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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Vegan Cheese Sauce Without Nutritional Yeast

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My vegan cheese sauce for pasta is so rich and creamy you won’t believe it’s made with a healthy vegetable base and no dairy! It’s made in a blender and is perfect for mac and cheese, baked casseroles, and anything else that requires a cheesy vegan sauce. And thanks to my secret ingredient, you’ll get a super cheesy taste without any nutritional yeast in the sauce! 

White textured bowl filled with creamy orange mac and cheese, tossed with a vegan cheese sauce.

This is absolutely the best vegetable cheese sauce recipe. It’s pure magic how you can take vegetables and create this incredibly creamy healthy cheese sauce, without using milk, cheese, or any dairy at all!

I know you probably doubt me, but I promise this sauce tastes just like the real deal. I have used this strategy to make a variety of different vegan cheese sauces with success!

It’s great tossed with pasta, vegetables, or as a dipping sauce too. Bonus – this easy recipe is also freezer friendly, perfect for make ahead dinners!

I love to cozy up with a comforting bowl of pasta; and I don’t know about you, but there is something irresistible about a velvety smooth, thick, luxurious cheese sauce. And my vegan version is bowl-licking-good!

It’s possible to keep the cheese sauce vegan without compromising flavor or texture by using the perfect blend of healthy whole food ingredients. This makes it lighter than a traditional cheese sauce made with dairy.

The cheesy taste is created by using a mix of vegetables, spices, and miso. You will notice this vegan cheese sauce has no nutritional yeast. I am not a nutritional yeast fan, and I don’t really think it tastes cheesy, but if you like it feel free to add some in! There also isn’t any cornstarch in this recipe: my sauce is thickened with the cooked potatoes and cashews.

Because this is so easy to make in the blender, and freezes beautifully, I love to make an extra big batch and save the extras. This plant-based cheese sauce can be quickly defrosted and reheated for a simple and healthy family meal on those busy days.

I love coating all kinds of pasta shapes in this cheesy vegan sauce, but I also love serving it as a dip or as a topping too!

🥘 Ingredients

The gooey base of this cheesy vegan sauce comes from potatoes. When you blend cooked potatoes at high speed, it creates a stretchy texture.

I figured this out one day when I was making a vegan and gluten free pizza crust, and used a blender instead of a food processor!

In the ingredients list below I’ve also included some ingredient swaps you can experiment with. But keep in mind, I tried a variety of combinations for this dairy free cheese sauce, I did after all spend years of trial and error, and the ingredients listed are the best for creating the correct flavor and texture!

Here is what you need to make this recipe:

Ingredients for vegan cheese sauce without nutritional yeast on a wooden board.

Potato: I prefer to use red potatoes, but any other starchy potato will do, russet potatoes are another good choice. Avoid sweet potatoes or other root veggies as they will not create the gooey consistency.

Red Pepper & Carrots: The sweetness of the red bell pepper helps to develop the flavor of the sauce. Orange or yellow peppers could be used, but the flavor will change. Orange carrots also add to the depth of flavor and subtle sweetness.

Sweet Or Yellow Onion: I would avoid using stronger tasting onions such as white or red, as their flavor can be overwhelming.

Raw Cashews: If you can’t have cashews you can try other nuts such as macadamias, walnuts, or pine nuts. Just note that the flavor will be affected. For a completely nut free sauce try white beans or sunflower seeds. You can also leave out the cashews without replacing, but the texture will not be as thick and creamy.

Garlic: Roasting the garlic before blending it into the cheese sauce gives it an extra rich and sweet flavor. 

Lemon Juice: I like to use freshly squeezed lemon juice to add some acidity to the sauce. Apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar can be substituted but the overall flavor will change a little. 

Chickpea Miso: I like using this kind, it has the right flavor. White miso can be used but the taste will be more mild. Some people have even completely left it out and still liked the flavor!

Seasonings: A mix of ground mustard seed, paprika, and sea salt finish off the sauce. You can adjust the amount of salt to your liking. 

🔪 How To Make Vegan Cheese Sauce

Thank goodness this vegan cheese sauce for pasta is so easy to make, because it’s in my family’s regular rotation! Here are the steps you need to follow:

Roast the garlic by peeling and wrapping it in tin foil with a splash of veggie broth. Roast at 400 degrees F (205 C), in a regular or toaster oven, while you cook the veggies.

Clove of organic garlic wrapped in tin foil and roasted in olive oil and spices.

Boil your veggies. Boil the potato, red pepper, carrots, and onion until they’re tender.

Potatoes boiling in a stock pot on the stove.

When done, drain water (keeping some to thin out sauce if prefer a thinner sauce), separate veggies and put the cashews in the blender. I use a fork to fish out the veggies, then drain the cashews over a pasta strainer.

Load all ingredients into a blender. Add the boiled veggies, cashews, lemon juice, miso, and seasonings into a high powered blender.

Blend. Turn the power up to high in order to create a smooth, thick, and gooey consistency.

