Why is vegan cheese so bad? Well, before we delve into the ins and outs of vegan cheese, first we need to separate three distinct vegan cheese groups:
- Mainstream supermarket cheeses
- Artisanal vegan cheeses
- Homemade vegan cheeses
Vegan cheese is bad only when its made with bad ingredients, which tends to be the mainstream commercial cheeses and some, but not all of the artisanal vegan cheeses.
Table of Contents
Why is Vegan Cheese so Bad?
- Most hard-style commercial vegan cheeses are made from coconut oil, a form of starch, and carrageenan, providing no nutritional benefit and void of protein.
- Carrageenan is surrounded by controversy as scientific studies show it to be a carcinogenic and scientists request its restriction.
- Vegan cheese doesn’t mimic the flavour or texture of dairy cheese but instead has a more plastic texture and bland flavour.
- Vegan cheese doesn’t contain casein, a protein found in cow’s milk, which gives cheese its characteristics (see below for a new vegan cheese with casein).
- False expectations: you’re searching for a vegan cheese that tastes like a dairy cheese, instead of giving yourself some time to adjust without cheese and then, and only then, introducing the healthy vegan cheese option as a food in its own right.
- Making your own vegan cheese will give you a healthier vegan cheese with a tasty, nutritious profile.
What Is Vegan Cheese Made Of?
This is predominantly the kind of cheese people are reaching out for when they first turn vegan, and quite understandably perhaps, it is also the reason vegan cheese has such a bad rep.
The hard cheddar style cheese is the most difficult to replicate in texture and taste.
Mainstream vegan cheeses have been around since before the turn of the century but the problem is, they don’t really offer any nutritional benefits whatsoever and can be high in sodium.
Common Ingredients in Hard Vegan Cheeses:
- Oil: the most common oil used in the production of commercial vegan cheese is coconut oil. Other oils are palm oil, canola oil and sunflower oil
- Starch: potato starch, maize starch, tapioca starch, pea starch
- Thickeners: carrageenan, guar gum
- Flavourings: natural flavourings
- Other ingredients: various other ingredients can be found including natural colouring and flavouring agents.
What is Casein Protein? (in Dairy Milk)
Casein protein gives cheese it characteristics and is found only in dairy milk.
Casein doesn’t come from plants and isn’t available for making vegan cheese.
But one company, New Culture are developing casein through precision fermentation and plan to release a plant based revolutionary mozzarella that stretches and melts the same as dairy mozzarella before 2023.
New Culture says it will be cheese without the cow.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan comes from red seaweed and acts as a thickener and stabiliser.
It’s used throughout the food industry in many different types of products including but not limited to toothpaste, ice-cream, vegan jelly, cakes, desserts, milkshakes, diet drinks, vegan cheese and more.
According to this interesting article on Medical News Today, it’s often added to chicken (to make it juicy for longer), to other meats and to dog food.
Because it acts like gelatine it can also be found in chewy sweets or chewy vitamin tablets.
However, carrageenan is surrounded by controversy and there are calls to have it taken off the market although the studies so far have proved the health hazard in animal cells rather than humans.
The long list of possible side effects from consuming carageenan range from bloating, stomach ulcers IBS, glucose intolerance and colon cancer.
In fact carageenan has been listed as a ‘possible’ carcinogenic food for humans by the FDA.
Artisan Vegan Cheeses (And Why They Might Be Better)
Artisan vegan cheeses vary enormously.
You can find a nutritious, gooey delicious cashew nut camembert while you’re sitting at a vegan Café in Bordeaux passing the time of day.
(You know the kind of cheese that warrants dreaming about?)
Or you might buy an artisan vegan cheese and find that it tastes like plastic and/or is full of sugar, salt or carrageenan.
Small companies make vegan cheeses all around the world. And while they’ll never be whole foods, they have the potential to be much more tasty and healthy than the mainstream cheddar imitations.
Artisan vegan cheeses tend to be made from nuts, with cashews being the most common nut in the production of cheese.
But if you’re going to include commercial vegan cheese in your diet, I recommend you study the ingredients first.
And incase it’s a help to you, here you can find a long list of the best artisan vegan cheese companies according to Vegout.
Is Vegan Cheese Unhealthy?
Shop bought commercial vegan cheese is a processed food.
If you look at the ingredients of a standard vegan hard style cheese from the supermarket or health store, you’ll see that normally none of the ingredients are actually health-giving.
They tend to be high fat, high sugar/salt and low protein, meaning that this kind of vegan cheese isn’t really something you want to include in your diet unless for you, you really find it a treat.
Homemade vegan cheese on the other hand, or good quality artisan cheeses can be healthy while eaten in moderation.
Why does Vegan Cheese Taste Horrible?
The reason vegan cheese tastes horrible to you might be because you’ve just stopped eating dairy and you’re jumping onto the vegan cheese expecting it to be the same.
And it isn’t.
In fact it clearly isn’t from the udder of a cow so why would it taste the same?
The good news is, if you take a break for a while and start investigating new foods and being ‘new’ flavours rather than copies of old things, then you might be surprised to find that vegan cheese doesn’t taste so bad after all.
Or maybe it tastes delicious. Depending on who you are and what vegan cheese you are eating.
It’s a similar story with tofu. You might find tofu disgusting in the beginning, but give it time and your taste buds will change and you may find you get to love tofu.
Why is Vegan Cheese Called Cheese?
Vegan Cheese is called cheese because it’s used in the place of cheese and because its made using the same process as dairy cheese. Though this is not always the case of course.
Whenever you would have eating the old dairy cheese, you look to put something there in its place.
Why Homemade Vegan Cheese Isn’t Bad
Homemade vegan cheese in the main part doesn’t actually imitate dairy cheese – it has its own character in its own right.
And it can’t be called ‘bad’.
Except when it’s made bad of course.
Because it’s delicious, nutritious and as healthy as the ingredients your choose to put in it.
Homemade vegan cheese uses ingredients like cashews, tofu, walnuts, agar agar, tapioca, nutritional yeast etc.
I would never add an ingredient like carrageenan for example – but some people do. For me, it’s what I would call a non-food, which at best doesn’t help you at all and at worst can hurt you.
So why eat it?
I also don’t add sugar. BTW, did you know that your sugar might not be vegan? Is it true that sugar is processed with bone char?
So it is possible to make some healthy and tasty cheese replacements, but you’ll need to give yourself time to adapt. Take a simple vegan parmesan for example, it’s so simple and healthy and tasty – but you shouldn’t try it with traditional parmesan in your mind.
Because vegan cheeses aren’t cheese.
I wrote a post on how to give up traditional cheese because it seems to be something many of us struggle with in the early days of going vegan.
I hope you liked this post on why vegan cheese is bad, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you get the urge to do so!
Cheerio for now!