Category Archives: Review

Homemade Vegan Butter

I’ve been looking into vegan butter alternatives that don’t involve palm oil.

Butter, vegan or otherwise, should be solid at room temperature. This means that it must have saturated fat.

Unfortunately, the cheapest sources of saturated vegetable fat are hydrogenated vegetable oils (which have trans fats, which are banned in California due to health concerns) and palm oil (which is a major cause of rainforest destruction). Virtually all store-bought margarines are based on one of these ingredients.

Luckily, we can make homemade vegan butter from refined coconut oil!

I’ve tried two vegan butter recipes so far. The first I found on Luminous Vegans, and is based on a recipe by Miyoko Schinner. It worked great, although I didn’t take photos.

The second, which I’ll discuss here, is the basic coconut oil butter recipe by Mattie at Veganbaking.net. The two recipes are very similar, with the same ingredients in slightly different proportions (with the exception of xanthan gum, which is only in the Veganbaking recipe).

See the original recipe for details, but the gist is as follows:

  • Combine soy milk and apple cider vinegar, and let it sit for 10 minutes or so to curdle.
  • Warm refined coconut oil until liquid, but close to room temperature.
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.
  • Pour into a freezer-safe container or silicone mold, and place in the freezer to rapidly cool.
  • Remove from mold and enjoy!

I doubled the recipe for easier mixing in my blender, and to match the batch size for Miyoko Schinner’s recipe. I also used a bit more salt than called for — 1 tsp versus 3/4 tsp; the original 3/4 tsp is probably about right.

Vegan butter mixed and poured into a mold.

I took Veganbaking’s recommendation and got a silicone mold. They recommend the Tovolo King Cube mold. I wanted a rectangular shape, so I got this Allforhome rectangular mold. This mold makes nice butter shapes, although they are smaller than real sticks of butter.

I pre-chilled the mold to help the butter cool rapidly, since it’s important to solidify the butter shortly after it’s mixed, or it will begin to separate. However I took some photos between mixing the butter and freezing it in the mold, so this did cause some separation.

Pro tip: You really want the butter to be level in the freezer, or you’ll get some slanted butter sticks. If your freezer looks anything like mine, that will require some planning in advance. I planned this imperfectly, and got some slightly crooked butter.

The finished product!

I wrapped the sticks of butter in wax paper for storage in the freezer. They didn’t quite stay wrapped as well as I’d have liked, but they look nice anyway.

Wrapped and ready to go.

So enjoy! I’ll update with some pictures of the butter in action.

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Vitamix!

Vitamix!

I recently spent several years of American Express points on a Vitamix Pro 750!

I’ve been curious about high powered blenders (eg. Vitamix, Blendtec) since I started working with cashew purees and cultured vegan cheese. The recipes call for blenders, and my food processor wasn’t quite cutting it.

I’ve also noticed that people rave about high powered blenders on vegan forums. High powered blenders made the PPK 100 list a year ago, and at the first vegan event I went to (a Grubwithus dinner), 5 of the 6 people I asked had one and recommended them.

High-powered blenders process harder substances more effectively than normal blenders. You can make flour from whole grains, for instance, and you don’t have to chop or remove seeds from fruit. They can also make hot soup, using friction from blending alone to heat the ingredients.

I chose a new style Vitamix (versus Blendtec or other Vitamix models) for the following reasons:

  • The new containers are much easier to get stuff out of, compared to classic Vitamix models. They are wide, shorter, and don’t narrow substantially at the base.
  • Most reviewers prefer the manual control offered by Vitamix, compared to Blendtec’s manual control options. Blendtec’s programs are great, but users often report having to repeat programs to completely blend.
  • It’s nice to have a tamper for when you need it (eg. making almond butter).
  • It’s nice to have program options, in case those wind up being useful.

That said, both Vitamix and Blendtec users rave about their mixers, so I don’t think there’s a wrong choice here.

I splurged on the Pro 750 since I was using points. Having used it, I think that the program settings are probably not too important. You really want to be nearby when using it anyway. There are pros and cons to the new style containers. One drawback is that they work best when blending a large amount of food, since smaller amounts may hide under the blades. Since the old style containers are narrow at the base, this is likely less of a problem.

