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The Rise of Plant-Based Vegan Cheese

14 December 2022

Plant-based vegan cheese has not had the best reputation, historically. The gooey, spreadable, and melting qualities of traditional cheeses have escaped the dairy-free alternatives. However, this is all starting to change.

Vegan cheese is now coming into its own. Thanks to new developments in technology, plant-based cheeses are beginning to behave more like their dairy counterparts. The vegan cheese experience is being elevated, thus resulting in massive market growth.

For food developers and companies, this is an exciting time. Indeed, there are huge opportunities to develop the next best-selling vegan cheese.

The First Vegan Cheeses

Vegan cheese is not a new invention.

The first case of vegan cheese dates back to 1910 in France. Li Yu-ying (the founder of Tofu Manufacturing Co.) created a commercial dairy-free cheese made from fermented soy. China actually has a long history of fermenting tofu to create non-dairy, cheese-like products. This rich past influenced Li in the development of his soy Gruyere, Roquefort, and Camembert.

The vegan cheese torch was then passed to the Seventh-day Adventists, who fostered the creation of soy-based cream cheeses. Most North American commercial cheese alternatives between 1911 and 1970 were made by the Seventh-day Adventists.

However, the common era for vegan cheese really began in 1980. The dairy-free cheese brands of the 1980s are most similar in flavour and texture to the plant-based alternatives of today. Most were created from soy and did not stretch, melt, or ooze like traditional cheeses.

Gradually, cheese made from fermented nuts and seeds began to make an appearance. These inventions were fostered by the raw food movement. Cashews (and cashew milk), with their high-fat content and malleable flavour, were now favoured over soy by many brands. The flavour of soy can be hard to overcome, which made cashews an exciting alternative.

Recent breakthroughs in plant-based fermentation are behind many of the most successful vegan cheeses today.

Casein, Whey, and Plant-Proteins

Traditional cheese is granted its magical ability to melt, stretch, and smear from casein and whey. These two proteins are present in dairy, but not in plant-based alternatives…at least, not until quite recently.

Plant proteins, like those found in peas, soy, beans, and other plants, differ greatly from the animal proteins found in dairy. When heat is applied to casein, it melts and stretches. The structure of the proteins in beans and legumes, on the other hand, are more brittle. As a result, they do not aggregate or stretch.

This has been one of the major challenges for creators of plant-based cheese. How do you achieve the same stretchiness of cheese without the casein or whey?

Researchers at the University of Guelph are investigating this issue. They’re looking for new ways to tweak the proteins in legumes and beans so they behave more like animal proteins. This would allow vegan cheeses to melt, slice, smear, and grate like traditional cheeses.


Fermentation provides another path to gooey, stretchy, and spreadable vegan cheese. How? The fermentation process can actually create vegan casein and whey.

In some cases, a vegan probiotic culture called Lactobacillus acidophilus is applied to ground cashews. This strain is also used in the creation of traditional cheeses and yogurts. As the cashews ferment, vegan casein and whey are produced. This process has led to a range of cheese-like products, including vegan mozzarella and vegan goat’s cheese.

Thanks to the wonder of fermentation, some vegan alternatives are now successfully mimicking the taste, texture, and consistency of traditional cheeses. 

The Purpose of Vegan Cheese

We are in the midst of a vegan cheese boom, situated in a broader plant-based movement.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are skyrocketing. Increasingly, more people are choosing to adopt flexitarian and reducetarian diets with the aim of reducing their consumption of animal products. Furthermore, there is a growing awareness of lactose intolerance, which affects as much as 70% of the global population.

Consumers are motivated by concerns for their personal health, the environment, and animal welfare.

The dairy industry, in particular, is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cheese is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, falling only behind beef and lamb farming. Simply by switching to plant-based cheese, individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by up to 50%.

Additionally, the dairy industry raises red flags over the treatment of animals.

The Future of Vegan Cheese

In 2021, just over 60% of U.S. households bought plant-based products. During that same year, plant-based dairy products, like vegan cheeses, reached $2.1 billion USD in sales. This market is expected to grow 12.6% annually between 2022 and 2030.

The rise of vegan cheese (and all plant-based products) is here to stay. 

A Guide to Vegan Cheeses by Hela Spice

Hela Spice’s expert team of creative product developers has established a fantastic line of plant-based cheese alternatives. Our vegan cheese products offer tantalizing flavour profiles, desirable texture, and optimum functionality.

Furthermore, we have chosen to steer away from the common allergens of nuts, soy, and wheat. Instead, our products use mung bean, faba, and pea plant proteins, and include the following:

  • Plant-based cheddar (mild, old, hard)
  • Plant-based processed-style slices
  • Plant-based Parmesan
  • Plant-based mozzarella
  • Plant-based Havarti 
  • Plant-based cream cheese

Develop a New Plant-Based Cheese Product With Hela Spice

At Hela Spice, we pride ourselves on being food industry experts. We have a team of food scientists, chefs, and manufacturing experts constantly working hard to uncover global food trends through consumer insights. From there, we identify exciting food product opportunities for our clients.

This industry knowledge is paired with technical expertise, state-of-the-art food processing equipment, and quality ingredients to create new best-selling products.

We help our customers envision the future of food. Work with us today.

To learn more about food product development at Hela Spice, visit us at www.helaspice.com or contact us here.

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