Vegan cheese is becoming more commonly available, yet few people are aware of what it’s made of. What could be the secret ingredient of this delectable-yet-mysterious product?

Cheese has a peculiar structure that allows it to stay solid at room temperature but melts at higher temperatures. Animal cheese also has the ability that is difficult to copy with plant-based ingredients: It stretches as it melts. Fortunately, vegan cheese makers agree that dairy-free alternatives have improved in the last decade largely due to one ingredient: cashew nuts. Cashews can be mashed into a paste and fermented before combining with other components to create a range of flavors, including truffle and chili. The industry’s dependence on cashew nuts, on the other hand, presents ethical issues. Cashews aren’t the only important factor in vegan cheeses. Many businesses use coconut oil, which contains about 82 percent saturated fat. However, vegan cheesemakers argue that health isn’t the reason consumers eat cheese or vegan substitutes. “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.”

Vegan cheesemakers must choose between reproducing the taste of the cheese or recreating its texture. Although vegan cheese still has a long way to go, there’s no denying that our options have improved.