Craving a gooey vegan cheese sauce without cashews? This super quick recipe is nut-free and easy to make – it’s your ticket to the best dairy-free lasagna, macaroni and cheese, cauliflower cheese, nacho cheese dip, and more. It uses potatoes instead of flour to thicken and provide a rich texture. Elevate your dinners with this super cheesy plant-based delight.
Quick Vegan Cheese Sauce (no nuts)
- 500 ml (2 cups) unsweetened soy milk or your fave unsweetened plant-based milk
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) water
- 100 g (7 tbsp) vegan butter, vegetable shortening (e.g. TREX), refined coconut oil or olive oil
- 300 g (2 medium) potatoes peeled and coarsley grated
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast (see section below recipe card if you don't have any)
- 1 tsp garlic granules
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp American mustard or your favourite mustard
- 4 tsp malt vinegar or any neutral vinegar
- 1 tbsp marmite or dark soy sauce or miso paste (not a heaped tbsp!)
- salt and black pepper
- In a medium pot set over a medium heat, warm the soy milk, water and vegan butter/shortening/refined coconut oil/olive oil until the fat has melted.500 ml (2 cups) unsweetened soy milk, 100 ml (1/2 cup) water, 100 g (7 tbsp) vegan butter, vegetable shortening (e.g. TREX), refined coconut oil or olive oil
- Add the grated potatoes, nutritional yeast, garlic granules, smoked paprika and mustard to the pot and stir. Bring up to a boil then turn down the heat to let it simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potato is completely soft.300 g (2 medium) potatoes, 3 tbsp nutritional yeast, 1 tsp garlic granules, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp American mustard
- Remove from the heat and add the vinegar and marmite/soy sauce/miso paste. Blend until smooth using a stick/immersion blender (or a jug blender) then taste and season with salt and black pepper. We suggest being quite generous with the salt here, start with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp and go from there! Remember that cheese contains quite a lot of salt so it's key to getting the right flavour.4 tsp malt vinegar, 1 tbsp marmite or dark soy sauce or miso paste, salt and black pepper
- Your sauce is now done – enjoy it hot or allow to cool at room temperature and store in a lidded container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Unsweetened soy milk (500 ml): £0.25
- Vegan butter (Flora Plant block) (100 g): £0.50
- Potatoes (300 g): £0.20
- Nutritional yeast (20 g): £0.60
- Garlic granules (5 g): £0.04
- Smoked paprika (2 g): £0.04
- American-style mustard (10 g): £0.04
- Malt vinegar (20 g): £0.01
- Yeast-Extract (i.e. unbranded Marmite) (10g): £0.09
Cost per serving (1/4 of the recipe) = £0.44
Ingredients for Vegan Cheese Sauce – explained
- Unsweetened soy milk – we like using soy milk for many vegan recipes as it’s accessible, pretty neutral in flavour, high in protein and has quite a creamy mouthfeel thanks to that protein. If that’s not your jam, please use whatever unsweetened plant based milk you usually cook with.
- Vegan butter/shortening/coconut oil/olive oil – Since we’re not adding any cheese, we need a generous addition of a vegan fat to make this sauce creamy and delicious.
- Grated potatoes – potatoes are often used in vegan cheese recipes as potato starch creates a gooey, stretchy texture when blended. We use it here for that purpose, plus it thickens the sauce without using flour.
- Nutritional yeast – these savoury flakes add a subtle cheesy flavour to the sauce. If you don’t have it, see the section below for how to substitute other ingredients
- Smoked paprika, garlic granules & black pepper – since we don’t have any cheese in this recipe, adding a few appropriate ingredients from the spice drawer really helps to give the sauce a rounded flavour.
- American mustard – although we like english/wholegrain mustard, American mustard is our favourite for this sauce as it has a mild flavour which doesn’t dominate, brings a bit of acidity to the sauce and is BRIGHT YELLOW which gives the sauce a cheesy glow 🙂 If you don’t have any, use your favourite mustard instead.
- Malt vinegar – cheese has a lot of natural acidity so an acidic ingredient is a MUST-HAVE! We use distilled or undistilled malt vinegar here as our top choice as it has more of a savoury characteristic than something like apple cider or white wine vinegar. However, it’s quite a subtle difference so honestly just use whatever neutral-ish vinegar you have, or even lemon juice.
- Marmite – it’s savoury and salty. What more do you need to know!? Even if you don’t like eating marmite on toast, we suggest you give it a go in this sauce. Its flavour is diluted a lot in the soy milk so it won’t be overpowering. Alternatives are dark soy sauce or miso, if you prefer
- Salt – saltiness is a big part of what makes this sauce taste cheesy so salt generously for that concentrated flavour (especially if you’re going to use it for something like mac & cheese as the pasta will dilute the saltiness quite a lot).
Why do we use vegan butter/shortening/coconut oil in this recipe?
Traditional cheese sauce (a.k.a. Mornay sauce) is high in fat, mostly from the addition of grated cheese. This fat gives the sauce its creaminess, thick texture and a rich, rounded taste (fat carries flavour!). Since we make this vegan version without any shop-bought vegan cheeses, we like to make sure there’s a good level of plant-based fat added, to give the sauce the richness it needs.
