29 August 2011

TDIV Q&A: Why do some soy cheeses still contain casein and what can I use to replace dairy cheese?

Why do some soy cheeses still contain casein? What can I use to replace dairy cheese?

The short answer is that it helps to maintain the cheese consistency and meltability. The long answer is more complicated. Soy cheese is a difficult product to make because people who want soy cheese instead of dairy cheese want the product to be as close to the original as possible. The problem is that it took decades to find formulas that would melt and still be considered both healthy and non-dairy. The lag time meant that many companies that wanted to secure the non-dairy market had to use what worked even if that meant the product wasn’t what it claimed to be. Essentially, these companies were hoping that they could sell to the non-dairy market without entirely removing dairy by-products from their cheese and hoping that no one would read the labels too closely.

Sadly, there is no real reason for these products to exist, since they are neither really dairy nor entirely dairy free. There are two main reasons that people buy soy cheese (although there are probably many other reasons.) The first is that they are lactose intolerant. Unfortunately, casein is very likely the reason for the intolerance of dairy. So there is no real benefit to buying soy cheese for those who are lactose intolerant if it still contains casein. The other reason is if you’re vegan. The presence of casein in soy cheese in this instance is non-sensical because it makes the cheese non-vegan.

There are several companies that make entirely vegan, and therefore dairy-free, cheese. Daiya, Teese, Vegan Gourmet and Cheesly make many vegan cheeses, and Galaxy Nutritional now has a rice based vegan cheese (their other soy cheeses contain casein). It is certainly possible to avoid dairy soy cheeses. My advice is to read labels thoroughly whenever you buy soy products.

Raven Whitman | @veganculinary
Raven became vegetarian in her teens and switched to veganism in her mid-twenties, because she couldn't reconcile the idea that the charming, intelligent animals in her life were no different than the animals on the plate. Raven owns the Vegan Culinary Institute and hopes that someday vegans will rise up and take over the world.

Photo credit: s0ny