What Are The Main Ingredients In Chao Creamery's Dairy-Free Cheese?

The story of the dairy lover who cannot eat dairy would be tragic if not for non-dairy cheeses. While the substitution is unlikely to go unnoticed, it's a perfectly suitable alternative in dishes marked by gooey cheese pulls, from grilled cheese to breakfast sandwiches. But how do vegan cheese brands mimic the flavor and texture of real cheese? 

Chao Creamery, an offshoot of the plant-based meat brand Field Roast that launched its first product in 2015, uses coconut oil, vegetable starches, and fermented tofu as the main ingredients in its cheese-like products, including its landmark Creamy Original slices, which resemble Kraft Singles and "melt like a dream." The brand gets its name from chao, a time-honored East Asian condiment made from fermented bean curd that's said to take on a cheesy flavor as it ages. "Chao cheese is a continuation of our fascination with combining traditional Asian and European foods to create new culinary fusions that are real, instead of fake," President David Lee said in a press release.

Fermented tofu adds umami flavor

Fermented tofu is said to have a cheesy flavor, but how does the ingredient fare in Chao Creamery's plant-based cheese? A Treehugger review billed it as "surprisingly buttery and pleasant, with a depth of flavor I was not expecting from a plant-based cheese." 

Living Vegan was "thoroughly impressed" by the cheese, claiming its "subtle, mild" taste reminded them of Swiss and Provolone. Based on the positive reviews, you might skip the process of making vegan cheese at home and opt for store-bought instead. Likewise, if you want to try chao on its own but don't feel comfortable enough with home fermentation to take it on yourself, head to your local Asian grocery store. According to food writer Andrea Nguyen, many Chinese and Vietnamese markets sell products labeled as "fermented bean curd," including brands like Cache' de Chef and Wei-Chuan, which Nguyen says are "consistently good." 

Coconut oil all around

While Chao Creamy's method of using fermented tofu is unique, it's not alone in using nut oil and plant proteins to make vegan cheese. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, plant-based and vegan cheeses are typically made from tree nuts or nut milk and "lactic acid bacteria starter culture," vegetable rennet, and thickening agents like plant starches and xantham or guar gum, among other ingredients.

Coconut oil seems to be the most popular option among vegan cheese brands. That's because the fat content of coconut byproducts adds rich texture and flavor. For instance, Miyoko's Creamery uses cashew milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, agar, and cultures in its plant-based Smoked Gouda, which is flavored with mushroom extract, sea salt, and the root vegetable konjac. Meanwhile, Butte Island Vegan Creamery's Sheese cheeses, including its Blue English Style cheese, also use coconut oil, as well as potato and maize starch, guar and carrageenan gum, and lactic acid.