Are dairy-free cheeses as good as the real thing?

Most dairy-free cheeses in our tasting didn’t please.

Dairy-free cheeses

Want to cut back on dairy but can’t live without cheese?

We put eight dairy-free cheeses (six oil-based and two nut products) to the taste test. Each cheese was blind tasted by 11 people and rated for appearance, taste and texture. We also included two dairy cheeses for comparison.

The taste test results

The dairy cheeses were clear favourites. All panellists (except the one vegan who didn’t taste these) said they’d buy again.

Of the rest, Sheese Vegan Strong Cheddar Style and Zenzo Dairy Free Vegan Cheddar got the most thumbs ups – although only four tasters said they’d buy again. The texture of Sheese was “almost like cheese” and it had a creamy mouthfeel. But our volunteers didn’t like its aftertaste and one thought it too sweet. Zenzo was “pleasant and smooth”, but was “a bit powdery in the mouth”.

Taste taste vegan cheese
The Consumer taste test panel.

The Alternative Dairy Co Cheddar Style Block didn’t get any likes. It was the cheapest in our tasting and our panel thought it was fake food – “a bit like an eraser” and it “breaks like perished rubber”. Green Vie didn’t fare much better – its highlighter-orange colour put people off and it was described as “bland”.

The Savour and Terra nut-based cheeses also didn’t tickle tastebuds – both only got two thumbs up. Nut cheeses have a different texture and can be easily spread.

The dairy-free options provoked strong reactions from some panellists. Comments included “get me out of this hell” and “the worst thing I’ve eaten in weeks” from two meat-eating males. On the other hand, our vegan panellist said “yummo, now I’ve got two new cheeses to add to the shopping list”. A regular consumer of these cheeses, she commented, “while the flavour of some vegan cheeses on their own isn’t ideal, in cooking the melt or texture may be what you’re after. Plus the flavour is disguised by other ingredients”.

GUIDE TO THE TABLE PRICE is based on what we paid in August 2019. RATING Thumbs up the number of tasters who would buy this cheese again. Thumbs down the number of tasters who would not buy this cheese again.

What’s in them?

Most dairy-free cheeses are oil-based (usually coconut oil) combined with a starch, such as potato or maize. Some also have lengthy ingredients lists. For example, Vegusto No-Muh Mild Aromatic contains water, potato starch, coconut and sunflower oil, fruit juice, potato starch, rice flour … the list goes on. Dairy cheese, on the other hand, just contains milk, salt cultures and enzymes. The nut cheeses we tasted had fewer ingredients. Savour contained 95% cashews, Terra had 79%.

Like dairy cheese, most oil and nut cheeses are high in saturated fat and sodium. Nut cheeses have comparable protein to dairy but oil-based ones are low in this nutrient. Dairy cheese also contains calcium, which you won’t find in oil-based options.

Price and origin

Dairy-free cheese hits you in the pocket – the products we tasted ranged from $3.50 to $12.50 per 100g. In comparison, we paid $1.50 per 100g for the Mainland product in our tasting.

Only four products we tasted were made in New Zealand. The others came from Brazil, Greece, Scotland and Switzerland.

Member comments

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Yolanda S.
30 Nov 2019
taste buds do change over time

I like the Angel Food chesses the best. I haven't eaten cheese from cows milk for over 30 years and if ever I accidentally do, am shocked at how disgusting it tastes to me now. Same with butter. It has an awful heavy fatty rancid kind of taste which is not how I remember it but tastes like that to me now because my tatse buds have changed and I am used to cleaner foods now. If you have been eating cheese made from animal fat you are going to find plant cheeses to taste a bit different of course. Give it a try and your taste buds will change and you will wonder how you ever ate cheese from animal fats.

Jean W.
23 Nov 2019
Pretend cheese doesn't do it for me either

I tried some as part of trying to reduce animal product consumption. I am concluding that the fake animal products are pointless, including the non-dairy cheeses and milks. I still buy vegan sausages because they are convenient but oh, the packaging! and they cost more than meat sausages. I just need to get better at cooking lentils.

Nigel P.
27 Oct 2019

It would be interesting to know how many of your panellists had tried alternative food substitutes. Even with milk substitutes its all about what you are used to. Initial taste testing is commonly not great but you can develop a taste for it.
Alternative cheeses are designed for those who can't tolerate regular cheese. I would be interested to see a panellist of non-dairy eaters, tasting these cheeses.

Graeme W.
22 Oct 2019
Don't call them cheese!

The problem with vegan cheeses, as i have tried a few, is that they are called a 'cheese'. If they just called them something else and you didn't expect them to be cheese like you'd not be so damned disappointed! Its the disappointment that's the issue.

Joan P.
13 Oct 2019
Dairy Free Cheese

I don't know why male meat-eating panellists were included. Of course they are going to be negative. The dairy-free cheeses are for those who choose not to eat animal products or those with an allergy to dairy.

Anne G.
12 Oct 2019
Dairy free cheese

I love the Zenzo for its taste and melting factor for pizzas. It's not 'watery' like Angel Food cheddar. I also enjoyed Savour smoked cheddar - I think it was called- at our Vegan Expo last year, but it is expensive.

Jan-Marie K.
09 Oct 2019
Favourite is Angel Food cheddar.

Angel food cheddar is my favourite. I can't eat dairy because of an allergy. I usually eat it in a toasted sandwich or cheese sauce or on pizza (Hell's Pizza uses it in their dairy-free pizzas) but don't mind it sliced on a cracker. The melted texture is similar to cheese although it holds it shape more when heated I find so I cook it a little longer.