned chickpeas. It is used in various ways in vegan cuisine. It is used as an egg substitute in baking, but also as an ingredient in cheese production.

In order to produce a cheese substitute product from it, binding ingredients such as agar-agar and carrageen are required, as is the case with coconut milk. Aquafaba is often used in combination with nuts. This can be used to make vegan mozzarella, for example.

These types of vegan cheeses exist

There are now many different types of cheese on the supermarket shelves. This includes:

  • Spread cheese: It is suitable for sprinkling on pizza, casseroles and pasta.
  • Cream cheese: This type of cheese can be spread on rolls and toast. You can also refine sauces with it.
  • Block and semi-hard cheese: Typical vegan block types include cheddar and gouda.
  • Soft cheese: Vegan soft cheeses include ricotta, brie and camembert.

What additives are in vegan cheese?

Most vegan cheese substitutes are made from water, plant extracts, oils and fats, and starch. Additives are necessary to achieve a cheese-like taste and texture.

  • Beta-carotene, paprika extract, turmeric , carrot or apple concentrate are often used for the classic yellow-orange color.
  • Cornstarch and thickening agents such as locust bean gum and guar gum ensure a firm consistency.
  • Fermentation cultures such as those found in tempeh are what make vegan camembert consistency.

Is vegan cheese unhealthy?

The question of whether vegan cheese is healthy cannot be answered with a clear yes or no. Rather, it depends on which product you choose and how often you eat it.

Always pay attention to the list of ingredients. Some of the supermarket vegan cheeses contain high levels of refined oils, preservatives, added coloring and sodium. In addition, they usually have no significant nutritional value. You should only access them in exceptional cases.

But there are also vegan cheeses that consist mainly of ground nuts and seeds or cooked vegetables and spices. They often also contain fiber, healthy fats and valuable micronutrients. In this case, there is nothing wrong with eating vegan cheese regularly.

Since the substitute products generally contain no calcium and vitamin B12, some manufacturers enrich vegan cheese with these ingredients. There is nothing wrong with vegans, as they cannot absorb enough vitamin B12 with a purely plant-based diet.

In terms of calories, vegan alternative products usually do not do better than dairy products. The proportion of saturated fatty acids is even higher in some products. When it comes to protein content, the substitute products often have a worse balance than the originals.

Therefore, make sure that vegan cheese contains wholesome ingredients and few additives. To be on the safe side, you can also prepare some yourself. There are now numerous recipes in books and on the internet.

How climate friendly is vegan cheese?

Basically, vegan products are better for the climate than the animal-based originals. This is partly due to the fact that the water consumption for production is lower, no feed is required for the animals and there are no methane emissions. A new study shows that a vegan diet reduces the space required by almost 50 percent.

But with typical vegan cheese ingredients like soybeans and nuts, it’s important to pay attention to where they were grown and how they got to Germany.

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