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Not every alt protein cream cheese is made equal and that’s a great thing!
If you poll every one of your friends on what their favorite cream cheese is, you will not get anywhere near consensus. There’s an array of choices on the market these days from mild to tangy, spreadable to whipped, and savory to sweet. Not all cream cheese is made equal, so why should it be any different when it comes to alt protein cream cheese?
To prove I’m right, I tried as many different kinds as I could get my taste buds on. Tough job I know, but I’m just the gal for it! Not one cream cheese on this list is 100% like the other, which is exactly how it should be since you have your dairy-free, animal-free, fermentation-based, nut-based, hemp-based…. Clearly, gone are the days when the only vegan cream cheese option was Tofutti and I, for one, am pretty psyched about that. So even if you don’t agree with my reviews, I hope you will be inspired to branch out of your cream cheese comfort zone and try something new.
Editor’s Note: Some of the below products and brands are very new to the market and are only available at select retail and/or online locations in the U.S., and these can change frequently. Please check with the brand website for the most up to date information.
1) Modern Kitchen’s Animal Free Cream Cheese Spread ($30/3 pack)
Being a huge fan of everything Perfect Day, I was really excited to get a sneak taste of Modern Kitchen’s line of animal-free cream cheese.
Unless you live under a rock, you already know how Perfect Day revolutionized the alt protein industry with its bio-identical dairy proteins made via precision fermentation. You may be familiar with their ice cream sold under The Urgent Company brand. But what you may not know is that Perfect Day’s 2nd animal-free dairy brand, Modern Kitchen has launched a line of cream cheese currently selling DTC. It is the first animal-free dairy cream cheese on the market and how can it not be perfect, pun intended, when it’s dairy cream cheese, right? Well, spoiler alert, it is perfect. You get the exact same mouthfeel you get from eating dairy cream cheese down to the flavor and texture, aka how creamy and spreadable it is. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to have to sacrifice one iota in taste when it comes to your plant-based eating habits, this is most definitely the cream cheese for you. It’s animal-free, in other words, guilt-free with the same great cream cheese taste we all know and love.
Modern Kitchen’s cream cheese comes in three flavors: Spring Onion & Chive, Harissa Pepper, and Strawberry – and I tried them all. I really thought Spring Onion & Chive would be my favorite, but I was impressed with the other two flavors too. The Harissa Pepper cream cheese has just the perfect amount of spiciness to allow the pepper flavor to really come through and win over folks who can’t handle spicy foods like me. And then there’s Strawberry. I mean I love strawberries and I love cream cheese so match made in heaven truly. This strawberry cream cheese has got me thinking of all types of baking possibilities, like a vegan warm butter cake or a strawberry cheesecake.
I will say that I feel these guys should be in a category of their own because it’s almost unfair to compare animal-free dairy with plant-based dairy. It’s also really important to underline that if someone has a dairy or they allergy, this product will not be suitable for them.
Ingredients: (Spring Onion & Chive): Animal-Free Cream (Water, Coconut Oil, Non-Animal Whey Protein), Non-GMO Modified Potato Starch, Non-GMO Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Potato Protein, Contains 2% or Less of: Chives, Onions, Cultures, Rowanberry Fruit Extract (Antioxidant), Lactic Acid, Natural Flavor.
Bonus Points: Modern Kitchen has really cool and innovative packaging- I love the vibrant green, orange and red colors, which will definitely stand out from the sea of whiteness on the supermarket shelves. Typically, cream cheese packaging is mainly white because cream cheese is, well, white. Not very imaginative if you ask me.
Cons: This is definitely the priciest of all the options on the list. Plus, they don’t currently offer an original plain version but hopefully that’s in the works.
Overall Score: 10 out 10
2) Nature’s Fynd Dairy Free Cream Cheese ($5.49)
I was really looking forward to trying Nature’s Fynd. The fact that they make fungi-based food using NASA-inspired technology and volcanic microbes from Yellowstone makes the sci-fi nerd in jump up for joy. They currently have 2 flavors out: Original and Chive & Onion and I tried both.
Nature’s Fynd cream cheese is smooth, creamy, and tangy. It is a very very close second runner-up, which says a lot since it’s 100% plant-based. The Original is cheesy with a nice tang and you can really taste both the chive and onion in the Chive & Onion. It’s fungi-based and made via fermentation, aka the same process that’s been used for centuries to make all real dairy cheese.
Ingredients: Dairy-Free FyTM Milk (Water, Nutritional Fungi Protein), Coconut Oil, Sugar, Contains less than 2% of Mushroom Extract, Salt, Lactic Acid, Guar Gum, Cultures.
Bonus Points: Nature’s Fynd is allergen-free since it’s not made with any nuts or soy, and Fy is grown using a fraction of land, water, and energy of traditional protein sources.
Cons: if you don’t like your cream cheese with a pronounced tangyness, this may not be the one for you.
Overall Score: 9 out 10
3) Violife 100% Vegan Just Like Original Cream Cheese ($5.99)
Violife is one of the biggest plant-based players, especially since it was acquired by Upfield, so their line of cream cheese is readily available and much easier to find in stores. As a fan of Violife’s Epic Mature Cheddar, I was expecting to love their cream cheese just as much, and indeed love it, I did! A little back story to explain why.
