Cheese Substitutes: A 101

Articles
February 08, 2006

Cheese Substitutes: A 101

Cheese is one of my favorite foods – but even I have to admit that cheese contains fats, cholesterol, sugar (lactose) and is even an allergen for some consumers. As a result, companies have introduced cheese substitutes made from grains, rice, or soybeans

Cheese is one of my favorite foods – but even I have to admit that cheese contains fats, cholesterol, sugar (lactose) and is even an allergen for some consumers. As a result, companies have introduced cheese substitutes made from grains, rice, or soybeans. All are good sources of complex carbohydrates and proteins. But typically they do not melt as well as natural cheese, nor have the same mouth feel. Although most cheese substitute products have fat (usually from partially hydrogenated oil) they do not contain cholesterol. They're also typically lower in calories, with a slice ranging from 22 to 90 calories.

Here's what to look for:
Because soy, nut, and oils used in cheese substitutes have a light to liquid consistency, most products use potato flakes, potato starch, or cellulose to give the "cheese" a harder consistency and similar texture to true cheese. Many soy cheese products also contain sodium casinate, oils, particularly partially hydrogenated soybean oil, although some manufacturers are gradually phasing these oils out and using ready-made tofu, isolated soy proteins and nondairy lactic acid. Some preservatives and sugars (sugar and maltodextrin) are also present in some brands. So top line – read those ingredient labels carefully.

Varieties:
Imitation Cheese: "Imitation" cheese looks like cheese, has a similar texture, but is usually primarily made from partially hydrogenated oils that may be a detriment if fat consumption is a concern.

Soy Cheese: Made from soybeans, these veggie cheeses are lighter in texture and difficult to use in dishes that require melting, but make great additions to sandwiches or salads. Soy cheese is available in the style of plain or in cream cheese, cheddar, mozzarella cheeses and other hard cheese flavors.

Almond and Other Nut Milks are used to make some cheeses that are bland and slightly nutty sweet.

When I'm tasting (and judging) a cheese substitute – here's what I look for:

  • Low sodium
  • No or low sugars added
  • Tastes like natural cheese – not over flavored
  • Melts well
  • Not rubbery

So here are my picks of the week:

Best of the Best:
SOYCO RICE SHREDS
Typically, as the grandson of a dairy farmer, I don't like artificial cheese – but this shredded alternative is excellent. Made from brown rice, it is soy free, half the fat of natural cheese and low calorie. Melts better than other alternatives. Their best taste is their mozzarella flavor, found a slight aftertaste in their cheddar variety. www.soyco.com.au

Best of the Artificial Cheeses:
GALAXY FOODS VEGGIE SLICES
These soy based organic cheeses use canola oil and are a tasty alternative. Doesn't melt as well as natural cheese, but good on salads and sandwiches. www.galaxyfoods.com

SMART BEAT
A very good non-dairy non-soy fat-free based product that is lactose free that is casein based (a protein). Melts well and tastes good. www.smartbalance.com

And as a reminder ... here are some STORAGE TIPS:

  • Store all cheese substitutes in the refrigerator and reseal tightly between uses to preserve the texture and the flavor
  • Note the expiration date and for maximum taste be sure to use promptly