Healthy Cheese Sauce

The Best Vegan and Gluten-Free Cheese Sauce

So if you were thinking of having broccoli or a baked potato for dinner today and wanted a low-fat, healthy cheese sauce to top it … maybe one that has no cholesterol or is low in saturated fat … or maybe you needed one that is dairy-free or lactose-free, you may have done a search on Google and come across a few vegan “cheese sauce” recipes. This is because vegan “cheese sauces” are naturally all of these healthy things. But I’ve seen and tasted quite a few, and while some of them are absolutely delicious, I’ve never had one that actually tasted like real cheese sauce.

And, this one is no exception. But wait!

I’ve learned something in my healthy cheese sauce quest I’d like to share with you. And it goes like this:

I like ice cream. It’s probably one of my favorite foods. And I like guacamole too. Right up there with ice cream.

So let’s say you invited me to your house for some guacamole and ______.  (Fill in the blank. It doesn’t matter; everything’s good with guac.)  When I’m eating your yummy guacamole, I wouldn’t complain that it didn’t taste like ice cream.

And then if you served me some ice cream, I wouldn’t whine that it didn’t taste like guacamole. (Actually, if you fed me both ice cream and guacamole on the same visit, I’d probably just move in with you. But I digress.) They both taste different, but they both taste good!

The Best Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipe

That’s the way I look at vegan cheese sauce. Even the best of them don’t taste like “real” cheese sauce. Real cheese sauce and vegan cheese sauce are two different foods. That said, many vegan cheese sauces are oh-soooo-wonderfully scrumptious! I could eat this “cheese” sauce (recipe below) on just about everything. Oh, wait. I do eat it on just about everything. And with every luscious bite,  my mind never bothers to remind me that it doesn’t taste like “real” cheese sauce.

It’s creamy and comforting.  It’s great with chips, but it’s also luscious over broccoli, fabulous on potatoes, and wonderful with cauliflower. In fact, this cheesy sauce can make just about any yucky vegetable taste amazing!

Except beets.

So, if you’ve never tried vegan cheese sauce before, I want to encourage you to give it a try. No, it doesn’t taste like the real deal, but when it’s so yum (and so guilt-free), who cares?!

Cheese Sauce Nutrition

This cheesy sauce is trans-fat-free, cholesterol free, lactose & casein free, soy-free, and gluten-free.  And it’s a good source of fiber so it’s great for weight loss.  (No “real” cheese sauce out there can say that!)  It also dishes up protein, vitamins A and K, magnesium, copper, selenium, and manganese, and gets its color and an added nutrient boost from raw carrots.

How to Make It

A high-powered blender, such as a Vitamix or Blendtec (definitely one of the best investments I’ve ever made!!), will give you the best, smoothest results; but you can make this cheese sauce in a regular blender if you take the time to blend it really, really well.

More Vegan Cheese Recipes

Best Vegan Cheese Sauce

Healthy Cheese-Like Sauce

This vegan cheese sauce is made without nutritional yeast flakes. If you want the added "cheesiness" that nutritional yeast flakes offers, simply add two tablespoons in step one.
Prep Time 10 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Sauce
All recipes on jenniferskitchen.com are property of jennifer’s kitchen and cannot be republished without written permission.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups water - – divided
  • 1/3 cup raw cashews
  • 1/3 cup sliced raw carrots - (3/8 cup shredded carrots)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons granulated onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1/4 cup olive oil - or coconut oil – optional
  • 3 tablespoons tapioca starch - or corn starch

Instructions

  • Place 1 cup water and next 7 ingredients (cashews through tahini) in blender and blend until very, very smooth. (A heavy-duty blender works best for this.)
  • Add oil and blend well.
  • Add tapioca starch or corn starch. Blend until well mixed.
  • Pour into medium/large sauce pan. Rinse blender with remaining 1 3/4 cups water and add to sauce pan.
  • Bring to boil over medium/high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick and bubbly.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Serve warm or chilled.

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45 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I wasn’t thinking about having broccoli or a baked potato for dinner today until I read this recipe, and now my dinner plans have changed. I may even have beets and drizzle a little of this tasty sauce over them. Thanks for the great recipe.

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    This looks delicious but I am doing my very best to cut out all free pouring oils because I don’t want the extra fat in my diet. Can you suggest how I might make this without the 1/4 cup of added oil which is 100% fat and still have it taste great?. Although the oil you have in your recipes is better fat than is found in animal products and dairy, it is still 100% fat and “the fat I eat is the fat I wear” to quote Dr. John McDougall. Thanks and I love your recipes. Diane

    1. Hi Diane,
      You can leave the oil out of this recipe with good results. It won’t be quite as rich and will lack some of the creamy “mouth feel”, but it will still be good.

      Glad you enjoy the recipes. Thank you for your comment.