An important aspect here is ensuring the fat we add has some saturated fats in it i.e. fat which is solid at room temperature. Saturated fat has a different mouthfeel to unsaturated (think about the texture of vegetable oil vs. melted butter in your mouth, the butter feels thicker right?) and that thickness is really important for the general taste experience when you eat cheese or cheese sauce. There are luckily some really easy-to-find sources of saturated vegan fat, namely: vegan butter (block or tub are fine here), vegetable shortenings (e.g. TREX – a solid, pure white fat), refined coconut oil. We like using vegan butter the most as it does give the sauce a bit of that ‘dairy-like’ flavour. If you do go down the coconut oil route, make sure you’re using a refined (odourless/deodorised) coconut oil as it has zero flavour, whereas the virgin/ cold-pressed coconut oils will bring a coconut flavour which we really don’t want!
If you don’t have vegan butter/vegetable shortening/refined coconut oil, you can use olive oil (or even vegetable oil) in a pinch! Just know that your sauce won’t be quite as creamy.
What recipes can I use vegan cheese sauce in?
This sauce is great in lots of different dishes, so to name a few:
- Macaroni cheese (or basically any cheesy pasta dish)
- Cauliflower cheese (a total classic here in the UK!)
- Baked potatoes (as a topping)
- Philly cheesesteak
- Welsh rarebit
- Potato gratin
Making vegan cheese sauce without cashews
In lots of recipes cashews are used for vegan cheeses as they have a high fat content and provide a creamy texture when blended. However, they’re quite expensive, require soaking ahead of time, and ideally need to be blitzed in a high-speed blender to get them nice and smooth. This recipe is made with no cashews (or any nuts for that matter), so it can be made with only a stick/immersion blender, and saves a load of time and money.
To make this sauce creamy without needing nuts, we’ve relied on a combination of soy milk, potatoes, and vegan butter. By blending the potatoes, the starch is released, giving the sauce a thick, gooey texture. To add some body and richness, we used vegan butter, however you can use refined coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or even olive oil. We prefer soy milk, but there’s no reason not to sub in almond milk if you’re okay with nuts, or use any other dairy-free milk you have to hand – just make sure it’s unsweetened!
Grating the potatoes
Many vegan cheese sauce recipes use sliced or diced potatoes, which are boiled and blended to thicken them. This recipe uses grated potatoes as the smaller size and greater surface area helps them cook faster in the soy milk, and start to release their starch earlier. All this is to say, you’ll get your vegan cheese sauce made much quicker! Peeled potatoes can be a bit slippery, so be careful with the grater!
How to make vegan cheese sauce without nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is something of a staple in vegan cooking, and features in lots of vegan cheese sauce recipes because it provides plenty of umami flavour, and a nutty flavour people often describe as ‘cheesy’. If you don’t have any to hand, or prefer not to use it for any reason, you can simply leave it out, or there are a few alternatives you can use instead if you still want to maximise on delicious savoury flavour.
- Miso – this super savoury paste has loads of flavour, but it’s quite salty so watch your seasoning. We’d suggest substituting 1 tablesppon of miso in for the nutritional yeast in this recipe
- A stock cube – this is an easy way to add a punch of flavour. You could use a vegetable stock cube, or even a vegan chicken-style one. Again, these can be salty, so careful when you’re adding the salt at the end!
- MSG – believe the hype. If you haven’t gotten yourself onto the bandwagon yet, maybe now’s the time. MSG is the very essence of umami; try adding 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon in place of (or as well as, frankly) the nutritional yeast – you can thank us later.
Can you make gluten free vegan cheese sauce?
Yes! This recipe is already pretty close to being GF, but the marmite and malt vinegar both have a small amount of gluten in them, so these would need replacing.
- You could use any number of alternatives for the malt vinegar – most neutral vinegars will do just fine (e.g. avoid balsamic, red wine, and sherry vinegar). You could even use lemon juice in a pinch!
- For the marmite, we’d suggest replacing with a similar quantity of tamari, GF soy sauce, or GF miso.
- Also, if you’re not using soy milk, also just make sure your dairy milk is GF too (oat milk usually isn’t)
What gives vegan cheese its cheesy taste?
Cheese made from animal milk has a few characteristics that vegan alternatives can mimic. Shop-bought vegan cheeses tend to rely on artificial flavourings which we generally find overpowering (plus they’re kinda pricey). So, instead of using premade vegan ‘cheese’, this sauce uses ingredients you probably already have to create those cheesey characteristics:
- Tang – most cheese is fermented, and tastes kind of sour. In our cheese sauce recipe, we use vinegar and mustard to bring some tang to the party.
- Umami – cheese has a lot of umami flavour from molecules produced bacteria and enzymes breaking down the fats and proteins during the fermentation process. The two ingredients in this cheese sauce recipe which pack an umami punch are the nutritional yeast and marmite.
- Saltiness – many cheeses contain salt, which is a flavour enhancer. To make your vegan cheese sauce taste cheesy, don’t be afraid to salt well, it’s KEY to getting the right flavour.
- Creaminess – cheese is inherently creamy thanks to its fat content. Dairy tends to have a good amount of saturated fat in it, which lends an unctuous mouthfeel. To imitate this, we like to add a generous dollop of vegan butter, or even vegetable shortening, as these both contain saturated fat too.
How to make vegan cheese sauce, with step by step images:
1 . Warm the soy milk & vegan butter until melted together. Grate the peeled potatoes.
2 . Add the grated potatoes, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, garlic granules and mustard to the pot of soy milk & butter. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes have softened completely.
3 . Add the marmite, vinegar, salt (start with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp and adjust from there), and black pepper. Stir and taste then add more salt/pepper if needed.
4 . Use a stick/immersion blender (or whatever blender you have), to blitz the sauce into super smooth.
5. Once blended, the sauce should look shiny and thick. It’s now ready to use!