Vegan cheese is a non-dairy or plant cheese analogue aimed at vegans and other people who want to avoid animal products. As with plant milk, vegan cheese can be made from seeds, such as sesame and sunflower; nuts, such as cashew, pine nut, and almond; and soybeans, peanuts, coconut oil, nutritional yeast, tapioca, and rice, among other ingredients. Vegan cheese is cholesterol-free and may be a good source of protein.
Non-dairy cheese became commercially available in the 1980s, but at that time and into the 1990s,[when?] the vegan cheeses available weren’t as good quality as regular cheese, having a waxy, chalky or plastic-like texture. From the early 1990s,[when?] a high-quality vegan cheese called Sheese has been available in Scotland and is distributed worldwide. In the United States, the only brand of vegan cheese available at the time was Soymage. Since then, the variety and taste of vegan cheese have improved significantly.
As of 2018, the current market for vegan cheese continues to grow and develop on a global scale. This is speculated to be due to the continuance of growing health concerns, dietary restrictions, and popularity in veganism. This market increase can be seen directly in regions within the United States and Canada. The growth can also be seen reaching all the way to market economies across the world in places such as China, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and Brazil. The more popular types of vegan cheese being manufactured, distributed, and produced through this market are those mimicking Mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar, Gouda, and Cream Cheese dairy based cheeses. These vegan cheeses are most popularly being applied to the general area of food itself, be it via restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, or personal cultivation. Vegan cheese is expanding and projected to continue to grow greatly into the mid 2020s.
In February 2019, a Vancouver, British Columbia vegan cheese shop, Blue Heron Creamery, was ordered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to stop calling their products cheese as it was 'misleading' to consumers, despite the Creamery stating that their cheese was always labelled as "dairy-free" and "plant-based." The CFIA later reversed the rejection and stated that they have no objection to the Creamery using the nomenclature “100% dairy-free plant-based cheese” provided that "it is truthful".
In the same month, a Brixton vegan cheese shop, La Fauxmagerie, was ordered by Dairy UK to stop describing products as cheese because it 'misleads shoppers'. Sisters Rachel and Charlotte Stevens, owners of the cheese shop, stated that it is not misleading as their "products were clearly marked as dairy-free."
Some of the success in the vegan cheese market can be attributed to the continuing development of plant based proteins in substitution for cow’s milk among dairy products. Plant based proteins or vegetable proteins are derived from edible sources of protein such as soybeans. These proteins are used to help mimic texture and overall structure of the food product they are attempting to replicate in a non-dairy version. Plant based proteins are partly responsible for vegan cheeses being able to imitate the stretching and melting property that dairy cheeses possess.
A difficult challenge for food scientists is creating vegan cheese that melts and stretches like dairy cheese. Dairy cheese, and many lactose-free cheese analogues, melt and stretch because of the protein casein, which is a milk protein and therefore not vegan, so food scientists use a "blend of gums, protein, solids and fats" to attempt to duplicate the mouthfeel and melt of dairy cheese. A project called Real Vegan Cheese aims to solve this difficulty by making cheese with casein produced by yeast rather than by cows. This cheese would have real casein, but would be vegan because the casein would not be animal-derived.
As of 2018, there are a few different approaches to making vegan cheese, but one of the more intricate and scientific processes involves fermentation. In this approach the cheese maker would typically start with some type of tree nut and allow the desired amount of nuts to soak in a small amount of water for about 36 hours. The soaking of the raw nuts allows bacteria to develop and then ferment. The natural sugars produced by the tree nut and the bacterial development are how the fermentation happens. The length of time involved in the aforementioned fermentation is what gives vegan cheese its variance in tangy flavor.
Those looking to emulate the creamy texture and saltiness of real cheese tend to find themselves reaching for cashews, both at restaurants and at home. [...] But several other nuts can be transformed into vegan 'cheese'—what Keenan calls 'nutcheese'—such as almonds and pine nuts, among others.
Depending on the brand and recipe that's used, vegan cheese can be made from soy protein (used in shiny, slick, rubbery varieties), solidified vegetable oil (like coconut, palm, or safflower) nutritional yeast, thickening agar flakes, nuts (including cashews, macadamias, and almonds), tapioca flour, natural enzymes, vegetable glycerin, assorted bacterial cultures, arrowroot, and even pea protein.
But to make a true vegan cheese substitute, you can't use casein. So [Jonathan] Gordon's latest challenge has been to make a cheese that is completely free of animal byproducts but still retains the properties we love about cheese. 'The skill of the formulator is to use exactly the right amounts and blend of gums, protein, solids and fats to get a desirable, cheese-like bite and mouth feel while achieving a realistic melt (this is very difficult),' he tells The Salt. Those gums replace the casein, working as 'emulsifiers'and 'stabilizers' to hold the other ingredients together, according to Crowe. (The other ingredients include a protein base like soy or rice, water, oil, starches, flavors and colors.)
One of those innovations in the works is for Real Vegan Cheese, using the milk protein casein but without the input of a cow. It boggles the mind (or at least my mind) but biotech researchers are working on it right now in labs in Oakland and Sunnyvale, California.
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