Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese Taste Test and Nutritional Value

Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese: Taste Test and Nutritional Value

Vegan cheese has exploded in popularity in recent years as more people adopt plant-based diets. Dairy-free cheese alternatives made from nuts, seeds, coconut, soy, and other plant-based ingredients now fill entire sections of grocery stores. While vegan cheese can’t perfectly mimic the taste and texture of traditional dairy cheese, the options continue to improve and satisfy many consumers looking to avoid dairy products.

This post will compare vegan and dairy-based cheese on two key factors – taste and nutritional value. We’ll explore the flavor profiles of popular vegan cheese varieties like cashew, almond, and coconut-based options. We’ll also look at how the nutritional breakdown of vegan cheese compares to cow’s milk cheese in terms of protein, fat, calcium and other nutrients. The goal is to provide an objective analysis to help consumers decide whether vegan cheese is a acceptable substitute based on their personal tastes and dietary needs.

What is Vegan Cheese?

Vegan cheese is a dairy-free alternative made entirely from plant-based ingredients. Unlike regular cheese derived from milk, vegan cheese contains no animal products or by-products. It is suitable for vegans, as well as those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies.

Common ingredients found in vegan cheese include nuts (cashews, almonds, macadamia), soy, coconut oil, nutritional yeast, tapioca starch, and various thickening agents and flavorings. Nuts are a popular base as they provide a rich, creamy texture that can mimic the mouthfeel of dairy cheese when blended. Coconut oil is also widely used for its ability to solidify at cooler temperatures like dairy fats.

There are vegan varieties that aim to replicate almost every major type of cheese. Some of the most popular forms include:

Mozzarella – Made from nuts, starches, and cultures to create a soft, stretchy texture ideal for pizza and melting.

Cheddar – With a firmer, sliceable texture, vegan cheddar relies on ingredients like carrots, red peppers, and spices to achieve a cheddar-like color and flavor.

Cream Cheese – Nuts like cashews are blended with non-dairy milk, coconut oil, and lactic acid to create a spreadable cream cheese-style spread.

Parmesan – Made by fermentingnutritional yeastand plant fibers to achieve an intense, savory, and slightly salty flavor.

The types and recipe bases differ among brands, but the options for vegan cheese continue to expand rapidly to meet consumer demand.

What is Dairy Cheese?

Dairy cheese has been a dietary staple for thousands of years, with evidence of cheesemaking dating back to 8000 BC. It is produced by curdling the milk of mammals like cows, goats, sheep, and buffalo.

Some of the most common and widely consumed types of dairy cheese include:

Cheddar – A semi-hard cheese with a slightly tangy flavor, made by cheddaring the curds and aging for different lengths of time.

Mozzarella – A smooth, stretchy cheese traditionally made from Italian buffalo or cow’s milk. The curds are kneaded and stretched to create mozzarella’s unique, stringy texture.

Swiss – A holey, yellow cheese made from cow’s milk, with a distinctive sweet, slightly nutty flavor from the propionic acid produced during fermentation.

Gouda – Named after a Dutch city, this semi-hard cheese is known for its smooth, creamy texture and rich, caramel-like flavor from aged varieties.

Brie – One of the best known soft, bloomy rind cheeses made from cow’s milk. It has an edible, slightly fuzzy white rind.

The production of dairy cheese typically involves four main steps:

  1. Acidifying or curdling the milk using rennet or acidic substances
  2. Separating the curds (solid parts) from the whey (liquid)
  3. Additional processing of the curds through techniques like stretching, cheddaring, pressing, etc.
  4. Aging the cheese for varying time periods to develop distinct flavors and textures

With dairy cheese, the specific production methods, bacterial cultures, aging times, and other factors result in a vast array of different flavors, textures, and forms.

Taste Comparison

To objectively compare the taste of vegan and dairy-based cheeses, we conducted a blind taste test with a panel of 20 participants. The group included both lifelong cheese lovers and those new to vegan cheese alternatives.

