Controversy Alert! 7 Moments When Vegan Cheeses Shook the World
Vegan Cheeses are (seemingly) the biggest obstacles facing anyone in their decision to go completely vegan. And this spotlight made way for some surprising vegan cheese reputations and controversies over the years. Who knew cheese could be so shocking? Let’s clear up and explore 7 moments in cheese history and answer a few common questions along the way.
- People Have Been Eating Vegan Cheese for 2000 Years
There are a few ways to make vegan cheese, but it is very similar to the process of making dairy cheese. The cheesemaker adds a bacterial culture to plant-based milk such as nut, bean, seed, etc. and it separates the proteins. To get the right consistency of whatever type of cheese the maker is looking for, they add a thickening agent like a flour or starch. They are often not cultured or aged. Instead acidic ingredients, such as lemon juice, are used to make it taste like real cheese.
Evidence of tofu in China is sourced as far back as the Han Dynasty in 206 B.C.–220 A.D. We’ll give you three guesses as to how tofu is made. Yes, you guessed right, tofu has an almost identical process to vegan cheese! Usually an enzyme (as opposed to a living bacterial culture) separates the proteins in the soy milk, but it still can be considered a vegan cheese.
Because tofu is a bit of a blank slate in terms of taste, you probably won’t see it front and centre on a cheese platter. However, our tofu desserts blog goes into whimsical detail regarding the delicious landscape of what tofu offers the dessert world. Tofu can be used as a base for vegan desserts such as brownies. It can also get its time to shine in desserts like taho (Filipino silken tofu dessert made with brown sugar simple syrup and sago pearls) and douhua (a tofu custard topped with sweet syrup). Companies such as Tofutti make desserts like tofu ice cream accessible in selected grocery stores.
- Vegan Cheese was Briefly an Opiate
If you look at the packaging of many vegan cheeses nowadays, many will conspicuously state they don’t contain casein (the main protein part in milk). Casein isn’t necessarily bad as it is the main ingredient in all dairy cheeses. It’s actually in all mammal milk and is said to help grow a stronger bond between baby and mother, as well as encouraging babies to drink their mother’s milk. This craving is caused by small components called casomorphins that compose the casein, a natural opiate. Now, that popular sentiment we talked about earlier, “I could never be vegan, I love cheese too much!” makes complete sense. Cheese is literally addictive!
Caseins do a lot of iconically cheesy things, most notably the stretchy meltable consistency. In the past, cheese-makers included casein in vegan cheeses, but it proved to be sourced from a non-plant-based origin. This led, of course, consumers to lose trust in cheese alternatives ever since. The attitude around these cheeses for many years was that they were either waxy and weird-tasting or not even vegan.
A new innovation as of 2022 is making huge waves in the vegan community for creating a completely vegan casein (for real this time). New Culture is a California-based cheese-maker who uses “precision fermentation” to produce their casein. This is going to mean incredible things, especially for vegan mozzarella pizza!
- Cheese Alternatives are Alive!
Ten years before New Culture’s casein, Miyoko Schinner rocked the vegan cheese world with her cookbook, Artisan Vegan Cheese. She determined that the one missing step that made vegan cheese subpar was the lack of live bacterial cultures. She proposed the use of rejuvelac to help in the vegan cheese-making process. You can make rejuvelac pretty easily by fermenting sprouted grains, usually wheat or quinoa. This was the first time vegan cheese melted! And suddenly that long-lived waxy taste reputation was a thing of the past. Along with her book, Miyoko is also a restaurateur and a cheese-maker with Miyoko’s Creamery brand.
Today, adding live bacteria to vegan cheese has become a common procedure, and there are actually small artisan vegan cheese-makers that are expanding the technique. Their process follows all the blooming time, intricacies, and stinkiness that dairy cheese follows. Thus, it results in a complex and very convincing end-product. How lucky we are to enjoy cheese fondue or a completely vegan cheese board for dessert!
