The Best, Creamiest Vegan Mac and Cheese (GF)

A person eating vegan mac and cheese

I’m so excited! I have been waiting for a long time to post this recipe! There are so many vegan mac and cheese recipes, and so many methods for making vegan cheese sauces out there that it can get pretty confusing to choose one that is truly as satisfying as traditional macaroni and cheese. Our recipe, which we think is the best vegan mac and cheese we’ve tried, is an amalgamation of many different vegan cheese recipes we’ve experimented with. Plus, it’s so easy and can be used in any other recipe that requires vegan cheese! We hope you guys love it as much as we do!

vegan mac and cheese

Why this vegan mac and cheese works:

Vegan cheese is equal parts art and science. Real cheese is something that is really hard to imitate, and I don’t care how many companies proclaim that their vegan cheese tastes “just like the real thing,” it’s usually not true. I don’t mean to sound harsh here because there are a lot of satisfying substitutes out there, but I remember struggling to give up cheese when I first went vegan. And it wasn’t easy. I’d approach each new attempt at making vegan cheese, or each new product from the store, with such enthusiasm, only to be really disappointed later on.

It was only after more than a year of trying to make the perfect vegan cheese that I finally realized that instead of attempting to slap together something that vaguely resembled cheese using a million different ingredients, it was more helpful to distill the characteristics that make cheese so delicious and go from there. So, let’s do that now.

A pot of mac and cheese

1. Creaminess and Stretchiness:

This is the best part right? There’s something so satisfying about the smooth, velvety texture of cheese. Therefore, Rule Number One for our vegan mac and cheese is that the sauce has to be extra creamy and slightly stretchy.

2. Savoriness/Umami

Cheese is also pretty salty and savory. It’s why we put a pinch of parmesan on top of our spaghetti. Or it’s why we add a rind of hard cheese to the broth of a simmering soup to add that depth of flavor. Or, it’s why we add a healthy scoop of cheddar to top off the neutral flavor of a baked potato. It’s also why most people love mac and cheese. Add that savoriness to a creamy sauce and pour it over some some pasta…all your taste buds can say is “YUM!”

3. Tanginess

This last one is harder to place. But, underneath all that richness and umami, cheese is pretty tangy. In fact, when we first attempted to make vegan cheese, we were satisfied with the creaminess and umami, but noticed it was missing something. And that’s when we realized that tang is so important to the overall flavor of cheese that we absolutely can’t go without it!

Pasta and vegges

So, what does all this mean for our vegan mac and cheese?

Now that we know all the things that make cheese wonderful, we can make a delicious vegan cheese sauce using that information.

Our base for this recipe is whole, raw cashews. Cashew milk is the creamiest nut milk, in my opinion. Cashews also have a neutral flavor that won’t make your vegan cheese taste funny. We soak them in warm water to soften them up. Then, we add them to a blender along with some Better-Than-Bouillon No Chicken Base. This is a vegan bouillon that has a lovely, savory flavor, so we add just a pinch of that for depth.

Next, we add some salt (you can adjust this to your taste) and garlic powder, and finally, we have the important stuff! First is the nutritional yeast, which is a longtime vegan favorite. It’s basically just flakes of dried, deactivated yeast that adds cheesy umami and lots of B vitamins to your sauce.

Next, we add apple cider vinegar for a bit of the sweet tanginess we talked about earlier. Last is the tapioca starch! Tapioca starch is wonderful stuff. It’s a fantastic thickener that I like better than cornstarch. Plus, when added to this cheese sauce, actually makes it slightly stretchy and very velvety, just like real cheese!

The takeaway:

When you blend all of this together and put it on some pasta, you get true, cheesy magic. This vegan mac and cheese is everything you want in a traditional mac and cheese, plus it’s easy to make, has half the calories, and we enhance it with delicious sautéed veggies for texture. Oh, and did I mention that cashews are full of great protein, vitamins, omegas, and fiber? Trust us. After you try this, you’ll see why we think it’s the best vegan macaroni and cheese out there!