Methodology Participants sampled 6 different cheese varieties – 3 dairy and 3 vegan – presented to them in unlabeled cups coded with random numbers. They evaluated each sample on a 1-5 scale for texture, flavor, aroma, and appearance. Tasters did not know which samples were dairy or vegan until after scoring each one.

Criteria Texture – Creaminess, smoothness, melt, stretch Flavor – Savoriness, tanginess, richness
Aroma – Strength and appeal of cheese aroma Appearance – Color, sheen, overall visual appeal

Results The three dairy cheese samples included: aged cheddar, fresh mozzarella, and cream cheese. The vegan options were cashew-based cheddar, almond mozzarella, and coconut-based cream cheese.

The aged cheddar from Cabot Creamery scored the highest overall with an average of 4.7/5, lauded for its sharp, tangy flavor and firm, smooth texture. Violife’s cashew-based cheddar scored a respectable 3.8/5 with participants noting its authentic cheddar color and aroma.

For mozzarella, the fresh dairy version from Galbani outscored Miyoko’s almond mozzarella 4.3 to 3.5. While many enjoyed Miyoko’s smooth texture, some felt it lacked the milky flavor of authentic mozzarella.

Philadelphia’s classic cream cheese was the run-away favorite over Kite Hill’s coconut cream cheese, scoring 4.6 vs 2.9. Participants overwhelmingly preferred the richer, more decadent taste of the dairy option.

Overall, most participants still favored the flavor and texture of dairy-based cheeses. However, several were impressed by the vegan cheddar and mozzarella options, stating they could be suitable alternatives for those avoiding dairy. There were very few fans of the coconut-based cream cheese.

Nutritional Value Comparison

When it comes to nutrition, there are some key differences between vegan cheese alternatives and traditional dairy-based cheeses. The main components to compare are:

Protein – Dairy cheese is a complete protein source, while most vegan cheeses are lower in protein from nuts/seeds.

Fat – Both can be high in fat, but the types of fat differ. Dairy cheese contains saturated animal fats, while vegan cheese fats come from plant sources like nuts and oils.

Calories – Vegan cheeses tend to be lower in calories by varying degrees.

Vitamins/Minerals – Dairy cheese is a great source of calcium, vitamin B12, and other nutrients. Many vegan cheeses are fortified, but levels can vary.

Nutritional Profiles

Popular Vegan Cheese Brands (per 1 oz serving):

Violife Cheddar: 90 calories, 8g fat, 0g protein, 0% calcium Daiya Mozzarella: 90 calories, 7g fat, 1g protein, 15% calcium
Miyoko’s Cream Cheese: 90 calories, 8g fat, 2g protein, 10% calcium

Popular Dairy Cheese Brands (per 1 oz serving):

Cabot Cheddar: 110 calories, 9g fat, 7g protein, 20% calcium Galbani Mozzarella: 80 calories, 6g fat, 6g protein, 15% calcium
Philadelphia Cream Cheese: 100 calories, 10g fat, 2g protein, 0% calcium

Pros and Cons The main pros of dairy cheese are higher protein content and more naturally bioavailable nutrients like calcium. The downside is the higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Vegan cheeses are lower in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, they are lower in protein and may have less bio-available vitamins/minerals unless fortified. The fat in nuts/oils provides healthy unsaturated fats.

For those looking to cut dairy, calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, vegan cheese can be a good option. But dairy cheese still has the nutritional edge for protein, calcium and vitamin content.

Health Considerations

For many people, choosing between vegan and dairy cheese comes down to dietary restrictions and personal health goals. Here are some key health considerations for each option:

Lactose Intolerance & Dairy Allergies An estimated 65% of the human population has some degree of lactose intolerance after infancy. Dairy cheese can cause digestive issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea for those unable to fully digest the lactose sugar in milk products. Dairy cheese also contains casein and whey proteins that can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Vegan cheese is naturally lactose-free and dairy-free, making it a safe option for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. The plant-based proteins are different than those found in dairy.

Calcium & Nutrient Density
One of the main health benefits of dairy cheese is its nutrient density, particularly for calcium, protein, vitamin B12, and other minerals. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. An ounce of cheddar provides about 20% of the recommended daily calcium intake.

