Vegan cheese is becoming widely available, yet few people know what it comprises. Let us look into the secret ingredient of this delectable-yet-enigmatic substance.

Nowadays, there are genuine meat replacements, even down to components that contribute to its color and flavor, but the founder of a vegan cheesemaker Ellie Brown argues that getting to the heart of what makes cheese taste and act like cheese is far more challenging. Cheese has a peculiar structure that allows it to remain solid at normal temperature while melting at a higher temperature. Animal cheese also has the ability that is tricky to replicate using plant-based ingredients: It stretches as it melts. Fortunately, vegan cheese producers agree that dairy-free alternatives have improved dramatically in the previous decade thanks to one component: cashew nuts. Cashews can be grounded into a paste and fermented before mixing with other ingredients to generate varied flavors, such as truffle or chili. However, the industry’s reliance on cashew nuts raises ethical concerns. In vegan cheeses, cashews aren’t the only significant ingredient. Many businesses use coconut oil which has approximately 82 percent saturated fat. It’s much higher compared to 63 percent in butter and only 39 percent in lard. But vegan cheesemakers argue that consumers don’t eat cheese or vegan substitutes for health reasons. “That’s not the intention of vegan cheese,” says Chantelle Adkins, director of business development at the Vegan Society. “The intention is to give a component to a dish. It’s a misconception that vegans are healthy all the time.”

Meanwhile, vegan cheesemakers must pick between recreating the cheese’s taste or texture. Vegan cheese may still have a long way to go, but there’s no doubt that our options have become more promising.