Many people are vegan or vegetarian and they might wonder if feta cheese is considered vegan. The answer is, of course, no, but don't worry! There are many other alternatives that you can enjoy instead of the feta cheese made from sheep or goat milk. This blog post will show you why it isn't vegan and what some of the best alternatives for feta cheese are.
What is feta cheese?
Feta cheese is a type of goat or sheep milk cheese that is white in color. The process to make feta starts by adding bacteria culture and rennet (an enzyme that helps coagulate the milk) to warm, fresh whole milk. Once it's complete, it drains in order for watery whey to be removed from the mixture and forms into a solid block resembling cheddar or parmesan cheeses. It is traditionally used in many Greek dishes but due to its popularity, it is often added to many other dishes.
Which dishes use feta?
A few examples of dishes that feta cheese can be used in are:
- Roasted Red Pepper Feta Dip
-Smashed Cucumber Salad With Za'atar and Feta
-Spanakopita ("spinach pie)"
-Tyropita ("cheese pie").
Because a lot of similar cuisines have similar cheeses, feta can be used interchangeably for this type of cheese and of course, the vegan alternatives can be used in all recipes where feta and these similar cheeses are used.
Is feta cheese vegetarian?
Feta cheese is widely eaten by vegetarians. However, like nearly all cheeses are not actually vegetarian because it contains rennet. Rennet is an enzyme that helps coagulate the milk and is also a byproduct of stomach lining from slaughtered calves. So, no, it is not vegetarian.
Is feta cheese dairy-free?
Feta cheese is not dairy-free. In fact, it's one of the highest in lactose out there! If you have a sensitivity to lactose then feta should be avoided at all costs.
Is feta cheese vegan?
To clarify, feta is made with animal-derived ingredients like sheep or goat milk so they are not considered vegan products. Fear not, though, there are many ways to substitute this cheese with a vegan version and enjoy all the dishes containing feta you had in the past.
Characteristics of feta cheese
When we are trying to veganize feta cheese, we should have a good idea of its characteristics so we know what we want to imitate. Feta cheese is typically salty, soft, and crumbly. It has a slight sourness to it and people love it in salads or as a topping for pasta dishes! Not only that but feta cheese also comes in different varieties (sun-dried, smoked) with each of them giving off its own unique flavor profile. They have a briny flavor due to being stored in salty water. Due to the higher water content, it is lower in fat than harder cheeses.
How can I substitute feta in recipes?
Yes, you can. Once you have found or made vegan feta, you will now be able to use your vegan version on salads or vegan omelets or in any way you have always used feta made from sheep milk.
Can I buy vegan feta cheese?
You certainly can. Many specialty supermarkets, health food stores and specialty vegan grocery stores will sell a variety of fetas. If you do not have access to vegan feta near you, then you can often purchase these products online and have them delivered to your door. Some of these products are rather pricy, especially if they have are made from nuts or have been fermented and aged. To save money, I would recommend trying a homemade version.
These are some of the vegan fetas available at our local vegan grocery store.
Can I make vegan feta cheese at home?
There are so many ways to substitute nonvegan feta in recipes to make a vegan version. Some people might just cube up some firm tofu and add it to salads. This would be the easiest and quickest way to do it, however, some people prefer to marinate tofu in some oils, salt, and herbs. Others prefer to use nuts and some even culture them to make the vegan feta tangier and similar to the original feta. Quicker versions use lemon juice to a similar effect. In summary, you can make vegan feta at home and there are a lot of different ways to replicate it.
What is vegan feta made from?
Whether you purchase vegan feta or make it yourself, vegan feta will usually include some of the following ingredients.
This cheesy style, tangy umami ingredient helps to replicate the umami flavors of cheese.
Firm or extra firm tofu
Tofu often makes the bulk of the product. It's great because it already has the appearance and some of the texture of feta and this is partly because it is made in a very similar way to feta cheese - soy milk is coagulated, water separates and then the curds are pressed. If you have some firm tofu, you are halfway there to vegan feta!
Nuts - cashews, macadamia, or blanched almonds
Nuts are often used in vegan fetas as the main ingredient although they must be put into a food processor or blender to get them smooth. The key is choosing what's light and neutral tasting, not pistachios!
Lemon juice and / or vinegar
Many recipes call for lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to give it a tangy taste that feta is known for.
Garlic and onion powder
These powders can really add to the depth of flavor that cheeses are often known for.
Olive or refined coconut oil
Olive oil and refined coconut oil are often used in feta recipes because the liquid fats are similar to the olive oil that's traditionally used in feta. This is especially the case with tofu-style fetas. Non-vegan feta contains 21% fat and tofu contains a lot less than this. For this reason, vegan fetas often contain added fat in the form of oil. For feta recipes using nuts, they will be less added oil due to the high-fat content of nuts.
Miso is often used in vegan feta recipes. This is because it's a fermented soybean product and has more of that umami flavor.
Nonvegan feta is stored in brine and the salt flavor infuses throughout the feta over time. For this reason, vegan feta recipes often have generous amounts of salt.
Some of our favorite vegan feta recipes are:
Feta cheese is not vegan because it contains animal rennet and sheep's milk. There are a variety of substitutes both purchased or made from pantry ingredients so there is no need to miss out on a tasty Greek-style salad when you go vegan or looking to make more vegan choices.
We'd love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Any favorite vegan Feta cheese brand or recipe? Let us know in the comments below!