Have you noticed something different about the cheese selection in the cold case? Perhaps a diversity of offerings beyond cow, sheep or goat’s milk? Yes, we’re talking about the kind made with cashews. Those who need to avoid dairy or follow a vegan diet might buy the stuff by the bucket and be thankful for the option. But, for the rest of us, is cashew cheese worth a try?
THE GREAT TASTE DEBATE
Just how good this stuff tastes is a subjective affair. Fortunately, an ever-growing number of dairy-free “cheese” options have made it easier to find quality products that taste pretty good. Cashew cheese comes in various forms. The most widely available — and palatable — tend to be creamy and spreadable, similar to French-style goat cheese.
When you’re ready to experiment, visit a store with a wide variety of cheese alternatives (Whole Foods has a lot of choices). Be sure to read the label before you buy: While some non-dairy brands are made with cashews, others might be based on anything from almonds to soybeans or even tapioca starch. Texture and flavor can vary greatly among these varieties, but for our money, cashew cheese ranks among the best-tasting, particularly the soft and spreadable varieties.
A few recommended products in this category are the soft French-style nut cheese made by Treeline (try the herb-garlic flavor) or Ne Chevre made by Heidi Ho (try the black lava flavor). These can work well as part of a vegan appetizer plate with crudités and fruit.
When it comes to everyday meals, there’s lots of room to experiment with the wide range of textures and flavors. Try a spreadable cream cheese-style in scallion flavor on Bialy or bagels; look for easy-melting orange varieties for making vegan nachos or macaroni and cheese; or add cashew mozzarella to mini pizzas.
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IS IT GOOD FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
If you’re health conscious, you might wonder if it’s better to switch from regular cheese to a plant-based version. The answer depends on what dietary restrictions you’re working with — for example, it can be a great choice for anyone with lactose intolerance. It also contains healthy probiotics, which are associated with improved digestive health (and most commonly associated with yogurt). But if reducing calorie intake is what you’re after, read the nutrition facts closely since nuts are not low cal.
A soft, spreadable cashew cheese can contain 20 more calories per ounce than regular soft goat cheese, plus nearly double the amount of total fat. However, if you’re looking to decrease consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol in particular, it’s worth considering. As a plant-based food, it’s very low in saturated fat and has zero cholesterol (compared to 25 milligrams of cholesterol in an ounce of goat cheese). The short story is this: Cashew cheese can be a healthy option, depending on what you’re trying to add or avoid in your diet.
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There are also larger lifestyle benefits to eating plant-based foods. On a global scale, proponents of cashew cheese often point out the ways it’s healthy for the planet. For example, the dairy industry creates a large carbon footprint, while the making of plant-based foods does not.
All this means that if you’re curious enough to wonder about all those cashew products in the cold case, it’s worth giving them a try — especially if you have vegan friends coming over for dinner.