Plant-based alternatives to cheese

Plant-based alternatives to cheese

Yeast and nuts instead of milk and rennet

The market for vegan products is booming and more and more innovations are landing on shop shelves. An increasing number of people are choosing a vegan diet for a multitude of reasons, but many of them “stumble” when it comes to changing cheese. However, even plant-based alternatives can be just as tasty as “real” cheese. One important component is the flavour carrier, fat.

It’s cheese, but not as we know it! According to EU and Swiss law, cheese always consists of milk from mammals, so the term “vegan cheese” is prohibited by law. In her book, “Vegan Cheese”, gourmet chef Miyoko Schinner writes that the new plant-based substitute products and her recipes are not intended to be “imitations, bad copies or forgeries” of traditional cheese. “These are wholesome, independent culinary creations”, says the American with Japanese roots.

Despite this, some people are still bothered by the fact that plant-based alternatives do not taste like traditional cheese and feel as though they have to go without. However, the flavour carriers fat and salt are the main reason why cheese tastes so good – and these can also be found in plant-based alternatives. But what is actually in these “fake cheeses”?

There's an alternative for every cheese

Plant-based alternatives to cheese can consist of a wide range of raw materials:

Gouda & Emmental
Products with a firm consistency are often made using water, plant-based oils (such as coconut oil), and starch.

Cream cheese
Plant-based alternatives to cream cheese, on the other hand, contain a mixture of soy protein and plant-based fats, but can also be made from puréed nuts or grains. Cashew nuts are the most common option in vegan alternative cuisine.

Mozzarella, grated cheese & parmesan
For pizza, lasagne or pasta, there’s a very easy plant-based alternative to mozzarella or parmesan. Yeast flakes are almost like grated cheese – you can scatter them over pasta or make a cheese sauce without the cheese. For the effect of melted cheese, you need a little oil or vegan margarine, as well as soy cream, which is mixed together and heated until a soft mixture forms. Alternatively, you can use yeast cheese, which is easy to make using yeast flakes, margarine, flour and mustard. Yeast cheese works best with cuisine such as gratins or baked dishes. Mozzarella can be made using germinated wholemeal rice, silken tofu, or psyllium husks. Psyllium husks are high in fibre.

Tempeh makes a wonderful plant-based alternative to cheese. Resembling tofu, this product is made from fermented soy beans that are treated with a mould, similar to the way in which Camembert is made. Tempeh has a pleasant tangy and nutty flavour and can be fried or marinated.

Yeast instead of rennet

Rennet from calves’ stomachs is sometimes used when making traditional cheeses. Strictly speaking, this means that not all cheese is suitable for vegetarians either. One alternative to rennet is yeast.

Yeast flakes are rich in vitamins B1, B2 and B6. Another appealing thing about this vegan option is that the flakes are tangy, making them taste very similar to cheese. This is down to the inactive, dry yeast present. The most important thing about using yeast flakes is not to cook them, otherwise they lose a lot of their vitamins. Yeast flakes can be used in a variety of dishes, such as salads, spreads, breadcrumbs, soups, and to bind sauces or flavour dishes.

When making plant-based alternatives to cheese, it is possible, though not necessary, to add lactic acid bacteria, which are used in the fermentation of grains, for example. They decompose the sugars present and produce, among other things, lactic acid, which helps to preserve food. However, lactic acid bacteria are not vegan if they were bred on an animal growth medium.

Things to note:

Home-made plant-based alternatives to cheese are generally quick and simple to make (aside from a few complicated exceptions) – depending on the recipe, you only need common kitchen utensils. Depending on the type of cheese alternative and the recipe, it can take between 30 minutes and three days to make a home-made vegan cheese. Of course, if you want to make a plant-based alternative that tastes like real cheese, you should expect a longer maturation period. It's quick to make alternatives to mozzarella or soft cheese, whereas sliced or hard cheese alternatives take a little longer. In general, these home-made alternatives to cheese keep for around 5 days as long as they are wrapped properly in cling film and refrigerated.

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