A Quick Guide to Vegan Cheese
Vegan cheese is a segment of alternative, vegan cheese analogues commonly found on supermarket shelves. Vegan cheese ranges from soft, young cheeses to old and savoury hard grate cheese such as old-world Italian textured cultured Parmesan. The defining feature of vegan cheese is its total absence of animal products. No milk, no rennet, no lanolin, no animal bones, no hides, no hair and no fat is included in the making of vegan cheese.
In addition to being devoid of animal parts, there are other distinguishing characteristics of vegan cheese that set it apart from other types of alternative, organic, naturally healthy food. First of all, it is not fermented. Wine, honey and other fermented drinks are acceptable alternatives to vegan cheese; however, they all derive their nutritional value from other plants or minerals in the mixture and thus create additional health problems for vegans and vegetarians. Many of the cheeses made with fermented products, such as blue cheese or quiche, have secondary health problems, such as clogged arteries, arthritis and other chronic conditions due to high fats in the milk and added sugars in the baking or preparation process.
Another important veggie-free component of a vegan cheese mixture is the milkfat. Milkfat or lanolin is a milk product derived from the fat of cows, sheep, or sometimes from goat or soybeans. It serves to emulsify and thicken the curds or yoghurts that are processed for use as cheese. The most popular kinds of milkfat are fat-free, low-fat and whey. It is a necessary component of any recipe where the texture requires the use of a creamy, runny consistency, such as whipped cream, pudding mix, cake mix, custard and more.
A third important veggie-free component of a cheese spread is soy. Soy is derived from the seeds of the soybean plant, which is widely grown around the world. Though it can be derived from other sources, such as cottonseed, it has been shown to have similar health benefits as other plant-based foods, and it has been used in many recipes, particularly those that call for a creamy texture or one with low moisture content.
Tree nuts are another important dairy ingredient and are often included as a third milk source behind coconut milk and soy. Tree nuts contain high levels of phytosterols, which are believed to have health benefits similar to those of vitamin E. It is advised that vegetarians and vegans avoid any cheeses that contain casein, a by-product of milk and egg production, as this is not an essential component of these cheeses. There are some exceptions, including pecan cheeses, which contain the same whey protein found in milk, as well as cream cheese that contain casein. However, as a general rule, it is generally recommended that these cheeses be avoided as they are derived from dairy and may contain traces of casein.
There are many options when creating a Lacto-vegetarian or vegan diet that includes dairy and other animal-derived products. As the demand for nut-free products increases, there will likely be more options for vegans and vegetarians to choose from. Many dairy alternatives are quickly gaining popularity and will likely continue to do so in the years to come.