We explored the burgeoning world of vegan cheese, specifically vegan shredded mozzarella and cheddar, to find out just what’s in these mysterious shreds.
Published June 23, 2022.
The history of vegan cheese arguably starts with the production of fermented tofu in China and Japan. The method used to make fermented tofu—the coagulating and fermenting and aging of soy milk—is similar to the process used to make vegan cheese.
Some of the first plant-based cheeses that replicated Western-style milk-based varieties were made by Chinese food scientist Li Yu-ying, who brought his knowledge of tofu and soybean biology to France in the early 1900s. There, he made plant-based versions of many classic dairy cheeses, including Gruyère, Roquefort, and Camembert, and hosted extravagant meals showcasing soy cheese, vegetarian ham, soy preserves, and even soy bread.
Around the same time, vegan cheese was also popular in the United States among Seventh-day Adventists, many of whom follow a plant-based diet. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that vegan cheese became more widely available across the country.
Since then, great strides have been made in plant-based food technology, and vegan cheese is no exception: According to Grand View Research, the vegan cheese market is expected to grow 12.6 percent by 2030. At the grocery store, you can find vegan versions of many cheeses, including Parmesan, cream cheese, shredded cheddar and mozzarella, and Swiss (to top your plant-based burger, naturally). In some stores, you’ll also find artisanal cheese-plate vegan cheeses.
Shredded cheese is the most popular form, according to data from IRI, a Chicago-based data analytics and market research company. Between February 2021 and February 2022, vegan shreds sales generated $56.4 million and vegan slices came in second at $53.2 million, followed by vegan cream cheese at $27.4 million and all other kinds at $3.6 million.
With growing consumer interest in plant-based products and an expanding vegan cheese arena, we wanted to learn more, including what’s in vegan cheese, how it’s made, what different options taste like, and how to cook with them for maximum deliciousness. After researching the market, we decided to limit our lineup to the most popular form, shredded cheese. We cooked and ate our way through a variety of vegan shredded mozzarellas and cheddars, finding a bunch of great (and some not-so-great) products along the way.
Structurally speaking, dairy cheese is fat, water, and protein. Even with simple ingredients, it’s quite miraculous: It’s both solid and melty. Plus, it has a unique umami, fatty-but-tangy flavor that changes depending on how it’s aged and fermented. Animal milk contains a unique, naturally occurring protein called casein ...
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Camila is a senior editor on ATK's books team. She's cooked in restaurants and taught recreational cooking classes.