Being born and raised in Brazil, my first experience eating cream cheese was when I was nine years old on a trip to the US with my parents. We were at the airport with a friend of my mom’s and her daughter and had some time to kill before boarding the plane back to Brazil, se we decided to grab a bite. This was back in the day when there were no fancy eateries at airports and the only option was your regular old-fashioned diner. I sat next to my mom’s friend’s daughter on the counter and when her bagel with cream cheese came I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I had never seen a bagel either. Long story short, she said I couldn’t leave the US without trying it and so I did. The bagel was toasted and warm, topped with a thick layer of slightly melting cream cheese on both sides. It had a very mild but distinct cheese flavor that reminded me of Brazilian requeijão, only richer and creamier. I remember the taste of that bite vividly to this day and it’s the standard by which I judge all cream cheeses. Violife cream cheese tastes just like that, it has the mouthfeel of traditional old-fashioned Philadelphia cream cheese. It spreads nicely on the bagel giving you that thick creamy layer that takes me back to when I was nine years old eating it for the first time. Fair warning, if you like your cream cheese with a lot of tang, you may not enjoy it as much as I did.
The Violife cream cheese range includes Just Like Cream Cheese Original, Just Like Cream Cheese with Chives, Just Like Cream Cheese Garlic & Herbs, Just Like Cream Cheese Cheddar, and Just Like Cream Cheese Strawberry.
Ingredients: Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Potato Starch, Salt (Sea Salt), Glucono-Delta-Lactone, Flavor (vegan sources), Olive Extract, Vitamin B12.
Bonus Points: Violife has the most fun flavor range on the market.
Cons: None that I can think of!
Overall Score: 9 out 10
4) Grounded Foods Cream Cheese Onion & Chives ($5.99)
Grounded Foods cream cheese only comes in one flavor currently, Onion & Chives, but I am told by co-founder Veronica Fil that a plain/original version is due out this year. It’s got the creaminess texture you want and it’s slightly tangy, but not off the charts tangy, just enough to make it the opposite of mild in flavor. For comparison’s sake, it lands somewhere between Nature’s Fynd and Violife on the tanginess scale. Grounded Foods cream cheese was my favorite for a long while, but with so many new players in the alt protein cream cheese scene, I have to give it a slightly lower ranking. It may no longer be #1 but it’s certainly still among my top 3.
Ingredients: filtered water, hemp seed, coconut oil, sunflower oil, (Less than 2% of: rice starch, tapioca starch, citrus fiber, guar gum, sea salt, lactic acid, chives, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, spices.)
Bonus Points: This vegan cream cheese is allergen-free, since it doesn’t contain any nuts or soy, and it’s the only vegan cream cheese made with hemp. I also dig the sleek classy look of their black & white packaging.
Cons: They didn’t use to offer a plain version, but it seems like they will very soon!
Overall Score: 8 out 10
5) Vertage Cream Cheese (Not available for retail purchase yet)
I got a sneak taste of Vertage’s line of gourmet cheeses including their cream cheese, which comes in a plain version only currently. Vertage’s cream cheese is among the ones with the most tang that I tried for this review and it would likely be an 8 for folks who like tangy cream cheese. It has a good smooth spreadable texture and you definitely get a foodie mouthfeel with every bite. According to their website, their cheeses are ”cultured & fermented, with a chef’s sense of flavor.” It’s worth noting that as of this month, Vertage will be the only cheese used by chef Tal Ronnen in his Crossroads restaurant here in Los Angeles.
Ingredients: Cashews, Water, Organic coconut oil, Shiitake-fermented Pea Protein, Kosher Salt, Vegan Cultures.
Bonus Points: The gourmet approach and Vertage’s fermentation process, which makes it more sustainable than animal-based and even many alt protein-based cream cheeses.
Cons: It’s not as close to the animal cream cheese as the ones above.
Overall Score: 7 out 10
6) Kite Hill Cream Cheese Alternative Made with Almond Milk ($6.49)
I’m a big fan of Kite Hill’s ricotta, yogurts, and sour cream, but I wasn’t completely over the moon about their cream cheeses. The texture is a bit softer and less dense than what you’ve come to expect from cream cheese. I tried the plain and it really was plain, as in it lacked the cheesy flavor of cream cheese. Kite Hill does have a pretty sizeable cream cheese line though, with flavors ranging from Plain, Chive, Everything, and Garden Veggie, to the seasonal Pumpkin.
Ingredients (Plain): Almond Milk (Water, Almonds), Salt, Enzyme, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Mushroom Extract (to help preserve freshness), Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Cultures.
Bonus Points: It’s the only plant-based cream cheese brand I know of that makes a veggie flavor, which is my favorite cream cheese flavor.
Cons: Not the closest to the real deal and a little more expensive than most of the others on the list.
Overall Score: 6 out 10
7) Miyoko’s Creamery Organic Cultured Vegan Cream Cheese ($5.99)
Miyoko has said herself many times that unlike a lot of players in the alt protein space, her goal is not to mimic the flavor of animal dairy. And when it comes to being a vegan, you’re on usually on one side of this argument fence and not looking to jump over anytime soon. You’re either a vegan who is repulsed by the way animal-based foods taste and doesn’t want your vegan food to be anything like it, or you’re a vegan who is in search of cruelty and animal-free foods that resemble their animal counterparts the most because you miss the flavor of what you used to eat pre-veganism days. I fall in the latter category.
Even though I love Miyoko’s European Style butter and Liquid Moz, it makes me sad to stay that I really don’t care for their cream cheese. It scores points when it comes to texture, but it does not give you the same mouthfeel you get when eating real dairy cream cheese. The plain flavor was the one I least enjoyed while the Fish-Free lox did taste a lot closer to real lox cream cheese. Flavors include Everything, Classic Plain, Savory Scallion, Fish-Free Lox, and Cinnamon Raisin.
Ingredients (Plain): Organic Cashew Milk (Organic Cashews, Filtered Water), Organic Coconut Cream, Organic Poppy Seeds, Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Garlic, Organic Onion, Sea Salt, Cultures.
Bonus Points: It’s the only brand that makes a vegan lox cream cheese.
Cons: Not at all similar to the dairy version.
Overall Score: 4 out 10
Lead image courtesy of Modern Kitchen.