Dairy Free Cheese Recipes – What to Look For

Whether you are needing to be dairy free because of an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, you are not alone. More and more people are finding that dairy products in their every day diet is causing their inflammation symptoms to worsen and realize they function better on a day-to-day basis if it’s not in their diet all the time.

But that brings in a whole other issue. Cheese is good! No wonder there’s been a boom in dairy free cheese substitutes! Now, before I go any further, I have to say one thing:

Dairy Alternative cheeses are it's own genre of cheese. 

It can be used for different purposes, and just like there are thousands of different cheeses to be used in specific and different ways, there are many dairy alternatives to try and to use in different ways.

While there are some cheeses out on the shelf, many choose to try to make their own at home for many reasons. It could be because of random allergies or other intolerances, trying to keep the recipe as whole as possible without fillers, reducing or not having any added sugars, or that it’s less of a hit on the wallet.

Whatever the case, if you are looking for a good recipe for a dairy free alternative to cheese, I do have a few tips and things to look for in recipes to make sure you are making “a good one”. Or if you are looking for it to be more firm or look for it to stretch, I have some ingredients to look for with that specific texture. If anything this might help you when picking out a dairy free cheese alternative at your store.

Getting the Bite or Tang of Aged Cheese

The best way to get that tang that aged cheese has is to have your mixture age. But that can get a little tricky since you probably don’t want to worry about mold, or have your kitchen smell like stinky cheese for weeks.

The best tang I’ve been able to get with a simple recipes at home is about as much as you would expect from softer cheeses like cream cheese or feta cheese.

Ingredients to look for:

  • Lemon Juice
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (more bite) or White Vinegar (mild bite)
  • Fermented Products:
    • Miso Paste
    • Probiotic capsules
    • Unsweetened plain plant based yogurt
    • Sauerkraut Juice
    • Rejuvelac: Water from sprouting grains
      • If you sprout your own grains, the leftover semi cloudy water has probiotics in it, it’s said to have a mild kombucha flavor, and is healthy to drink. You can always save this for your cheese alternative recipes.
      • If you don’t sprout grains and have no idea what I’m talking about, you can look up the benefits and see if it’s something you would want to add to your routine, but if not, you can find other items to add to your recipe and not sprout grains just to make dairy-alternative cheeses.
  • Mustard or Mustard Powder

Texture: Cuttable and/or Sliceable

If you are looking for a cheese to put on sandwiches or want something on your cheese plate with a harder texture, you’ll need something to solidify your mixture.

Ingredients to Look for:

  • Refined Coconut Oil – solid at room temperature, easy to blend, easy to mold into a shape, and the refined version does not have a taste. It’s also saturated fat, which is part of the reason why we love cheese so much. Good for cheese balls.
  • Agar Agar powder/flakes – usually will call for powder. It’s from seaweed, but it’s a plant-based alternative to gelatin, which once it’s set with your other ingredients will make it more sliceable.
  • Gelatin

Texture: Stretchable/Meltable

If you are wanting something to stretch like mozzarella on your dairy free pizza or over a casserole, you’ll need some specific starches. Some starches are good to thicken a mixture, while others add elasticity. When using starches, read the instructions and make sure to follow them, otherwise you might not get the right reaction and it won’t stretch or thicken properly. With some starches, you need the right temperature, and to not overheat the mixture after adding it.

Lastly, when finding the ingredients, some starches will just say “powder”. You might be able to find arrowroot powder, but not arrowroot “starch”. It’s the same thing.

Ingredients to Look For:

  • Arrowroot Powder or Starch – comparable to corn starch to thicken, but adds a little stretch as well.
  • Tapioca Powder or Starch – this seems to be the most stretchy and when it’s at colder temps, it’s rubbery, of the two. I’ve used this to make a cashew mozzarella balls before.

Add Some Fat

Let’s face it, the reason we love cheese, is because it’s basically saturated fat other than some mozzarellas and feta varieties. Dairy-free cheese alternatives should be used like cheese, in that it should be more of an every once and a while item, and not with every meal. So if you are worried about where your fat intake comes from, do yourself a favor and when you make a dairy-free cheese recipe, add the fat.