Top view of blender with orange cheese sauce inside

Heat and serve. I like to process the vegetable sauce in the blender until it is warm, but you can also warm it up on the stove in a saucepan. 

Spoon dipping into a blender filled with orange cheese sauce and grabbing a scoop out

My #1 tip for this vegan cheese sauce recipe is to grind the cashews first if you don’t have a high speed blender! A high powered blender such as a Vitamix is capable of blending raw cashews into a smooth consistency without any chunks; however other blenders might not and you’ll end up with a grainy texture. 

If you have a regular blender instead of a high speed one you can still get creamy awesomeness by grinding the cashews with a coffee grinder first. Grind them dry and simply add to the blender with everything else.

Or, you can skip the grinding and soak them overnight before boiling with the veggies, but this still may not give as creamy of a result as the grinding.

Other Tips To Keep In Mind:

  • You can thin out the consistency of the vegetable cheese sauce with some extra liquid. Use either water, dairy free milk, water from the boiled veggies, or pasta water if making vegan mac and cheese.
  • When you measure the veggies, measure them packed in, not just loosely scooped up.
  • Start with a little salt, and once everything is blended taste the cheese sauce. Add more salt if necessary.
  • While I typically boil the veggies in a pot on the stove, you can use a pressure cooker to boil the vegetables if you’d like! Just put all the ingredients (except for roasted garlic and lemon juice) into an instant pot with 2 cups of water. Set it to manual high pressure for 5 minutes. Let it naturally release.

📖 Variations

You can adapt this recipe to make different flavors of vegan cheese sauces. Any time you mix in an addition, start with a little and blend in more a little at a time until you get the flavor you want.

If you want chunks of the add-ins, pulse them in instead of blending, or stir in with a spoon. Here are some of my favorite mix-ins for this recipe:

  • Salsa
  • Jalapeños – fresh or pickled
  • Taco seasoning
  • Chili seasoning
  • Chives
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Broccoli (cooked and chopped)
  • Caramelized onions
  • Vegan sausage
  • Mushroom bacon
  • I prefer this vegan cheese sauce without nutritional yeast, but if you’re a fan, add some in to taste and this recipe should still work well.

🍽 Serving Suggestions

I like to serve this vegan cheese sauce on pasta for an incredible main dish, and it goes great with any pasta shape. But, there are are so many other things you can do, here are some of my top faves:

Use As A Topping: Try it drizzled over roasted vegetables, over a healthy baked potato, on oven baked fries or fried potatoes and onions, even with vegan scrambled eggs.

Serve As A Dip: Pair with chips, crackers, veggie sticks, or apple slices. It also tastes great over these loaded veggie nachos or as a topping for tacos.

As A Sauce Alternative: Don’t stop at mac and cheese, try this as a base for pizza or in casseroles to replace dairy. 

🧊 Storage Directions

Vegan cheese sauce without nutritional yeast can be saved for later, make sure to let it cool down first. 

Refrigerator: Seal in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. 

Freezer: Pour into a freezer-safe container or bag and freeze for up to 3 months. 

Reheating: If the sauce is simply refrigerated I like to quickly reheat it in the microwave, or in a saucepan on the stove. If it is frozen I generally defrost it in the refrigerator overnight, or on the counter all day so it can slowly come to room temperature. But you can also microwave it, stirring occasionally. Sometimes the consistency gets thicker after being stored, I just add in some non-dairy milk to thin it back out, and sometimes I’ll re-blend it as well.

Meal Prep: Prep this vegan cheese sauce recipe in advance by cooking the veggies and roast the garlic. Store in the fridge in an airtight container until ready to use.

Fork grabbing bite of orange creamy mac and cheese from white bowl

❓Recipe FAQs

How long do you cook the vegetables?

The potato, pepper, carrots, onion, and cashews should be boiled for about 35 minutes total. You want a fork to easily slide into the potato to know when it is done cooking. Avoid overcooking as the veggies will absorb too much water, making the sauce too thin.

How can you adjust the thickness?

In order to make the vegan cashew cheese sauce thinner, add 1-2 tablespoons of liquid at a time. You can use the vegetable cooking liquid or a dairy free milk to keep the recipe vegan. For a thicker sauce, blend in more potato or more cashews.

What brings the cheese flavor in this sauce?

While many vegan cheese sauces use dairy free milk and nutritional yeast to capture the cheese flavor, I’ve had better luck with veggies and chickpea miso like in this recipe.

Can you make vegan cheese sauce without nuts?

This recipe uses cashews to get that thick and creamy texture. It can be made nut-free by substituting an equal amount of white beans or sunflower seeds, but the flavor and consistency will be different.

