Dairy-free cheese is a cheese alternative that contains no milk or milk products. It generally is marketed toward people who adhere to a vegan diet, which forbids the ingestion of animal products, and to people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Although dairy-free cheese also offers some health benefits, including lower fat content, some people find it difficult to cook with it because of its consistency. To others, it is a perfect substitute that is almost identical to regular cheese.
Vegan cheese substitutes have certain health benefits. They usually are lower in fat than dairy cheeses, although their fat content is not always lower than that of low-fat versions of regular cheese. Dairy-free cheese usually also is free of cholesterol, which makes it healthier for the heart, and high in soy protein. Although regular cheese has the benefit of naturally occurring calcium, manufacturers often add calcium to dairy-free products such as cheese to boost their health content.
For people who are on a lactose-free diet or who eat only dairy-free foods for other reasons, dairy-free cheese can be a welcome sight in the grocery store. People who are lactose intolerant cannot digest lactose, which is the sugar that is found in milk and milk products. As a result, they can suffer from symptoms that include bloating, diarrhea, stomach pains and nausea. Dairy-free cheese gives them the opportunity to include cheese in their diets without worrying about suffering physically. Similarly, dairy-free foods allow vegans to enjoy cheese when their strict diet would otherwise forbid it.
Cooking with dairy-free cheese is very similar to using regular cheese, with a few exceptions. Dairy-free cheese is available in many varieties, including cheddar, mozzarella, Monterrey Jack and Swiss. This allows for a wide range of foods to be cooked, including cheese sandwiches, lasagna and pizza.
Some brands of dairy-free cheese do not melt with the same consistency as dairy cheese. It can be helpful for the cook to grate the cheese before trying to melt it. Other brands melt exactly as regular cheese does.
Many dairy-free cheeses contain casein, a milk protein that helps bolster the cheese's flavor. The inclusion of casein in lactose-free cheese is controversial because it is not a strictly vegan ingredient, although it is vegetarian. Some consumers who stick to a dairy-free diet will eat only alternative cheeses that are casein-free. Casein is always included on the list of ingredients, so shoppers who are concerned about its presence can check to see whether a cheese marketed as dairy-free contains it.