The only one I’ve made that I like that doesn’t have a lot if any fat, is my white bean queso dip. But that’s pretty much it. All others I love and other people love, have coconut oil or is full of nuts, so, if you want it hit the same buttons as cheese or close to it, add the fat.

Conculsion

Plant Based/Dairy Free Cheese are it’s own product. They are trying to make the alternatives available to act like and semi-taste like cheese, but you and your body knows it’s not. You just have to know it’s a different type cheese you’re working with.

There are plenty of delicious cheeses out there to try, but trust me, don’t cheap out if you are going to buy it on the shelf and it’s your first time trying dairy free cheese. And the softer nut cheeses are usually a guaranteed hit.

As always, keep finding you beet and I will catch up with you all soon!

Vitamin C & Seasonal Allergies

Spring is in the air and so are billions of allergens to make your life just miserable enough to where you start to become afraid of the spring flowers instead of enjoying them. There is not much to do for seasonal allergies other than lessen the symptoms and lessen your exposure to them. Check out my earlier post about some things I do naturally for my seasonal allergies. I still do have a nose spray and during my worst times of year, I do take medication. But is there anything you can change in your diet that can help?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Seasonal Allergy Foods

One thing to keep in mind is when your body has an allergic reaction it causes inflammation. Whether that is in your sinuses, your ears, your mouth, your throat, your skin, your lungs… it’s inflammation and the reaction of histamine. That inflammation is what starts to cause congestion, makes your allergy reaction worse, and can lead to infections. The best thing I can recommend is eating anti-inflammatory foods and foods that help to build up your immune system. Main thing to know about anti-inflammatory foods is to keep it whole. Things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean proteins, as well as foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Things to avoid would be fried foods, processed foods, dairy, and things that are high in processed sugar like sodas, even some juices. And of course, avoid any food allergies you might have. I usually try to stay away from my food allergies, no matter how small of a reaction I might have to them, during my worst seasons.

However, the main nutrient we are going to be talking about today, is Vitamin C.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, but did you know it’s also an antihistamine? Not only does this vitamin keep your immune system and cells in shape, it fights off infection, and it also helps with your bodies overreacting histamine reaction. It prevents the secretion of histamine by white blood cells and increases its detoxification.

There have been studies showing how when we are stressed one of the many chemicals and hormones that are released, is histamine. There has been evidence that taking in large doses of vitamin C, they saw an increase of histamine leaving the system and decreasing in the blood. Some people have noticed a decrease in allergy symptoms by taking 1,000 – 2,000 mg a day of Vitamin C on a regular basis.

Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin so it is in and out of the body within 6 hours. So taking vitamin C in doses throughout the day would be beneficial.

Eating foods high in vitamin C is also beneficial and not just taking supplements. Foods that are high in vitamin C also have other antioxidant bioflavonoids such has quercetin (another antihistamine) that help the body to absorb vitamin C. It is important to note that oxygen and heat can diminish vitamin C, so it’s best to prepare and eat these foods immediately and raw. For instance, buying orange juice will have some vitamin C, but freshly juicing oranges for a glass of OJ would be more beneficial. (If you watch your blood sugar, eating oranges with the fiber of the pith, or the white part, will help to slowly digest the sugar and would keep your blood sugar more balanced.)

Here are a list of foods high in vitamin C. You might be surprised to know that oranges are not even in the top 3!

Photo by Adam Śmigielski on Unsplash

Foods High In Vitamin C
  • Guava | 377 mg per 1 cup
  • Bell Peppers | 190 mg per cup
  • Kiwi | 167 mg per cup
  • Strawberries | 98 mg per cup
  • Oranges | 96 mg per cup
  • Papaya | 88 mg per cup
  • Broccoli | 81 mg per cup
  • Tomato | 55 mg per cup
  • Kale | 53 mg per cup
  • Snow Peas | 38 mg per cup

Although it might be hard to get to 2,000 mg of vitamin C a day through the foods you eat, you can incorporate them into your meals and snacks to ensure that any vitamin C supplement you might be taking has a good chance of being absorbed.

