Easy Vegan Swaps for Cheese
So many vegetarians and omnivores tell us: “I would go vegan, but I couldn’t give up cheese!”. Don’t worry, we totally understand! Cheese addiction is real – thankfully, once you break free from it, the cravings stop.
Chemically speaking, though, why is cheese so addictive?
What makes cheese so addictive is the extremely high concentration of the milk protein casein that, when digested, results in casomorphins. Casomorphins are addictive and if you suddenly stop eating cheese, you might experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings. However, it doesn’t take long for these feelings to go away, and you can make the transition easier by replacing cheese in your diet with the plant-based cheeses we have listed below.
Vegan cheese gets a bad rap because when it first hit the supermarket shelves it was, let’s say, not the best-tasting alternative to dairy cheese. Nowadays, however, you would often be hard pressed to tell the difference!
Cheese contains an extremely high concentration of the milk protein casein that, when digested, results in casomorphins. Casomorphins are opioids, belonging to the same chemical family as morphine and opium, inducing euphoric feelings and lowering pain. However, long-term cheese consumption is so bad for your health – not to mention addictive – that it’s undoubtedly better to get off the cheese as soon as possible!
It takes about ten pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese and it’s mostly water that’s lost in the process. That means cheese is very high in protein (casein) compared to other dairy products. The more casein you eat, the more casomorphins are produced and the harder it is to give it up. Cheese isn’t as strong as other opiates but science shows casomorphins can cross the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream so eating cheese will have noticeable effects – especially if you suddenly decide to stop.
In nature, it’s only the very young offspring of mammals that drink their mother’s milk and it’s been suggested that casomorphins are a nature’s way for breast milk to have a light calming effect and aid the mother-infant bond.
Opiates in general also slow down bowel movements, which can be a desirable effect in newborns prone to diarrhoea, but they almost always cause constipation in people. I’m sure many cheese lovers would agree.
Of course a huge part of our cheese cravings is also the fact that cheese is high in fat and salt, which is the magical combination that humans respond to with voracious appetite. Think crisps, chips, bacon, everything cheesy, salted nuts and fried savoury foods (basically all junk food). This is because for a long time in humankind’s history, food wasn’t always abundant, so our bodies evolved to recognise fatty foods as good energy sources and developed a taste for them. Even though most of us now have more than enough food on a daily basis, our bodies still crave fats and cheese is a prime example of it backfiring.
All you need is willpower!
- If you can’t go cold turkey don’t worry,just try weaning yourself off slowly and pick a few days where you’ll go without cheese. Increase these days over a period of time and eventually you’ll be happily cheese-free!
- Try adding nutritional yeast to your food. It Gives a lovely, cheesy, nutty flavour and can be sprinkled over soups, salads, pasta,pizza… pretty much anything (one of the Viva! team eats it straight from the tub!)
- You don’t have to switch immediately to vegan cheese. Vegan cheese now has incredible flavour and texture and there’s an amazing selection out there that you’ll almost certainly grow to love. This can take time when you’re used to the flavour of dairy cheese and it might be worth having a period without any cheese for a few months. You can actually retrain your brain to like certain tastes by eating them more frequently.
- Try making your own nut-based cheeses: this can be lots of fun and the flavours are great!
- Try some delicious cheese-free recipes from our site.
So there you have it! If you stay away from cheese for a few weeks, one day you’ll realise the desperate craving’s gone. If it’s the naughty salty fat taste you’re after in the meantime, go for chips or crisps (within reason!), olives or anything with a strong flavour.
Vegan cheese gets better all the time. While vegan artisan cheeses are still pretty niche, they are on the cusp of moving into the mainstream. Home-made nut cheeses are pretty easy to make too and very tasty but if that’s too much of an effort, there are plenty on offer in the supermarkets and health food shops!
Bute Island generally makes all of the supermarket own brands which currently supply a wide range for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Ocado and occasionally Lidl. Here are some of our favourites but to be honest it was a tough job choosing as they’re all really good!
Best on bagels
The Tofutti cream cheeses are amazing! They come in a wide range of flavours and are available from most independents, online and now in some supermarkets. If you like cream cheese, also try Violife Creamy, Creamy Sheese, and the Oatly’s Creamy Oat Spread (which, despite the name, is far more like cheese than oats!). There are also Tesco and Sainsbury’s own vegan cheese spreads which are very cost-effective (yet delicious) options.
Best bit of blue
BlueRisella is soft, creamy, delicious and subtly ‘blue’. It’s available in some independents and online. You can also order Jay & Joy’s delightful ‘Jeanne’ artisanal blue cheese online, hand-crafted in France. Other blues we love are Violife, Bute Island and (always) Nutcrafter!
Best in burgers
Violife original slices are really good and can be enjoyed in a burger, sandwich or on their own! They can be found in some supermarkets, independents and online. Other good slices are Tofutti slices, Tesco Red Leicester slices and Sainsbury’s Cheddar Style. And don’t forget Applewood’s smoky cheese slices (a favourite of many vegans)!
Best on crackers
Tesco Jalapeno & Chilli cheese alternative is delicious… team up with some chutney and it’s the winning combo. Other ones we love are Sainsbury’s Wensleydale Style with Cranberry and Sheese Cheddar Style Caramelised Onion.
Best halloumi-style vegan cheeses
Violife Mediterranean Style Block is a brilliant halloumi style… it grills beautifully instead of melting when you heat it and has a full rich flavour. It tastes best when heated on a griddle! Our other favourite vegan halloumi cheeses are Nutcrafter Creamery’s version – a truly incredible resemblance – and Green Vie for a tasty yet cost effective alternative!
Best on jacket potato
Asda Grated Mozzarella is delicious and melts really well! Perfect for jacket potatoes and anything else melty. We also love Grated Sheese Mild Cheddar Style, Tesco Free-From Grated Mozzarella and Violife for Pizza (which works just as well in a good old ‘Jacky P’ as it does on pizza).
Best on pasta
Violife Prosociano Wedge is delicious… a solid, high-quality block which can be grated or shaved onto pasta or anything else you fancy. It can be used in cooking as a ‘Parmesan’ alternative. If you’re looking for a home-made parmesan recipe, however, try out this one from Vegan Recipe Club!
Best on pizza
Love MozzaRisella… it melts really well and tastes amazing! Find it in lots of independent stores and online. We also really like Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds, Violife Original, Violife Mozzarella Grated and Sheese Greek Style (sounds strange but it melts really well and tastes great!)… Purezza, the UK’s first fully-vegan pizza chain, also sell their mozarella and grated cheese on their website.
Best bit of posh
Nutcrafter Creamery is the hands down winner! Every cheese in their range is top quality, super delicious and exactly as described. Buy straight from their website. You might also like to browse the range of Jay & Joy, a French artisanal vegan cheese producer, for some fine cheeses suitable for pairing with grapes, wine and refined evening conversation.
Best for melting
Sainsbury’s Greek Style… an unusual choice but melts so well and tastes really nice – also sold by Tesco and Bute Island (Sheese). We also love the purpose-made Ilchester’s Melting Mature as well as the brand-new Cathedral City Vegan Cheese, brought to supermarket shelves in the autumn of 2022 to great critical acclaim!
Best in a toastie
We love Sheese Strong Cheddar Style… full of flavour, easy to find and melts really well! We also really like Cathedral City Vegan Cheese (again!), Violife Organic Slices and Tesco Smoked Cheddar!