4. Vegan Cheese Saving the World
Cow farming is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases and water degradation. The emphasis is not so much on the farming, but on the methane and waste the cows produce. Although all meat is seen as a big issue for the environment, cheese is actually worse than chicken, fish or pork farming. Purchasing dairy cheese promotes the farming of cows to a lesser yet similar degree to purchasing meat. Going vegan even some of the time, or just for your cheeses, has a direct positive impact on the environment.
Vegan food in general has a few reputations; some are good and some are bad. It is believed that if you’re eating vegan food, you’re eating healthy food. Furthermore, there is a notion that vegan food is carbon-neutral. Neither of these is necessarily the case. There’s absolutely vegan junk food! And not all plant-based ingredients are created equal. We go into more depth on the different environmental effects of eco treats and plant-based desserts in our blog from Earth Day. The short version is that nuts consume a lot of water, which does have a negative effect on the environment. So, if you can choose vegan cheeses that are a base of less water-intensive ingredients like oats or coconuts, then you’re making a good impact!
- Vegan Cheeses Become Illegal
Have you ever thought about the word “cheese” causing decades of uproar? Well, dairy farmers, governments, and food safety groups want to ban the use of the word “cheese” (as well as “milk” and “butter” for that matter) when referencing plant-based food products. Their rationale is that it could mislead consumers. Someone might buy coconut-based cheese thinking it’s dairy cheese that’s been coconut-flavoured. Many vegan cheesemongers are arguing that this could also apply to someone purchasing goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk. And that if the use of “veggie burger” is okay, then cheese should be okay too. But more and more companies are being ignored and forced to rebrand as a variety of creative solutions such as vegan “cheeze”.
This viewpoint has gone so far as Turkey banning vegan cheese altogether. Similar to the move of other countries in the world, the Turkish government had previously banned the use of the word. But in July 2022 they banned the production and sale of anything that even resembled cheese if it wasn’t dairy-based. There was an immense amount of attention and even a change.org petition was launched to alter this legislation. Hopefully, vegan cheeze will return to Turkey soon!
- Peanut Butter is Vegan Cheese
John Harvey Kellogg is a hugely controversial figure in and of himself, but as his name suggests, he discovered the food that makes Kellogg cereal. Although it was his brother who created and popularized the brand, John created the cereal to help with digestion. John Harvey Kellogg was a doctor and vegetarian who innovated a lot of food for himself and his patients, believing diet could help them. He is actually the first person to have patented nut butter! Originally looking for a vegan alternative to cream cheese and butter, he created something very similar to modern-day peanut butter. This was in 1895, and it was a hundred years before vegan cheese would progress much further than cheese spreads.
Before the 1990s (and some would say even as recently as before 2018), if you wanted vegan cheese, you were stuck with either buying a spread, or making a spread. Besides tofu, it was extremely difficult to find something solid and delicious like a vegan cheddar or gouda. This made it extremely difficult to have vegan cheeses as your dessert course. Today, cheese alternatives can provide you with that cheddar, along with parmesan, gouda, mozzarella, and even brie or cream cheese! The world is completely open!
- The Future of Vegan Cheese
With the success of the alternative meat burger, vegan cheese-makers are working harder than ever to innovate. And there are some exciting developments to look forward to in the vegan cheeses world!
The different steps in the cheese-making process hold important secrets to how the difference between vegan and dairy cheese will one day be indistinguishable. Along with the casein innovation of New Culture, Perfect Day is making waves with their inventions. They are an Indian and United States-based brand who sell vegan “dairy” products. They also invented a very special whey protein that mimics milk protein. It makes the process of vegan cheese fermentation a whole lot easier and even creates vegan cheese that is identical to its dairy counterpart. Perfect Day is making the protein available to everyone, which means more vegan cheese-makers can enter the market with less of a barrier.
Cheese alternatives have come a long way in the last 2000 years. Despite their controversies and the wild stories behind them, they’ve stuck around and truly thrived. It’s certainly not as difficult to find vegan cheeses near you. So why not try some today!