      Jennifer

  3. 5 stars
    This vegan cheese sauce is excellent when lavishly poured over potatoes, kale, and beets! That’s what I just had for lunch. (I eat 2 meals a day, so my lunch is what other people usually call dinner.) So Jennifer, you can now eat beets and like them.

  4. I thought I was the only one with a vegan cheese sauce quest! I am searching for one that taste great, not just ok. I am not a fan of tahini,does it stand out here? I have tahini in the fridge so I can add it if it will not be too strong. I will try this cheese out very soon! Can I use it some how to make a broccoli “cheese” soup? Or do you have a good broccoli cheese soup? Thanks!

    1. Hi Zoraida,
      I’m not too crazy about tahini either, but in this recipe the tahini combined with the other ingredients lends a nice flavor to the sauce – not a tahini flavor, but rather … hmmm … not sure how to describe it. I would definitely not omit it.

      I think it may work well with broccoli soup. I’m thinking maybe a few potatoes in the soup would help blend the flavors nicely.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Jennifer

      1. 5 stars
        I thought I had tahini so i didn’t pick any up at the store. Today, when i went to make this recipe, I couldn’t find it for the life of me, so I omitted and added some nutritional yeast instead (about 2 tbsp).

        The sauce still tastes great. I’m looking forward to trying it with the tahini.

  5. 5 stars
    Tried this and really liked it. Not like regular cheese sauce but you said that. Maybe even better than regular cheese sauce. 🙂

  6. Do you soak the cashews first? I’ve not tried this yet, but I will for sure! Always on the lookout for a good sauce that’ stealthy too. Thank you!

  7. Thank you for sharing the recipe! I have a couple of questions questions . . .

    Can lime juice be substituted for the lemon juice?
    Approximately how long will it take for the cheese to cook?
    What would be a good “litmus test” for thickness?

    1. Hi Denice,
      I think it would be best to stick with lemon juice.

      The cheese sauce just needs to come to a good, full boil. The time it takes to do so depends on how hot your stove is, but it usually takes about 5 to 7 minutes for me. (Be sure to stir it constantly so it doesn’t stick/scorch.)

      When it comes to a full boil, it’ll have thickened as much as it is going to thicken. Although it will thicken a bit as it cools, boiling it longer won’t make it any thicker.

      I hope this answers your questions. I think after you make it once, you’ll get a “feel” for it; it’s a pretty easy recipe after you’ve made it once.

      Enjoy!
      Jennifer

      1. 5 stars
        I forgot to add . . .

        Well, being “quick draw McGraw”, I tried the recipe with bottle organic lime juice about 10 minutes are I posted the first question. It still tasted good. But, I could tell that there was something missing with the flavor. With the first batch, I’ve used it as a dip with tortilla chips as well as a topping on a baked potato and vegan chili relleno.

  8. Looks delicious, but I find it weird Americans put all raw ingredients in a blender and then heat them up. In Europe we hardly use blenders, unless to puree soup, or make smoothies.
    We would boil the cashews and carrots separately and then mix them.

    Also, we wouldn’t use onion or garlic flakes (didn’t even know that existed).

    Still, worth a try !

    1. Hi Johan,

      That’s very interesting!

      The reason I bring the mixture to a boil is not to cook the carrots and cashews, but rather to thicken the sauce. The recipe uses starch as a thickener, and as you probably know starch needs to be boiled to thicken.

      Feel free to use raw onion and garlic in this recipe instead of granulated; I often do that and it turned out fine. I wrote the recipe using the granulated because they are readily available in the U.S. and most people have them on hand.

      I hope you like the sauce! 🙂
      Jennifer

  9. 5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe! The first time I made it, I devoured about half of it with some tortilla chips right away. The next day I discovered that the leftovers make a wonderful soup base. Bonus! I added some vegetable broth, salsa, black beans, and corn. Delicious. I recently made it again and this time I added vegetable broth and chopped, steamed broccoli for a vegan “Broccoli Cheese Soup.” Oh, the possibilities. Thanks again!

    1. You’re welcome, Kim. Thank you for your comment. We’ve used it as a base for broccoli soup (yum!), but I’ve never thought of the black bean-salsa-corn soup idea. That sounds fabulous!!
      Getting hungry thinking about it! 🙂

      Jennifer

  10. Love this ‘cheese sauce’! It is the first one I’ve tried that I really like. I used nutritional yeast, but I think I’ll try it without next time or less for a milder flavor.

  11. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this cheez sauce! It’s got tahini, but doesn’t really taste like it. It’s got garlic, but doesn’t really taste like it. It is a perfect combination that balances the flavours so that no one thing overwhelms and screams NOT cheese! I started making a half batch, so as not to waste ingredients if we didn’t like it or couldn’t come up with a use for 3 cups, but made a mistake while multi-tasking and had to make the whole batch. Not a problem–we’ve found plenty of excuses to eat the Healthy Cheese-like Sauce!

