By Dr S V N Vijayendra
Vegan cheese though not known to many is ubiquitous in western markets. Very few people in our country know about it. It is a delicious and enigmatic substance made using ingredients from purely vegetarian sources and devoid of animal milk and animal-sourced rennet. It is made from a variety of nuts, most common being almonds, cashews, etc. Soy milk is another alternative used to prepare vegan cheese.
The plant-based ingredients have healthy fats with no cholesterol. Animal sources rennet is not used to prepare vegan cheeses. Palm oil and coconut oil are common ingredients in vegan cheeses. Vegan cheeses are dairy-free alternatives to commercial milk-based cheeses available universally. A fermented soymilk-based ‘tofu cheese’ was produced in 1911 near Paris. Before that, Kellogg developed dairy-free cheese alternatives mainly from nuts in the late 1800s. However, there is no vegan alternative to casein, the milk protein, available on the market. Similar to animal milk-based cheeses, several steps like fermentation, smoking, aging and adding herbs and spices are adopted to prepare vegan cheeses.
However, vegan cheeses may be high in saturated fats, hence, consumption of vegan cheeses in large amounts and quite often may not be good for health. Unlike animal milk-based cheeses, the protein content in vegan cheeses is low. Research is on to produce casein or casein-like protein through microbial fermentation technology for use in vegan cheeses.
Increasing demand for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products lead to the development of vegan cheeses. A wide variety of vegan cheeses, like hard, soft, spreadable, aged, smoked versions, aged, etc., are available. According to the website of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), many flavoured varieties of vegan cheeses are available in foreign markets. Shredded vegan cheese makes an excellent topping for foods.
Slices of veggie cheese can be applied to a veggie sandwich and eaten. Vegan cream cheese is of great taste. Soft vegan cheeses are deliciously spreadable on bread and crackers and are also great for melting into sauces and sprinkling on top of fresh salads. Vegan Parmesan cheese goes well with pasta dishes and can be enjoyed with homemade popcorn. Vegan cheese-based sauces are also made commercially. Similar to other vegan foods, vegan cheese tastes great, and the vegan cheese market is stocked with variations that taste good. However, they may be high in sodium salts and saturated fats.