I’ve heard only positive reviews of the reconditioned models, so a refurbished 7500 or Pro 300 might be a good choice for the (somewhat) budget conscious.

Anyway, new toy!

Cheese review: Punk Rawk Labs Cashew Cheese & Treeline Scallion Cashew Cheese

On a trip to Seattle this week I stopped by Vegan Haven, a market operated by Pigs Peace Sanctuary. San Francisco doesn’t have a vegan market (yet?), which makes it hard to get weird vegan stuff *, such as the handful of cultured vegan cheeses that have come out in the last year or so. I’d heard a lot about these cheeses, but had only tried the ones that I’ve made myself.

Cultured vegan cheese

Cultured vegan cheese is made by fermenting vegan foods (usually nuts, although sometimes soy) using a similar process used to make dairy cheese. This differs from the type of imitation cheese typically found at grocery stores (eg. Daiya) in that a real culturing process was used to give it a cheese-like taste, rather than synthetic flavoring or texturing. Cultured vegan cheese typically has few ingredients (the plain cheese below lists ingredients as: “organic cashews, water, culture, sea salt”), and does not typically attempt to imitate the texture of dairy cheese.

Vegan Haven had cultured cheeses available from two companies: Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline.

Treeline & Punk Rawk Labs Cheese

Both cheeses before opening

Punk Rawk Labs is a Minneapolis raw food company that makes cashew and macadamia nut cheeses in three flavors: plain, herb and smoked. I tried the plain cashew cheese, since this was closest to what I’ve tried to make.

Treeline is based in the Hudson River Valley in upstate NY. They make two soft cheeses: scallion and herb-garlic, and two hard cheeses: classic and cracked pepper. I’d have preferred a plain flavor, but only the scallion and herb-garlic flavors were available, so I tried the scallion cheese.

Punk Rawk Labs

Punk Rawk Labs Cashew Cheese 2

Punk Rawk Labs Plain Cashew Cheese

First, I tried the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. It had a moist texture, hard enough that you could cut wedges out more or less intact, but soft enough to be spread on a cracker. I found the cheese to have a pleasant sharpness, and a saltiness that I think would be comparable to cheddar. I really enjoyed this cheese, and finished it in the two days we had left in Seattle.

Treeline

Treeline Scallion Cheese

Treeline Scallion Soft French-Style Nut Cheese

The Treeline cheese had a similar consistency, although was slightly drier. The taste seemed to be dominated by scallions, which made it hard to taste anything else. I never had much scallion dairy cheese, so I don’t have a good baseline for comparison. The cheese tasted less salty and less sharp than the Punk Rawk Labs cheese.

Discussion

I liked the Punk Rawk Labs cheese a lot, and found myself craving it over the next few days. I preferred it to the Treeline cheese, partly because I prefer plain cheese over scallion flavored cheese, but I also liked the moist, sharp and salty qualities of the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. I’d love to try other Treeline flavors in the future, although I don’t foresee getting the scallion flavor again.

The plain Punk Rawk Labs cheese was also a useful point of comparison for my own attempts at cultured cashew cheese based on recipes from Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. The Punk Rawk Labs cheese seemed sharper and saltier than those that I’ve made. It tasted a lot like how my cheeses smelled when fermenting, which is really all I want in a vegan cheese. (My attempts tend to taste much more mild than they smell, unfortunately.)

I’m curious if they salt the cheese after it is cultured, since it’s rather salty and salt is said to inhibit bacterial growth. Punk Rawk Labs describes their process as culturing cashew milk and then removing moisture from the cheese, whereas the Artisan Vegan Cheese recipes involve culturing a cashew puree (a hummus-like consistency). I’m curious if this explains the difference in sharpness.

Overall, I was very happy with my first taste of commercial cultured vegan cheeses, and I’m inspired to try making them again.

* While looking up these companies for this post, I’ve learned that both Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline cheeses are available in SF at Rainbow Grocery, a great vegetarian food coop with a great selection of vegan paraphernalia (non-dairy milks, vegan supplements, etc).