Now that you know how easy it is to make your own homemade vegan cheese sauce, you need more varieties to try! Here are more plant based cheese recipes I know you’ll love:

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Creamy vegan cheese sauce without nutritional yeast, mixed with a bowl of pasta.
Print Recipe
4.88 from 32 votes

Vegan Cheese Sauce Without Nutritional Yeast

This vegan cheese sauce is so creamy and amazing you won't believe it's made with a healthy vegetable base and no nutritional yeast! A huge hit even with dairy eaters.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: American
Diet: , ,
Servings: 7
Calories: 94kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked potato (about 3-4 potatoes, see note)
  • 2 tablespoons cooked red pepper (about 1/3 of a medium sized pepper)
  • 3 tablespoons cooked orange carrot (about 4-5 baby carrots or one medium sized)
  • 5 tablespoons cooked sweet or yellow onion (about 1/2 a small)
  • ½ cup raw cashews (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon roasted garlic (about 2-4 cloves, depending on size)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon chickpea miso (see note)
  • ½ teaspoon ground mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • teaspoons sea salt (can use less or more depending on taste preference)
  • your favorite pasta if making mac and cheese
Shop Ingredients on Jupiter

Equipment

Instructions

  • Roast the garlic by peeling and wrapping it in tin foil with a splash of veggie broth. Roast at 400 F (205 C), in a regular or toaster oven, while you cook the veggies.
  • Put potatoes (peel if you don’t want specks of skin), red pepper, carrots, onion and cashews in a pot and cover with water. If you don’t have a high speed blender and are grinding the cashews, then don’t boil but grind them dry and place them in the blender.
  • Cook over high heat until water boils, about 15 minutes if uncovered. Turn heat to medium and boil another 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  • When done, drain water (keeping some to thin out sauce if prefer a thinner sauce), separate veggies and put the cashews in the blender. I use a fork to fish out the veggies, then drain the cashews over a pasta strainer.
  • Measure out the needed amount of each veggie and place each in the blender. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Blend on high until you get a creamy gooey consistency. If you have a tamper tool use it to help mix the sauce as it blends. If you don’t have one, then you will need to stop and push down the ingredients every once in a while.
  • If you want to thin it out, add some of the reserved cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time until you get the desired consistency. Use nice and hot!

To make the ultimate Mac and Cheese:

  • Cook your pasta according to package directions.
  • Drain pasta reserving about 1 cup pasta water.
  • Add the pasta back into the pot and add desired amount of cheese sauce.
  • Then add pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well in between additions, until you get the desired consistency for your Mac and Cheese. If your pasta is too starchy (as some gluten free pastas are) you can also use regular water or even non dairy milk to do this. Add salt if needed, it most likely will since the sauce is no longer as concentrated. Devour!

Notes

  • Makes 3 1/2 cups sauce. Serving size for nutrition info is 1/2 cup.
  • Nutrition info is for cheese sauce only.
  • I used red potatoes but any starchy potato will work, just don’t use sweet. It also won’t work to substitute with something that is not an actual potato (such as another root vegetable). 
  • If you are not using a high speed blender, you can grind the dry cashews into a fine powder using a coffee grinder (do not boil them for this method). You can also soak them overnight prior to boiling with the veggies or just boil them with the veggies.
  • You can make this nut free by eliminating the nuts, however you will lose some of the thickness and creaminess. It will still be pretty good in taste, but just lacking some of those elements. You can also try subbing with another nut if you are allergic to cashews, I suggest walnuts or macadamias, however the flavor will be different. I did try it with multiple nuts and liked the taste of the cashews best.
  • If you don’t have chickpea miso, you can try using a white miso although it will be a little more mild in flavor so you may need more. See the comments for others that have tried using white miso.
  • I did not add any liquid to this when I made it, but depending on what you use it for, you may want to thin it out with some water, water from the boiled veggies or pasta water if making mac and cheese.
  • You can reheat this in the microwave or in a pot with a splash of nondairy milk (I use cashew) and mix well. Add splashes of milk and mix until you have the right consistency. It may need more salt depending on how much milk you add.
  • You can also freeze leftovers in a freezer safe container as it freezes great. Defrost slowly when ready to eat. You may think it didn’t freeze well, but as you heat it up the consistency comes back!
Tips to prep ahead:
  • Cook the veggies and roast the garlic. Store in the fridge in an airtight container until ready to use.
Baby/toddler food idea:
  • This can be mixed into any baby food or be used for a toddler as a dip. You could also just blend the veggies on their own for baby.
UPDATE 2/2019:
I had a reader make this with success using her instapot for the veggies. She threw all the ingredients into the instant pot with 2 cups of water (she put the garlic in raw). Set it to manual high pressure for 5 minutes, let it naturally release then blended in a high speed blender until smooth. 

Nutrition

Serving: 0.5cup | Calories: 94kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 4g | Sodium: 478mg | Potassium: 274mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g

12 responses to “Vegan Cheese Sauce Without Nutritional Yeast”

  1. I don’t know how you did it, but you nailed the flavor and the color! Wow! So tasty!5 stars

  2. Wow – this cheese sauce is absolutely delicious! I used this for my daughter’s mac and cheese and she simply loved it!5 stars

  3. Fabulous, I made this for my visiting vegan parents and everyone loved it! So nice that there is no need for nutritional yeast, as I don’t always have that on hand. Thanks so much!5 stars

  4. I love, love, love this sauce! Adding miso for umami instead of nutritional yeast is next level genius!5 stars

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