Vegan Cheeses, Butters, and Spreads

 Vegan Cheese

Photo by Arinmoore

Using vegan substitutions in baking is easyinstead of butter or eggs, one can easily just used applesauce or mashed avocadobut what about those dishes in which one really needs the taste/texture of butter or cheese? It’s hard to conceive that anything could emulate the taste and texture of melted butter on hot toast, the gooey filling inside grilled cheese sandwiches, or the melt on French Onion soup, but there are many substitutes out there that are surprisingly good, and almost indistinguishable from the “real thing”. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

Cheese

 Cashew Cheese

Photo by Emilie Hardman

Chances are that if you ask a vegan if there’s any food that they miss now that they’ve given up animal-sourced products, there will be at least one item on their list that they get cravings for on occasion. For some it’s bacon, for others it might be milk chocolate or eggs, and for a large number of people, it could very well be cheese. From slurpy, stringy mozzarella on pizzas and lasagnes to cream cheese on a bagel, these comfort foods can be tough to give up.

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of great vegan cheese out there that are just as good (if not better than) the original versions, and countless recipes available for making your own. Vegan cheeses can have very similar tastes and textures to dairy ones, so people who are vegan for either ethical or health reasons can once again revel in all the gorgeous flavours they know and love.

Daiya

This company’s selection of vegan cheeses is spectacular, and each product has a multitude of uses. Made of a mixture of tapioca, arrowroot, pea protein, and a variety of nut oils, these gluten-free veg cheeses are flavourful, creamy, and perfect for everything from mac ‘n cheese to pizza and sandwiches. They have shreds, wedges, slices, and creamy spreads, and they’re all divine.

Tofutti

Though Tofutti has an entire line of vegan dairy alternatives ranging from frozen desserts to sour cream, they are probably most well-known for their cheeses. Their selection of “better than cream cheese” spreads comes in flavours like French onion and garlic & herb, in addition to the original plain

DIY Cheeses

Parmesan: Used as a topping for all manner of dishes, parmesan cheese has a unique toothsome quality and gentle bite that adds a great layer of texture and flavour to food. A vegan version can be made rather easily with 1/2 cup raw nuts of your choice, though a mixture of almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, and brazil nuts seems to the the most popular, 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, 1 tsp of sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Chevre:

You would not believe what raw cashews, a bit of oil, and some lemon juice can become when processed together. This recipe, shared by Alicia Silverstone on The Kind Life, creates an exquisite, creamy goat cheese substitute that can be used as a spread on crackers, in risotto, or any other recipe you can imagine.

 

Butter

 

Vegan Butter

Photo by Vegan Baking

This ubiquitous spread has been used since people first domesticated livestock, and is common in just about every culture on earth.  For those who have chosen an animal-free diet, however, it’s necessary to find alternatives that still have the fatty, spreadable goodness butter has to offer.

Earth Balance

This is probably the best vegan butter substitute available, and is so good that many non-vegans use it as a healthier alternative to dairy. It’s creamy and smooth, and is so versatile that it can be used for cooking and baking as well as spread on bread and such.

Becel Vegan Margarine

As more companies realise just how many people are choosing vegan diets, many are stepping up and creating products for this target market. Becel has come up with a vegan margarine that’s actually great for cooking as well as spreading on toast, but it’s a little oily to bake with.

DIY Butter

You can actually make your own vegan butter, but the process is a bit tricky: you’ll need oil-based lecithin (either liquid or granules) as well as xanthan gum, but once you get the hang of the technique, you’ll never be at a loss for cruelty-free, buttery goodness.

 

Spreads

 

Vegan Spread

Photo by Vegan Baking

One vegan lady I spoke with mentioned that although she had cravings for cheese after giving up animal products, she realized that it was the savoury creaminess that she yearned for, rather than the actual taste of cheese itself. There are a number of great spreads and pates that can be used in lieu of any kind of cheese—vegan or nonthat have all the flavour and texture that one might be looking for. Cashews seem to be the number one nut that’s used for spreads, but do experiment with different nuts to see what textures and flavours you can create. Beans are also used rather often, as their flavours are usually mild enough that they blend beautifully with whatever you puree them with.

Walnut Spread

Nuts tend to fill in for a lot of other ingredients when it comes to vegan cuisine, and walnuts have a particular smoky-bitter flavour that lends well to spreads, dips, and pates. Scour Pinterest or Epicurious for some ideas on how to use them.

 Artichoke and Heart of Palm Spread

Palm and artichoke hearts get creamy and smooth when pureed, and since they don’t have super-strong flavours to begin with, they take on flavourings remarkably well.

Cannellini Bean Spread

Probably the mildest-flavoured legumes out there, cannellini beans puree into a smooth, velvety paste, and can be used for a variety of different spreads and dips. Try blending them with tahini, and sweet potatoes for a unique hummus, or with sage, garlic, and lemon for a provencal topping on crusty bread.

Vegan food can be extraordinarily delicious and indulgent, with the same creamy, rich flavours most people associate with dairy products. A little experimentation and creativity are all that’s needed to expand one’s palate (and culinary repertoire!).

 

- Lana Winter-Hébert

Lana Winter-Hébert fell in love with cooking while still in primary school. The various dietary needs of her extended family (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets) have helped her to learn a fair bit about substitutions and meal plan modifications, and though her first love will always be the Scandinavian/Eastern European cuisine she grew up with, she has a penchant for Mexican food and can be bribed heartily with the offer of good huevos rancheros. Lana currently resides in rural Quebec with her husband and family, where she divides her time between writing, editing, design, and tending her permaculture garden. She cans and preserves whatever's in season, and is having some fantastic adventures with home cheese-making and mead-brewing.

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