Vegan cheese – The real deal?

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Veganism is taking the UK by storm, and with this movement, hundreds of meat and dairy alternatives are coming to the market. While many substitutes, such as Quorn and Cauldron, are high in protein, consumers are constantly seeking fresh and exciting alternatives. Here, I take a look at whether meat and dairy replacements are anything close to the real deal, and how the industry is adapting to meet demand.

The rise of veganism

Veganism has soared in recent years, from just 540,000 UK residents identifying as such in 2016 (estimated by The Vegan Society and Vegan Life Magazine) to more than 3.5 million in 2018. Research by shows than 7% of the British population are now shunning animal products in favour of natural ingredients and vegan alternatives. Carolyn Roberts, a professor at Gresham College who collaborated on the study, suggested that environmental concerns are largely responsible for the surge in Brits adopting a vegan diet. “From farm to fork and beyond, food accounts for about 20% of all our greenhouse emissions,” Roberts told The Independent. “Estimates suggest that if all of our meat eaters switched to a vegan diet, it would roughly halve total greenhouse gas emissions associated with food.”

Meat alternatives

As a result of the vegan movement, an abundance of new meat and dairy alternatives have come to the market. The trend appears to be at its peak, with the creation of a vegan ‘bleeding’ burger by Silicon Valley start-up Impossible Foods, and hundreds of varieties of vegan cheeses.

Sainsbury’s is starting to stock meat alternatives alongside meat at 400 of its stores UK-wide, one of which will be a copycat version of Impossible Foods’ bleeding burger. According to The Grocer, the burgers (made by Danish plant-based food manufacturer Naturali’ Foods) are not designed to taste like meat, but will have a meaty texture. The burgers will be made from almonds, tomatoes and porcini mushrooms, as well as beetroot for the full ‘bleeding’ effect.

Sainsbury’s is seeing sales of its meat alternative products increase by 20% a week. The supermarket commented: “We’re always exploring new ways to offer even greater choice, quality and value, and our new Naturali’ mince and burgers are a brilliant example. These are our most authentic meat alternatives yet.”

Vegan cheese – The real deal?

Cheese fanatics would surely despair at some of the vegan cheeses on offer today. While the textures are often spectacularly accurate, the taste can be disappointing. Vegan cheeses are made from a range of ingredients, from soy milk to coconut milk, and with the recent surge in British vegans, key players in the food industry are quickly trialling dairy alternatives to meet demand.

Violife’s Original Flavour Block promises a ‘cheesy hit’, and is made with water, coconut oil, starch, sea salt, flavourings and olive extract. A recent review in The Independent stated that this cheese has long been a vegan staple due to its ‘subtle creamy flavour and versatility’. Scottish brand Sheese has invented a ‘Grated Mild Cheddar-Style Cheese’, ‘style’ being the key word here. Vegan cheese reviews often suggest melting or cooking the cheeses in various dishes, rather than savouring them on a charcoal cracker, perhaps to mask the fact that they’re just not up to the standard of ‘real’ cheese.

It is easy to become despairing with the selection of dairy alternatives on offer, however, I’m sure vegans country-wide will be delighted to be able to enjoy macaroni cheese and a gooey cheese pizza once more. And I am pleased to see the industry responding with alternatives to give consumers even more choice.

Alternatives in the industry

Restaurant chain Bella Italia has launched a new menu with vegan cheese among the offerings. The new menu was developed by executive chef, Vittorio Lettieri, in response to the rise in veganism. Hungry vegans can now enjoy pizza with plant-based cheese and spiralized courgette. James Spragg, chief operating officer at Casual Dining Group, said: “We operate a fast-paced industry, and innovation is imperative for success so we need to continually build on this momentum. This latest menu innovation reflects the rise in popularity of healthier alternatives and ethical choices, but also demonstrates our commitment to always listen to our customers, and the market, and our willingness to adapt.”

Rival chain Pizza Hut also introduced vegan cheese pizzas at the end of 2017, promising a deliciously-cheesy margherita to anyone missing their dairy fix. “After an amazing customer response to our vegan cheese trial earlier this year, we’re pleased to announce that the dairy-free alternative will now be served in all of our restaurants nationwide and feature as a permanent fixture on our menus,” said Gareth Hopley, head of communications at Pizza Hut Restaurants. “We’re excited that all of our cheese-loving vegan customers will be able to grab a slice of the action and no longer have to miss out.”

Perhaps the most unusual chain to join the movement is KFC, which is reportedly in the process of developing a meat-free alternative to its iconic fried chicken. The chain revealed that once they’d perfected the vegetarian recipe (and received positive feedback during trials), customers could expect to see items on the menu as early as 2019.

As an advocate for customisation and personalisation, I’m delighted to see so many industry leaders working hard to find alternatives for vegan consumers. And while I’m not 100% convinced by vegan cheese just yet, I’m looking forward to testing out the latest creations.