Healthy Plant-Based Cheese Alternatives

I’ve heard people say they just cannot give up cheese. People love their cheese. The truth is cheese can be addictive. There are three habit forming compounds in cheese – casomorphins, fat, and salt.

Casomorphins are naturally found in all mammal milk, including human breast milk. When consumed, they act as a mild opiate. They play an important role in the mother-infant bond, ensuring a child’s interest in nursing.

There are many vegan cheese alternatives now available on the market. I am often asked if vegan cheese is “healthy.” While I do not think dairy is healthy, not all vegan cheese is “healthy” either.

Some vegan cheese options are oil-based and do not have protein, calcium, and are often packed with gums and random starches. Both Miyoko’s Creamery and Kitehill Foods, however, make oat or nut-based cheese, making them healthier than other oil-based cheese options.

Making healthy vegan cheese is also easier than you might think! My friend, fellow plant eater, and founder of a non-profit empowering artists living with disabilities shares her plant-based story and some of her favorite healthy vegan cheese recipes below:

My plant-based journey began after I heard Richard Roll, an ultra endurance athlete, speak at a wellness event at Genentech. He spoke about his wife’s journey and how she was able to heal a large cyst in her neck with a purely plant-based diet even though doctors did not believe it was curable. Since then, I have become fascinated by the power of a plant-based diet to not only prevent disease, but to fully reverse disease. Back in 2017, I spent my summer exploring making various plant-based cheeses. Here are three quick 15 minute or less options you can give a try!

If you want to explore further a wide array of different cheeses and spreads, check out Julie Piatt’s book, This Cheese is Nuts! It has some nice options with a mix of easy and more time consuming recipes.

1. Almond Feta

This cheese is a nice addition to any salad or cheese board. Recipe by Sahara Rose Ketabi.

Ingredients:
1 cup raw almonds (soaked overnight and skins removed)
⅓ cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 ½ tsp sea salt
½ cup water
2 tsp fresh or dried herbs (rosemary, thyme, and oregano)

Directions:
Drain and rinse the soaked almonds. In a food processor or high speed blender, combine almonds, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and water. Blend 3-6 minutes until very creamy and add herbs in at the end.
Scoop the mixture into a nut milk bag and squeeze out the excess liquid. Place in a strainer over a bowl and tie the loose ends of the cheese cloth to create a ball. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 225 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove cheese from cloth and shape into a square about ¾ inch thick. Bake for 40 minutes until the top is slightly firm. Let cool, then refrigerate. Once cold, coat with fresh or dried herbs, if desired. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

2. Roasted Cashew Apple Cheese

This cheese pairs nicely with crackers and fruit. Recipe is by Julie Piatt.

Ingredients:
1 cup cashews
2 cups packed fresh spinach
1 cup packed dried apples
¼ tsp Celtic sea salt
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp filtered water, plus more as needed

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roast the cashews on a baking sheet for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
While the cashews are roasting, soak the apples in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes .
In the food processor, place the spinach first, top with cashews, apples, salt, nutritional yeast, and the water.
Process until the mixture balls up on one side of the bowl. Add more water 1 tablespoon at a time to reach a smooth spreadable cheese.

3. Vegan Queso

This is a great queso cheese that you can use with tortilla chips or top your burritos and enchiladas and has a creamier texture than most of the store bought vegan cheeses. Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker.

Ingredients:
3/4 – 1 cup very hot water
1 cup raw cashews
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
3 Tbsp medium salsa
1 handful cilantro

Directions:
Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender (I use a Vitamix) starting with the lesser amount of water and blend until creamy, adding more water as needed to blend until creamy and smooth. Add just enough water to achieve a creamy, pourable queso. If it gets too thin, thicken with additional raw cashews.
Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more nutritional yeast for cheesiness, salt to taste, cumin for smokiness, and chili powder for heat.
Reheat as needed in the microwave or a small saucepan over low heat.

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