The hardest part of the anti-inflammatory diet for me is eating dairy free. I just love real cheese so much. Yet I know dairy can be very inflammatory and avoiding chronic inflammation is a big factor in long term health and disease prevention. This creamy vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce is one way to make a dairy-free life easier and much more delicious.
You won’t believe this smooth, creamy sauce is totally vegan and dairy free. And it’s super easy! It just takes a little foresight to remember to soak your cashews. This softens them and helps them become the velvety sauce you’re craving.
Nacho cheese sauce tends to be categorized as “junk food”. I’m here to put an end to that thinking. You can enjoy the foods you love without feeling guilty. This nacho cheese sauce has that creamy, delicious flavor you love, but without any dairy products. The nutritional yeast gives it that irresistible cheesy flavor and the cashews make it so creamy.
You might be thinking, “there’s no way my family will want to eat vegan cheese sauce!” I think they’ll be presently surprised. I’m not going to lie, my kids would probably prefer the regular cheese sauce filled with processed ingredients; although, they’ll still eat this kind. Serve it with tortilla chips, and they’ll forget it’s vegan after the first bite.
If you have a nut allergy, I also have a recipe for Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce that’s made without nuts!
This recipe is made with simple ingredients you might already have in your pantry. I hope you try it and enjoy it as much as I do!
Recipe Ingredients–What You Need
Cashew nuts are the main ingredient in this vegan cheese sauce. When you soak and blend them with the other ingredients, the result is a creamy and delicious sauce. I’ve found that using roasted, salted cashews provides the best flavor. Cashews are also highly nutritious. They’re a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
Nutritional yeast flakes give this sauce its cheesy flavor. It’s a deactivated yeast which means the yeast cells are killed when it’s processed. It’s a popular ingredient in many vegan recipes and contains protein, B vitamins, and minerals.
Lemon juice is needed to balance out the sweetness and add a touch of tangy flavor. You can also substitute it for apple cider vinegar.
Tomato paste adds a more complex flavor and creates a beautiful final color. It’s also a great source of antioxidants and contains B vitamins, potassium, and iron.
Garlic salt adds great flavor in this delicious recipe!
I like using smoked paprika because it gives this easy recipe the perfect hint of smoky flavor that’s irresistible! You can use regular paprika if you’d prefer, but I highly recommend going for the smoked paprika here.
If you’re using raw cashews instead of roasted, salted cashews, you might want to add more salt to your final sauce. Just taste and add as needed. I like to use sea salt.
How to Make Cashew Cheese Sauce
- Place the cashews in a small bowl and fill it with water until they are completely covered by at least 2 inches. Allow the cashews to soak for 4+ hours.
- Drain the soaked cashews. Discard the soaking water.
- In a powerful high speed blender or food processor, add the cashews, 1 cup water, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, lemon juice, garlic salt, smoked paprika, and salt. Blend until you have a completely smoothy, creamy sauce.
- Sauce may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-6 days.
- Use roasted, salted cashews for more flavor. Raw cashews will work just fine, but you might need to add more salt to your final sauce. Just taste and add as needed.
- If you don’t have time to soak your cashews for 4 hours, you can use my shortcut method. Put your cashews in a sauce pan and fill it with enough water to cover the cashews by at least 2-3 inches. Bring to a boil. Once they are boiling, remove the pan from the heat, cover the pan, and allow the cashews to soak for 15 minutes. You’re ready to go!
- Don’t skip out on the smoked paprika. The smoked paprika adds a perfect hint of smoky flavor that really brings this recipe to the next level. You can use regular paprika if you’re not a fan of the smoky flavor, but I think it’s so yummy in this recipe.
- Be sure to use tomato paste and not sauce. It has that deep, concentrated tomato flavor that you want in this vegan cheese sauce. It also gives the final sauce a beautiful color.
- Add in some onion powder and garnish with some fresh herbs for added flavor.
Ways to Use Cashew Cheese Sauce
There are countless ways you can use this versatile sauce. Think of all the different ways you may use a regular cheese sauce and you can substitute this!
- As a topping for steamed broccoli or try it on this Sauteed Broccoli!
- As a topping for Loaded Sweet Potato Fries
- As a cheese sauce for a vegan mac and cheese
- As a cheese sauce for a vegan lasagna
- As a topping on a baked potato
- Add less water to the recipe for a thicker result that can be used as a sandwich, cracker, or bagel spread
Do you need to use raw cashews?
Many cashew cheese sauce recipes call for raw cashews. I don’t find it necessary to have raw cashews and find that using roasted, salted cashews provides great flavor. If you do use raw cashews, you may need to add more salt to your final sauce. Just taste and add if needed.
Do I absolutely have to soak the cashews?
Yes, soaking the cashews is necessary for the smooth, creamy texture. If you don’t mind grittiness, you can skip this step and see what you think.
Is there a shortcut for soaking the cashews?
If you don’t have 4 hours to soak the cashews, try this shortcut: Put your cashews in a sauce pan and fill it with enough water to cover the cashews by at least 2-3 inches. Bring to a boil. Once they are boiling, remove the pan from the heat, cover the pan, and allow the cashews to soak for 15 minutes. This “quick soak” will do the trick.
Should I soak the cashews in warm water?
I’ve found that soaking cashews in room temperature water works better than soaking them in cold or hot water.
Can I substitute garlic powder for garlic salt?
The difference between the two is the addition of salt in garlic salt. You can easily make your own garlic salt if you have garlic powder and salt on hand. The ratio is 1 part garlic powder to 3 parts salt.
Can I use dairy-free milk instead of water?
Yes. Using milk will result in an even creamier final sauce. Almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and soy milk are all great options. You can use any dairy-free milk as long as its unsweetened.
Why does this recipe call for tomato paste?
Tomato paste gives this cheese sauce a delicious umami flavor and helps the final sauce color. Make sure you use tomato paste and not sauce. If you’d like, you can substitute miso paste.
How should I store this cheese sauce?
You can store this recipe in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. If you plan on doubling or tripling this recipe and want to freeze it, it will last for a long time. You can store it in a freezer bag or airtight container for up to 6 months.
How many servings is this recipe?
If you’re serving this as a dip, it should make enough for about 12 people. If you’re using it in a recipe such as vegan mac and cheese, it will depend on what the recipe calls for. It’s enough sauce for a pound of pasta.
More Vegan Recipes For You to Try
If you love this cashew cheese sauce, here’s some recipes for you to use it!
- Mini Bell Pepper Nachos
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese (just use this vegan cheese sauce recipe in place of the cheese)
- Portobello Mushroom Burger
Here’s some other vegan recipes I think you might like as well:
- Loaded Vegan Queso Dip
- Homemade Almond Butter
- Thai Salad
- Spicy Black Bean Soup
- Vegetable Grain Bowls
If you make this Cashew Cheese recipe or any of my other healthy recipes, please share it on Instagram and I’ll feature you! Also, if you try it, please leave a comment with a star rating below! Those star ratings are so helpful in helping my recipes get discovered. I appreciate you!Print