There are a lot of vegan cheese sauces out there but this one is different! It contains no nuts, no soy, no gluten, no potato, and no tapioca starch! What is it then? This healthy vegan cheese sauce is made with hidden vegetables and is thickened with soothing and completely natural kuzu powder. It’s creamy, cheesy and a big hit with children and adults alike and it makes for a healthy dairy-free mac and cheese that tastes amazing and just like the real thing!
Over the last few years I have made a lot of different vegan cheese sauces! They were all either nut-based, tofu-based or potato-and-tapioca-based. Then, after going fully vegan, I realised I was already getting a lot of nuts and tofu in my diet. So, I started to explore using different bases in order to get more variety in my diet.
That left the potato and tapioca-based sauces. But, when I thought about it, I realised we mostly ate vegan cheese sauce with pasta or a jacket potato. That would be eating starch with starch which didn't seem very well balanced. Also, since tapioca starch is not altogether healthy as it’s a highly processed refined carbohydrate, I wanted to explore whether I could use something else.
So, I decided to create something completely new that tasted cheesy, had the right texture, and was a healthier alternative to the other recipes I’d used. I also wanted to include hidden vegetables so that I could serve what looked and tasted just like mac and cheese but with the comfort of knowing that there were vegetables in the meal I’d served!
But each new iteration of the recipe I tried, just seemed like slightly cheesy vegetable soup. That wasn’t what I was going for at all! Then I remembered about kuzu (kudzu)! The relatively unknown ingredient that is both soothing and thickening but is also a health food.
What is Kuzu (Kudzu)
Kuzu (also knows as Kudzu) is a plant native to China, Japan and South Korea. It has been used in eastern medicine for thousands of years and we in the West are only just starting to appreciate its health promoting properties. Thought to be soothing for digestive flare-ups and calming for the nerves, there is also ongoing medical research into its potential ability to treat various health issues. It is sometimes referred to as “Japanese arrowroot” since it has similar thickening properties to arrowroot. It also behaves similarly to cornflour and tapioca starch but these two are often highly processed and treated with chemical bleaches and extracting agents whereas kuzu is usually left completely natural.
How to use Kuzu
I use this Clearspring Japanese Organic Kuzu which comes in small hard lumps that you have to crush first. Don't worry about crushing it completely. I just do it enough to break down the biggest chunks. Then you add a little water and mix it to a smooth paste (much like you would use cornflour). After you add it to the sauce, keep stirring over a low heat until it has thickened to your liking. It only takes a few minutes to thicken!
Healthy vegan mac and cheese
Like most families, my children love macaroni cheese. For years it was my go-to for days when I couldn’t think of what to cook. Now I am trying to transition the kids onto more plant-based meals, mac and cheese seemed like an easy swap to make. In fact, this healthy vegan cheese sauce has gone down so well, they prefer it to my original dairy-filled version! (Apparently it looks and tastes more like the American style that they always wanted!)
This sauce has all the pros of a good cheese sauce but without the cons. It is smooth, rich and creamy but without the heaviness of a real cheese sauce (and obviously without the dairy!). It also has the added bonus of lots of extra goodness from the hidden veggies!
The kids get to have what they want (a cheesy mac and cheese with no bits) and we parents get what we want (the kids eating a healthy meal with lots of veggies!) – it’s a win-win and it’s been a BIG hit in our household!
It couldn’t be simpler to make this healthy vegan cheese sauce! You basically just boil the vegetables in a little stock (just covering them) then pour the whole lot into a blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend to a smooth sauce. Then pour it back into the pan with the kuzu paste and stir over a gentle heat until it has thickened.
Pasta is the obvious pairing with this sauce as it comes out very much like mac and cheese which is so universally loved. I always like to sprinkle a little of my nutty cheese on top as well (in place of parmesan). However, there are lots of other ways to use this sauce too!
- As a vegetable side dish poured over cauliflower or broccoli (think vegan cauliflower cheese).