A note about blenders:

Please use a high-speed blender for this recipe! Please. Regular blenders just don’t have the power to break down cashews enough to make the sauce extra smooth. We have used a Ninja Professional blender (link below) for seven years, and it still does a great job. I have also heard great things about Vitamix (link below) blenders. Even if you aren’t making this recipe, a high speed blender is a great tool to have in your kitchen for anything from smoothies to sauces to (of course) vegan cheese. It’s completely worth the investment!

And that’s it! Mix it all up, serve your veggies on top, and you’re on your way to mac and cheese perfection! Happy eating!

Check out another variation on vegan cheese here.

The Best, Creamiest Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

The ultimate vegan mac and cheese! Made with cashews, this creamy, velvety, easy, and satisfying plant-based mac and cheese will become your go-to favorite. Plus, it only takes 30 minutes to make this indulgent dish, and requires very simple ingredients!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: Gluten-free, pasta, plant-based, mac and cheese, vegan mac and cheese, macaroni and cheese, vegan macaroni and cheese, homemade mac and cheese, vegan mac and cheese recipe, cashew mac and cheese, best vegan mac and cheese, vegan cheese, vegan food, vegan meals, vegan dinner, easy vegan meals, quick vegan meals
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 386kcal
Author: LM

Equipment

  • High speed blender, such as a Vitamix or Ninja.

Ingredients

For the vegan cheese sauce:

  • 1/2 cup whole, raw cashews *DO NOT use roasted, salted cashews
  • 4 cups very warm water divided
  • 1/2 tsp. Better-Than-Bouillon No Chicken Base
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp. tapioca starch *aka tapioca flour
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

For the sautéed veggie topping

  • 1 tbsp. vegan butter *we like Miyoko's or Earth Balance.
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 bunch broccoli or broccolini *If using regular broccoli, remove stems
  • 1/2 tsp. harissa spice blend

Other ingredients:

  • 2 cups. cooked pasta *use GF if sensitive.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

To assemble vegan cheese sauce:

  • Soak cashews in 2 cups of the warm water for at least 15 minutes, or up to 2 hours. The longer you soak them, the smoother your sauce will be.
  • Drain off the water and add the soaked cashews to the bowl of a high-speed blender.
  • Add the remaining 2 cups of warm water.
  • Stir in the No Chicken Base until dissolved.
  • Add the remainder of the vegan cheese sauce ingredients, and blend for at least 5 minutes until completely smoothed. Increase the speed gradually, and scrape down the sides of the blender as you go to ensure that all cashew pieces have been broken down. The consistency should be that of whole milk.
  • Taste to ensure your desired levels of salt and tanginess from the vinegar.

To make the sautéed veggie topping:

  • In a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan, melt the vegan butter over medium heat until bubbling.
  • Add chopped onion and sauté until onions are translucent.
  • Add stemmed broccoli and harissa spice blend, and sauté until it just becomes tender and the onions are starting to caramelize. Be sure not to overcook your broccoli! Otherwise it will be too mushy and won't provide any texture to the pasta dish.
  • Remove to a plate, keep warm, and set aside until ready to use.

To assemble mac and cheese:

  • To the same sauté pan, add the blended cashew cheese sauce and heat over medium-low heat.
  • Stir continuously until sauce begins to simmer and thicken. Note: when the sauce first begins to thicken, it will appear to be lumpy. This is normal! Continue to stir rapidly until sauce smoothes out to a smooth, creamy texture, much like qudeso dip.
  • Once the sauce is simmering gently and fully thickened, add cooked pasta gradually while stirring to ensure that the pasta is fully coated in the sauce.

To serve:

  • Portion mac and cheese into bowls and top with sautéed broccoli and onions. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 386kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 448mg | Potassium: 734mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1088IU | Vitamin C: 138mg | Calcium: 92mg | Iron: 4mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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