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Is Feta Cheese Vegan? Find Out If This Cheese Is Suitable For Vegans In 2024
Feta cheese is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, particularly in Greek salad and the savory pastry spanakopita. Loved for its crumbly texture and tangy flavor, feta is a versatile food, but is feta cheese vegan?
In this guide, we’ll explore how feta is made, its nutritional value, and its uses. We’ll also discuss alternatives to feta cheese for followers of the vegan diet.
Is Feta Cheese Vegan-Friendly?
No, traditional feta cheese is not vegan-friendly. This is because it is made with sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. However, plant-based alternatives do exist. Using tofu as a base makes feta cheese dairy-free and vegan-friendly.
Can Vegans Eat Feta Cheese?
Is feta vegan? The short answer is no. Feta is a soft, brined cheese typically made from sheep’s or goat’s milk.
The vegan diet is an entirely plant-based diet, and, because milk is an animal product, feta cheese is not a vegan food. Like many kinds of cheese, the process of making feta requires the use of rennet, an ingredient derived from a calf’s stomach. Some commercial rennets are synthetic and hence vegetarian, so feta can sometimes be vegetarian-friendly. But traditional feta is not vegan.
Plant-based diets are common in the Mediterranean region from which feta originates. Mediterranean-style eating has been linked to cardiovascular and cognitive health improvements, so feta can certainly be part of a healthy diet. Feta can even be included in a weight-loss diet, but it isn’t vegan.
While traditional feta cheese is not vegan, plant-based alternatives do exist. Vegan feta cheese offers a similar texture and flavor without dairy. You can find vegan feta cheese in specialty groceries and health food stores. You can even make your own vegan feta at home.
What Is Feta Cheese?
Feta is traditionally made in Greece from whole sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. Because the cheese is cured in a salty brine, it is sometimes called pickled cheese. The pickling process is what gives feta its characteristic tangy, briny flavor. The longer it ages in brine, the saltier, sharper, and firmer it gets.
You’re most likely to find feta in block form in the grocery store. It’s a white cheese sold in square cakes, typically packaged with a small amount of brine to keep it moist. You can also find crumbled feta sold in airtight packaging, sometimes with added seasoning.
How Is Feta Made?
Feta is made by adding rennet, a group of enzymes, and casein, a protein found in dairy, to sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. The rennet coagulates the milk, causing it to thicken. From there, the curd is separated and pressed to drain off the excess liquid, called acid whey. The cheese is then cut into blocks, salted, and dried before being aged in brine.
Since 2002, feta has been a Protected Designation of Origin or PDO in the European Union. Legislation in the European Union and a few other countries limits the use of the term feta to cheeses made in Greece and Lesbos Prefecture from sheep’s milk—or a mixture of sheep’s milk and up to 30% goat’s milk—in the traditional style.
Because feta is such a staple in Greek cuisine, relatively little of it gets exported. Instead, many countries produce their own version of this brined cheese and call it something else, such as salad cheese. Feta imported to the U.S. largely comes from Italy. Most feta made in the U.S. is made from cow’s milk.
Dishes Containing Feta Cheese To Avoid
Feta is often served as a table cheese in Mediterranean countries so that it can be served alone or as part of a dish. It’s often used as a topping on a Greek salad or included with charcuterie platters. Feta is a staple ingredient in the Greek spinach pastry spanakopita and is sometimes included in sandwiches and omelets.
Tips To Make Vegan Feta Cheese
A homemade vegan feta cheese recipe usually starts with extra firm tofu. The tofu needs to be pressed first to remove excess water—if you have a tofu press, this is the time to use it. Next, blend it in a food processor with flavoring ingredients like nutritional yeast, coconut oil or olive oil, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Most vegan feta recipes include lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to give your cheese that tangy feta flavor.
Place the blended mixture in an airtight container to firm up. Ensure the container is the shape you want your cheese to be. Chill it for several hours, preferably overnight.
Cut the vegan feta into cubes. Toss the finished cheese with olive oil, olive brine, or lemon juice to add more flavor to your vegan feta recipe. You can also add fresh herbs like oregano, rosemary, or thyme.
Alternative Vegan Cheese
You can find a vegan version of most cheeses. Vegan cheese is made from plant-based ingredients like tofu or cashews and plant milks like almond, coconut, and soy milk.
An added benefit of opting for vegan feta cheese or other vegan cheeses is that they may be lower in calories and saturated fat. If you’re following a low-FODMAP (low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet, vegan feta cheese is more likely to be suitable because it isn’t made with high-lactose animal milk. Making it with plant milk also makes feta cheese dairy-free and vegan.
The Bottom Line
While real feta may not be vegan, there are plenty of plant-based alternatives to use in your favorite recipes. You can still enjoy pasta dishes, salads, and more with a little creativity.
When following a vegan diet, nutritional balance is key. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet to ensure that your needs for essential vitamins and minerals are met. Many vegans use supplements and nutrient-rich green powders to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
If you’re not up to the challenge of vegan cooking at home, you don’t have to survive on vegan meal replacement bars. A vegan meal delivery service might be worth the investment. While these services generally aren’t specific to Greek food, many offer Mediterranean-style meals featuring delicious vegan alternatives like feta are available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Traditionally, cheese is made from milk, but any cheese made with dairy-free, plant-based alternatives can be considered vegan. Plant-based cheese is often made from soy, cashews, or tofu and can be made with plant-based milk like coconut and almond.
Yes. Vegan feta cheese is typically made from tofu. You can make your own at home or buy vegan feta cheese in specialty groceries and health food stores.
You can find vegan feta cheese at the grocery store or make your own vegan version. In some recipes, firm tofu cubes may be a suitable alternative.
No. Traditional feta is made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. Vegan alternatives like dairy-free feta do, however, exist.
Sometimes. Traditional feta is made with rennet, an animal product used to coagulate milk and enhance flavor. Some manufacturers use commercial rennets instead, which may be vegetarian-friendly.
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