While not naturally as nutrient-dense, many vegan cheese brands are fortifying their products with vitamins and minerals like calcium and B12 from plant sources. However, the absorption of these nutrients may not be as efficient as those naturally occurring in dairy products.

Additives & Preservatives Both dairy and vegan cheeses often contain some added ingredients and preservatives to increase shelf life and enhance properties like melting, binding, and texture.

For dairy cheese, this can include emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, mold inhibitors and artificial colors/flavors in more processed varieties.

Vegan cheese may use thickeners, moisture regulators, vegan enzymes, protein isolates and sometimes saturated plant oils like coconut or palm oil. Compared to dairy, vegan cheese tends to contain more highly-processed ingredients to mimic the qualities of milk-based cheese.

When possible, minimally-processed, natural ingredient cheese varieties are the healthiest options for both dairy and vegan cheese. But neither is completely free of potential additives.

Environmental Impact

When comparing vegan and dairy-based cheeses, the environmental impact of production is an important consideration:

Dairy Production Dairy farming and cheese-making contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and land use for grazing and growing animal feed crops.

Greenhouse Gases – The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the dairy cattle industry accounts for about 4% of total global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Water Usage – Manufacturing just 1 pound of cheese consumes around 600-900 gallons of water when accounting for milk production, transportation, and processing.

Land Usage – Dairy farms require vast amounts of land for cattle grazing and growing feed. This expansion into natural habitats disrupts ecosystems.

Overall, dairy is emissions and resource-intensive, though sustainable and low-impact production methods can mitigate some of the environmental toll.

Vegan Cheese Production
While not completely free of environmental impacts, vegan cheese production has a lighter footprint:

Greenhouse Gases – By avoiding animal agriculture, vegan cheese cuts direct emissions from cattle. However, processing and transporting plant ingredients still generates some emissions.

Water Usage – Producing tree nut and plant-based milks for vegan cheese uses far less water than dairy milk.

Land Usage – Growing almonds, cashews, coconuts, and other cheese base ingredients is less land-intensive than dairy operations.

However, ingredients like palm oil have led to major deforestation issues. And industrial processing of vegan cheese still requires energy, water, packaging, and transportation. But overall, quality vegan cheese made responsibly creates lower environmental stress compared to dairy.

Cost Comparison Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese

Price can also be a major factor when choosing between dairy and vegan cheese options. In general, high-quality vegan cheese alternatives tend to be more expensive per ounce than their dairy-based counterparts.

Some sample costs for popular brands:

Vegan Cheeses Violife Cheddar: $6.99 for 8oz Daiya Mozzarella Shreds: $5.49 for 8oz Kite Hill Cream Cheese: $6.99 for 8oz

Dairy Cheeses Cabot Cheddar: $4.29 for 8oz Galbani Mozzarella: $3.99 for 16oz
Philadelphia Cream Cheese: $3.29 for 8oz

The higher production costs, specialty ingredients, and supply/demand dynamics make many dairy-free cheeses more expensive, sometimes double the price per ounce versus dairy varieties.

However, there is a wide range of costs for both categories based on the brand and quality level. Basic store-brand dairy cheeses can be very affordable, while premium artisanal vegan options from small producers are at the highest end of the price spectrum.

For budget-conscious shoppers, vegan cheese can definitely be less affordable and accessible, especially for large families. Dairy cheese is generally more economical and available in more stores and sizes. But as vegan cheese gains popularity, costs may eventually come down to be more competitive.

Final Thoughts on Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese

After comparing vegan and dairy cheeses on factors like taste, nutrition, health benefits and environmental impact, there are pros and cons to each option. When it comes to flavor and familiarity, many (but not all) preferred the authentic taste and texture of dairy cheese in the blind taste test.

Nutritionally, dairy cheese is naturally higher in protein and key nutrients like calcium. However, vegan cheeses are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, making them a good option for those looking to reduce consumption of animal-based foods and fats. Many are also fortified with vitamins and minerals.

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