Bottom Line
  • If you experience seasonal allergies, try to increase your vitamin C intake during this time, and possibly on a regular basis to help with your reaction and to help decrease the chance of infections.
  • Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin it is in and out of the body relatively quickly, so taking small doses throughout the day is the best.
  • Eating foods high in vitamin C also helps vitamin C to be absorbed and also has other anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine benefits.

Stay well my friends!

 

Know Your Ingredients: The Many Names of Wheat

Next on my “Know Your Ingredients” blog posts, is about the names of wheat and what products can contain wheat. There are many different reasons for avoiding wheat and needing to know the information in this post. There were some things I was not aware of. There are 3 major reasons why people avoid wheat.

  • Celiac Disease: This is an autoimmune disorder that shows itself in a reaction while ingesting gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The reaction causes villous atrophy (flattening of the cells lining the small intestine) which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, which then can lead to other health issues. There are over 200 related symptoms to celiac disease but some of them involve anemia, behavioral changes, stunted growth, joint pain, and head aches.
  • Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Gluten Sensitivity: This is not well defined. It is not an autoimmune disorder like celiac disease, and it is not an immune response like an allergy. There is more research and seeing if there are other components involved in causing the symptoms. The only way this is diagnosed is to rule out celiac disease and a wheat allergy, but following a gluten free diet is beneficial and improves symptoms.
  • Wheat Allergy: This, like other food allergies, is an immune reaction to any of the hundreds of proteins found in wheat, not just gluten. There is an immune reaction which one type of white blood cell sends out IgE antibodies to “attack” wheat and the rest of the body might send other chemical reactions to warn the rest of the body. This can involve abdominal pain, itching, swelling, nausea, swelling, trouble breathing, or anaphylaxis shock to name a few. The person might have to avoid wheat, but might not have to avoid gluten from non-wheat sources.

The only way to know the reason for any reaction, is to get tested. Wheat was one of the food allergies I had as a kid and eventually grew out of with age, and gluten doesn’t seem to bother me. However, one thing I do know, is that mixing your grains and getting a variety is helpful still. If I have too much wheat or gluten in the form of seitan (soy-free plant based ‘meat’ alternative) I will have some cramping and digestion upsets. So even if you do not have an allergy, sensitivity, or an autoimmune disorder that you know of, limiting or exchanging sources of wheat in your everyday diet is not a bad thing to do in general.

Photo by Shalitha Dissanayaka on Unsplash

Just like corn and soy, wheat is in “everything”. Here is a list I got from Kids with Food Allergies.

***Note a lot of the reasons for avoiding wheat is because of gluten, but this post is for wheat in general. Not a list of ingredients that can contain gluten, but can contain wheat as a whole.

Contains Wheat
  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Bread (made with any kind of wheat flour, white flour, or bread crumbs)
  • Bulgar Wheat
  • Cereal Extract
  • Couscous
  • Cracker Meal
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer aka Farro
  • Farina
  • Flour (atta, club, common, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, graham, kamut, maida, semolina, spelt, triticale, triticum)
  • Flour (all-purpose, bread, bromated, cake, enriched, high gluten, high protein, instant pastry, phosphated, plain, soft wheat, steel ground, stone, ground, self-rising, unbleached, white, whole wheat)
  • Fu
  • Gluten (wheat gluten, vital gluten, vital wheat gluten, fu)
  • Kamut (khorasan wheat)
  • Malt, Malt Extract
  • Matzo (Matzo Meal, matzoh, matzah, matza)
  • Noodles, pasta
  • Sietan
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Tabbouleh
  • Triticale
  • Triticum
  • Wheat, whole wheat (Wheat berries, wheat bran, whole wheat bread, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat germ oil, wheat protein isolate, wheat starch, wheat sprouts, sprouted wheat)
  • Wheatgrass
Can Include Wheat
  • Artificial flavoring, natural flavoring
  • Caramel Color
  • Dextrin
  • Food Starch, gelatinized starch, modified starch, modified food starch, vegetable starch
  • Glucose syrup
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) and Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
  • Maltodextrin
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Oats
  • Soy Sauce, Shoyu, Tamari, Teriyaki Sauce
  • Surimi
  • Vegetable Gum
  • Personal Care Items like make-up, shampoo, etc. can contain wheat ingredients.
Cross Contamination / Cross Reactivity

If you are needing to absolutely avoid gluten or wheat, know that cross contamination can happen with manufactured products. Unless they are a “gluten free” manufacturer, there can be small amounts of gluten or wheat that can make it’s way into the package. Most labels will have “made in a factory with …” and it will have wheat among the list. Know that you can react to those products.