- Mix in 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and you can use this as a vegan queso sauce with Mexican food.
- Use as a dipping sauce with crisps or crudites or crispy tofu cubes.
- Use as the bechamel sauce part of a croque monsieur (substitute spinach for the ham part, and vegan cheese for the cheese part!).
- Add some beer and mustard to use this sauce to make welsh rarebit.
- My kids also love this sauce smothered all over jacket potatoes!
Variations & Substitutions
I absolutely love kuzu powder as a natural gluten-free thickener but I appreciate it might be more of a hassle to find it! (Doha followers, I bought mine in Megamart and believe they sometimes have it in Lulu too). If you can’t easily get it where you live, you can of course substitute for arrowroot or cornflour which will thicken in the same way. (Follow the same instructions in the recipe but reduce the amount to just over half the kuzu quantity).
If you want to make the sauce even more cheesy (especially if you are transitioning kids from real cheese sauce to vegan cheese sauce), you could also add some grated vegan cheese into the sauce. Add the grated vegan cheese in the final step and let it melt while you are stirring and thickening the sauce with the kuzu. I find about 65g grated “Sheese” (Cheddar Style) works wonders for my kids.
You can keep leftovers of this sauce in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 6 months. Just defrost (if frozen) and re-heat gently in a pan when you want to use it. You may find that the sauce is lumpy when you reheat it but just whisk vigorously over a gentle heat and it will go back to being smooth. It might benefit from adding a little water if it has really thickened up.
📖 Recipe 📖
Healthy Vegan Cheese Sauce (Gluten-Free | Nut-Free | Soy-Free)
- blender or thermomix
- 1 onion (about 95g) roughly chopped
- 2 carrots (about 170g) roughly chopped
- 200 g cauliflower roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves roughly sliced
- 450 ml vegetable stock
- 40 ml oat milk
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast (12g)
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 4 tablespoon kuzu (kudzu) powder (about 40g)
- Boil the vegetables and stock together for 10 minutes until tender (Or 2 mins in the IP).1 onion, 2 carrots, 200 g cauliflower, 2 garlic cloves, 450 ml vegetable stock
- Check the vegetables are soft, then add the cooked vegetables and the stock to a blender together with the rest of the ingredients (except the kuzu). Blend until smooth.40 ml oat milk, ¼ cup nutritional yeast (12g), 2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Pour the mixture back into the pan. Crush the kuzu powder in a jug. Add a little water and stir to a smooth paste/thin liquid. Add the kuzu mixture to the pan and gently heat, stirring constantly, for about 2-5 minutes (depending on how gentle your heat is!) until thickened to your liking.4 tablespoon kuzu (kudzu) powder
- Put the roughly chopped vegetables and stock together in the TM Jug and set for 15 mins / 100°C / sp. 1.5.1 onion, 2 carrots, 200 g cauliflower, 2 garlic cloves, 450 ml vegetable stock
- Check the vegetables are soft then add the rest of the ingredients (except the kuzu powder) to the TM Jug and set it to 1 min. / sp. 10.40 ml oat milk, ¼ cup nutritional yeast (12g), 2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Meanwhile, crush the kudzu powder in a jug. Add a little water and stir to a smooth paste or thin liquid. Add this kudzu mixture to the TM Jug and set to 2 mins. / 90°C / sp. 3.4 tablespoon kuzu (kudzu) powder
- Substitute the kuzu powder with arrowroot or cornstarch (method is the same but use just over ½ of the amount (1 tablespoon cornstarch = 1 ¾ tablespoon kuzu).
- If you want to make the sauce even more cheesy (especially if you are transitioning kids from real cheese sauce to vegan cheese sauce), you could also add some grated vegan cheese into the sauce in the final step and let it melt while you are stirring and thickening the sauce with the kuzu. I find about 65g grated “Sheese” works wonders for my kids.
- Use about 1 cup / 50g of pasta per person, to go with this sauce.
- See blogpost for other serving suggestions and cooking tips.
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