Vegan Parmesan "Cheese"
Parmesan cheese is one of those condiments that's able to make almost anything it's sprinkled on taste better. That's because it's loaded with fat, salt, and amino acids that get friendly with the taste buds in your mouth.
To create a plant-based substitute, I set out to find a set of ingredients that could recreate the right texture, mouthfeel, taste, and aroma. The result is a delicious sprinkle that's good on everything from pastas to salads, to popcorn. It can also be used in sauces and soups to add richness and umami instantly.
Why this recipe works
- Unlike most vegan Parmesan recipes, this one uses a mix of raw cashews and walnuts, which combines the rich creaminess of cashews, with the tannins of walnuts to create a cheese-like mouthfeel that has a chalky acidity.
- Shiitake mushrooms are loaded with guanosine monophosphate, which synergizes with the glutamate in nutritional yeast to produce full-bodied umami that's similar to that of a well-aged cheese.
- By pulverizing the ingredients some of the ingredients into a fine powder, and pulsing the nuts separately, you get a texture that closely resembles parmesan, without the risk of turning the mixture into nut butter.
What are the ingredients for plant-based Parmesan?
- Raw Cashew Nuts - Most recipes for plant-based parmesan call for cashew nuts. They have a neutral flavor, creamy mouthfeel, and umami. When raw cashews are ground into a coarse powder, they resemble grated cheese. These traits all make them well suited as a foundation for cheese.
- Walnuts - a small percentage of vegan parmesan recipes use walnuts. They contain a lot of tannins, which produce an astringent chalky taste that mimics a good parmesan. The problem is that walnuts have a very distinct taste of their own, which isn't desirable here. By blending them with cashews, you get a good balance of cheesy mouthfeel without an overwhelming walnut taste.
- Nutritional Yeast - This is the defacto plant-based seasoning for vegan cheeses, and as a product of fermentation, it not only adds some cheesy funk, it's also loaded with umami producing amino acids such as glutamate.
- Dried Shiitake Mushroom - nutritional yeast alone produces a passable Parmesan, but it ends up being a little one dimensional without another source of umami. Dried shiitake mushrooms are loaded with guanosine monophosphate, which synergizes with the glutamate in the nutritional yeast to produce well-rounded umami that's greater than the sum of its parts.
- Salt - salt boosts the taste of umami and plays a crucial role in making a convincing cheese.
How to Make Vegan Parmesan "Cheese"
You can make this in a spice grinder, blender, or food processor. The first thing I do is grind the dried shiitakes, along with the nutritional yeast and salt, until they form a fine powder.
Then I grind the walnuts, by pulsing them a few times. You really need to be careful here as walnuts have a ton of oil and they will quickly go from being crumbly to a paste, and then to walnut butter. You can make this a little easier by freezing them first.
Then I grind the cashews separately as these will turn to butter as well if over ground, but they are harder than walnuts and require a few more pulses to get crumbly.
Finally I put everything together in a bowl and mix and mash everything together until the mixture is a uniform consistency (like wet sand).
What you can use this on
- 5 grams dried shiitake mushrooms (1-2 small mushroom)
- 16 grams nutritional yeast (~¼ cup)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 50 grams raw cashew nuts (~⅓ cup)
- 35 grams walnuts (~⅓ cup)
- Remove the tough parts of the stems from the dried shiitake and crumble it into a spice grinder, food processor, or blender along with the nutritional yeast and salt. Pulse until it has turned into a powder. Transfer to a bowl.
- Add the walnuts to the spice grinder and pulse until it's roughly crumbled. Transfer this to a bowl with the nutritional yeast.
- Add the cashew nuts to the spice grinder and pulse until roughly crumbled and transfer to the bowl.
- Stir the mixture together until it is uniform and the texture of damp sand.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until use.