Cross reactivity can happen when plants are similar and have similar proteins to one another. For instance, if you are allergic to wheat, there is a 20% chance you could be allergic to other grains. To make sure always get tested.

In Conclusion

Always get tested when you are questioning what it is you might have. Whether you have been diagnosed with a disease, allergy, sensitivity, or looking to limit your wheat intake keep in mind the list here. The other thing, is trying to buy and eat things without a label: fresh fruits, vegetables, other grains (can also have gluten-free on the package, like oats), nuts, seeds, etc. You won’t have to go as crazy as you might think reading labels if you eat whole foods that naturally do not contain gluten or wheat ingredients.

Know Your Ingredients: The Many Names Soy

The next on my “Know Your Ingredients” posts is soy. It’s one of my worst and it’s partly because of how wide spread it’s used, like corn. It’s easy to get an overload of soy without even trying, especially when you have processed foods. It is required in the US and is a federal “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” that labels clearly list soy in the ingredients or it could be listed after the ingredients as “Contains: Soy”. Advisory statements like, “may contain soy” or “made in a facility with soy” are optional. Better to know what you’re reading just in case some of these words pop up on the list of ingredients. Let’s break down where soy can be found and what it’s used in.

Soy (or Soya) Products
  • Bean curd
  • Edamame (soy beans in pods)
  • Miso (fermented soy)
    • I use a chickpea miso that I’ve found.
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy based flours, nuts, or sprouts
  • Soy protein
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
Foods That Most Likely Contain Soy, and Will Need to Check the Label
  • Plant based dairy products: plant based milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, etc.
  • Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
  • Canned Broths and Soups
  • Canned Tuna and other Meats
  • Processed Meats / Frozen Burgers
  • Cereals
  • High Protein Energy Bars and Snacks
  • Plant-Based Protein Powders
  • Infant Formula
  • Vegetable Oils
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Soy Lecitin: often used in chocolate bars/candy, peanut butter, and margarine.
Other Names that May Use Soy Ingredients
  • Glycine max
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Mono-diglyceride
  • Monosodium Glytamate (MSG)
  • Artificial Flavoring
  • Natural Flavoring
  • Vegetable Broth
  • Vegetable Gum
  • Vegetable Starch

Something to always remember as well, although you might find a brand of, let’s say bread, that doesn’t have soy in the ingredients, it doesn’t mean that it won’t change. They don’t have to tell you when they change their ingredients. It can be a safe bet for a little while, but I always check from time to time to make sure the ingredients are the same as before.

Know your labels. Although it’s good that most packaged food will list if there is soy and clearly state, “Contains: Soy”, it doesn’t mean it won’t sneak in with the vegetable broth or plain “starch”. As with any allergy, especially if it’s severe, be aware and educate yourself. Knowing is half the battle. If you are just learning about this or another allergy, know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed at first, because it is. But know that the more you learn and the more you adapt to the changes, the easier it becomes and reading labels won’t feel overwhelming and you’ll find your new products and recipes to make in no time!

Food Intolerance or Food Allergy?

There are so many people with a food allergy or a food intolerance now that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. I’d like to take a moment to define each and show the similarities and the differences. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference but hopefully this will help.

Food Intolerance

A food intolerance is when the digestive system has a hard time breaking down a specific food and has an adverse effect. Take for instance “lactose-intolerance”. It’s one of the most widely known and it effects many. Lactose intolerance means that a person’s digestive system has a hard time breaking down and digesting the sugar lactose, which is found in cow’s milk. When your body has an intolerance it can show itself in many different digestive symptoms but sometimes can show as other symptoms like headaches.