    Thank you!

    1. So glad you liked it … and that you had no problem getting it all eaten! We often make a double batch 😉 Potatoes, broccoli, pasta, rice, kale, cauliflower, garbanzos, sweet potatoes, … we like it on about everything.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  12. I have a cashew allergy. Are there any other nuts I can use to substitute it out? I’m dying to try this recipe!

    Thanks!

  13. Hi Becca,
    Cashews work really well because they’re very mild in flavor and they blend up smooth and creamy, but if you can’t use cashews, I think the next best option would be macadamias.

    Blanched almonds sometimes work as a substitute for cashews, but even with a high-powered blender the texture will not be as smooth and creamy as it is with cashews.

    So I would try macadamia nuts. Be sure to blend them extra well and you may need to adjust seasonings slightly.

    1. Hi Peggy,

      When I use cornstarch, it doesn’t freeze well at all. When I use tapioca starch, it does “okay”. It’s very edible (tastes good), but it still breaks down some. Reheating helps, but the sauce is a little thinner than it is without freezing.

      Hope this helps.

      Jennifer

  14. I have had vegan cheese sauce that tastes like the real deal – even better in fact! It was at the Spiral Diner vegan restaurant in Dallas, and they are famous for their cheese nachos (among vegans & carnivores alike!). If you’re ever in Dallas, get their cheese nachos. They will blow your mind! Their website is SpiralDiner.com.

    By the way, I currently have your veggie broth recipe simmering on the stove, and it’s the first time I’ve made veggie broth from scratch! My hubby and I just moved to Mexico, and I guess vegetarianism isn’t big here, because I can’t find any vegetable broth in the stores. I’ve looked at other recipes in the past, but none of them were as detailed and easy to understand as yours. I love the list of what to put in and what to leave out. Thank you!

    1. While tapioca starch is definitely my favorite (better texture, better taste, and reheats beautifully), I have used arrowroot and it turned out fine. Be careful not to boil it too long since arrowroot will break down.

  15. This sauce is amazing. 🙂 I love baked potatoes but I usually load them up with butter, cheese and sour cream. I made one a few nights ago and all I put on it was lots of this sauce. It was delicious! I was completely happy and satisfied! Didn’t miss the cheese at all. 🙂

  16. I just found your site a few weeks ago and tried this recipe first. I did add the nutritional yeast. I did not have granulated garlic or onion, only powders, took a chance, and it tasted like mild sharp cheddar cheese. WOW! I stopped all dairy products in 1993 but missed sharp cheese. Tried many vegan recipes and this one tops them for me. I am going to purchase granulated garlic and onion, plus try it with raw onion and garlic as you said. I’m going to use this over baked potato with fixings of broccoli, sauteed red/yellow/orange peppers and onions, black olives, diced tomatoes, and salsa/chips. Will let you know how everyone likes it.

    I have been telling many friends about your site. Jennifer, keep on, keep on. Thank you so much! 🙂

  17. I love this sauce! I’ve been making it just about every week since I discovered it and using it for everything! It’s yummy for pasta, dipping, pizza topping, stuffed peppers, and “tofu scramble benedict”. It’s really forgiving to substitutions: I’ve used all kinds of nuts for the cashews, all kinds of vinegars for the lemon juice, different starches for the cornstarch, and beer for the water (for soft pretzels). Thank you very much for the recipe!! It’s been super fun to use.

  18. 5 stars
    Wow!! To quote my husband, “this wins the great vegan cheese sauce battle”. I made it with nutritional yeast and without oil for your breakfast scramble. I served it to my carnivore octogenarian dad (who balks at anything he knows is vegan) and he loved it, and my best friend’s boyfriend (who was also visiting- -a full house!) was excited to have “good fuel for the trail”–they left from my house to start the AT. After everyone left, hubs and I sat down with a movie, tortilla chips, and the remainder of this sauce.

  19. Thank you so much! My husband went back for seconds on broccoli after I made it for the first time. Excited to try it for other food enhancements!

  20. 5 stars
    We have enjoyed this sauce twice in Augratin Potatoes, but made it tonight to go over broccoli. It just would not thicken up! I made it as written except cut the olive oil in half. I used 3 Tbsp tapioca starch. Brought it to a boil, slowly, stirring the while. It did not get thick, but it did stick to the bottom of the pan. Can tapioca go bad? Any other ideas?

    1. That’s really strange. Tapioca starch doesn’t spoil readily and, as far as I know, doesn’t lose its thickening power. The oil wouldn’t be an issue, since I’ve made it many times without the oil. So I’m not sure why you would have this problem! 🙁
      Sorry I can’t help you, Eric. I’m at a loss for ideas.

      Have you tried my other cheese sauce recipe? It doesn’t have thickener in it. Here’s the link:
      https://jenniferskitchen.com/2017/12/5-minute-vegan-cashew-cheese-sauce.html

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