A quality vegan cheese product is perfect for someone transitioning to a vegan diet, and even seasoned vegans enjoy the convenience of a classic grilled cheese made with non-dairy cheddar slices. However, these products are often processed and can be expensive. There are times when we’re in the mood for something with a more streamlined ingredient list and heightened nutritional profile. Plus, you’ll likely save a few dollars. With that in mind, here are five non-dairy cheeses that aren’t your typical sliced, shredded, or gourmet vegan cheese product. 

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1 Nutritional yeast

These nutrient-dense golden flakes are the key ingredient to any well-executed homemade cheese. When used on its own, nutritional yeast—or nooch, for those in-the-know—has a natural and distinctly cheesy flavor. It’s excellent on pastas in lieu of vegan parmesan, popcorn instead of powdered cheese flavoring, and roasted or steamed vegetables opposed to a melted cheese product. You’ll also find it in several recipes for cheesy sauces, dips, and even dessert. Nutritionally speaking, nooch could qualify as a superfood. Just two tablespoons yields six grams of protein, two grams of fiber, no fat, and a boost of B vitamins (including 80 percent of your daily vitamin B12). It’s a truly versatile and powerhouse of a condiment—the only thing it can’t do is make bread. Please, don’t confuse it for baker’s yeast. 

VegNews.PaulM.DillionPizzaPaul M. Dillon

2 Hummus

Hear us out. We understand hummus does not taste like cheese. However, it can replicate its creamy, melty texture in certain applications. Three particular standouts are pizza, quesadillas, and grilled sandwiches. The next time you make pizza at home, skip the tomato sauce and use hummus as the base. When cooked, it gets a little bubbly and browned while retaining its creamy texture. The same effect happens with grilled foods like quesadillas and paninis. It won’t stretch and ooze, but it offers moisture and a silky element that complements the other ingredients in your sandwich. It’s worth a try at least once! One thing to note: hummus does contain protein, but many blow it out of proportion. A two-tablespoon serving contains two grams of protein, which is only slightly better than most store-bought vegan cheese options. 

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3 Tofu

They say cauliflower is infinitely versatile, but we’d argue that tofu can do far more than this cruciferous veggie. Depending on how it’s prepared, tofu can transform into a funky feta, textured ricotta, or a silky cheese sauce. It can be served raw in a tomato and basil caprese salad or baked up in a rich lasagna or decadent mac and cheese. Stock up on both firm and silken varieties to make any of these options in an afternoon. When it comes to nutrition, firm and extra-firm tofu are more nutritionally dense, as they’re more concentrated (the silken versions contain more water). For a single serving of extra-firm tofu, you’re looking at eight grams of protein, 4.5 grams of fat, two grams of fiber, and eight percent of your daily iron. This certainly outperforms any vegan cheese product you could find on the shelf. 


4 Cashews

Sour cream, sweet cream, crema, mascarpone, parmesan, alfredo … when blended with a few other ingredients, cashews can take on an entirely new identity. The nuts’ fatty content lends itself well to obtaining a creamy texture, and their neutral taste allows them to take on added flavoring agents such as miso and nutritional yeast. If you’re researching recipes for vegan cheesecake, alfredo sauce, or tiramisu, it’s highly likely you’ll see a trend. Nearly every cheesy recipe of this caliber contains cashews. We particularly love this Creamy Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe. Of all the foods listed here, cashews are the most calorically and fat-dense. A one-ounce serving provides 150 calories and 12 grams of fat (two saturated), but it also contains five grams of protein and eight percent of your daily recommended iron. 

VegNews.PotatoQuesoDreena Burton

5 Potatoes 

The secret ingredient to any stellar mac and cheese or vegan queso? Potatoes … plus a few other things. We’ve enjoyed countless servings of belly-warming mac and cheese and dipped an infinite amount of tortilla chips into hot, gooey queso made with both white and sweet potatoes. When baked and blended, the flesh of a potato truly makes a difference in creating a velvety cheese sauce. Try it for yourself. This recipe from chef Chloe Coscareli uses sweet potatoes for an intensely creamy stove-top pasta while this Easy Veggie Fakeout Queso relies on Yukon Gold potatoes (and a few carrots and spices) to achieve a spicy, dippable cheese sauce. While potatoes are often cast as the villain by fad diet culture, they’re simply misunderstood. A single medium potato only contains about 160 calories and negligible fat, and yet it fuels the body with four grams of protein, nearly five grams of fiber, 70 percent of your daily vitamin C, and around 10 percent of your daily iron and magnesium. We say eat more potatoes—especially in their cheesy form. 

For more vegan cheesy goodness, read: 
16 Ways to Use Nutritional Yeast

The VegNews Guide to Vegan Cheese
5 Easy Tips to Make Nut-Free Vegan Cheese at Home