Common Symptoms of Food Intolerance:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomitting
  • Headaches
  • Etc.
Food Allergy

A food allergy involves an abnormal response by the immune system. Which is why it can be hard to detect if it is an allergy or an intolerance. It doesn’t always have to result in an anaphylaxis shock which can be life threatening.

Symptoms of Food Allergy:

  • Skin rash
  • Sneezing
  • Drainage
  • Inflammation (skin, sinuses, lungs, etc.)
  • Asthma Attack
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Anaphylaxis

Can also be accompanied by:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomitting
  • Emotional Symptoms (irritability, weepy, angry, etc. shortly after having food)
  • Hyperactivity

There are a lot of similarities between a food intolerance and a food allergy, but an allergy specifically is a reaction of the immune system. To know for sure, it would be best to set up an appointment for an allergy test.

The Top 8

Here are the top 8 food allergens that are now clearly marked on the ingredient list of foods. The other thing to consider, is if you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, let’s say shrimp, then you would want to either test for other shellfish or stay away from other shellfish like crab and lobster. It’s a cross-reaction and most likely you can have an allergic reaction to these as well. Some other allergens are hard to see in an ingredient list because they might not be as common – like strawberries for example. Although the top 8 are now clearly marked on labels, it’s best to know how to read labels and ingredient lists to be proactive.

  • Cow’s Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

I’ve been posting about the different names allergens can be listed under, like corn, that might not necessarily be listed as that specific ingredient. Stay tuned for more, and visit the “Know Your Labels” page.

 

 

Know Your Ingredients: The Many Names of Corn

I wanted to start a small series about how to read ingredients. Although I suggest eating things without a label and ingredient list on the box or bag (eating whole, unprocessed foods), there are always things that will have a nutrition label and ingredient list like yogurts, cereals, oatmeal packets, etc. These in themselves might not be bad, but when you have a food allergy, knowing what some of those ingredients are can make or break it. I’m going to start off with one of the most diverse, corn.

Photo by Bart Heird on Unsplash

Corn

We’ve come to know and might have read or heard the reports of how much corn is used is everything, not just food. It’s quite remarkable, but something not so great for someone with a food allergy.

One thing I do want to know – If you have a corn allergy, how does it effect you? Is it more physical or emotional?

Just a little curiosity of mine… Moving on. Corn is becoming more and more of an allergen for people because of how much we can be exposed to it. One of the things my doctor asked my mom was if we lived in the country on the farm since most of the children and adults they’ve seen with a severe corn allergy were on a corn farm. Interesting huh?

Names of Corn

This list might not cover all of them, but I’m going to cover the major foods to watch out for and the names corn can be under. Here we go…

  • Corn flour, corn meal, corn flakes, etc.
  • Cornstarch
    • Can be listed as just starch or vegetable starch – be careful!
    • Watch out for baking powder. A lot just stay starch or corn starch, but have found potato starch.
  • Corn Oil
  • Vegetable Oil, Shortning
  • Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup (which also has multiple names)
  • Dextrins
  • Maltodextrins
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose or crystalline fructose
  • Ethanol
  • Maise
  • Zein
  • Sorbitol – artificial sweetener
Other Things to Consider

These are some things other than food, or commonly used in the kitchen, that you might not think about.

  • If you need to get a medication and have a severe allergy to corn, make sure the doctor knows so that the medications can be corn-free.
  • Cosmetic companies will use corn products as well so make sure to look them up.
  • Corn or corn products can also be used in brewing certain beers and fermenting wine.
  • Non-stick sprays will sometimes use maltodextrins.
  • Imitation flavoring extracts will use dextrose.
  • And then of course that lovely “sweet” seal on envelopes. I’m so grateful for the peel and stick kind for so many reasons!
Know Your Labels

It’s so important to know what you are putting in your body. When you eat less processed things and more whole food you can control what you are eating without going crazy reading food labels every time you turn around. But when you do get that delicious pancake mix, cereal, or your favorite condiment you can check the label for some of the major corn products in foods. Some companies will label corn under the “Contains” portion with the other top allergens, but sometimes not.

Knowing is half the battle!