This vegan nacho cheese recipe is a simple and dairy-free cheesy sauce to serve with crunchy corn chips or any of your favorite Mexican appetizers.
Bonus, this cashew nacho cheese sauce is also gluten-free and healthy, made with wholesome ingredients!
Is The Classic Nacho Cheese Sauce Vegan?
Most commercial nacho cheese sauce options are not vegan.
They contain many dairy products like butter, milk powder, and cheese. So the only way is to make your very own Vegan Cheese Sauce!
What Is A Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce?
A vegan nacho cheese recipe is a dairy-free smooth and creamy dip for corn chips. It has a similar texture and flavor as melted cheddar, except it doesn’t contain real cheese.
It’s a tasty appetizer recipe to dip or drizzle on some of the recipes below.
- Homemade Air fryer Tortilla chips or chickpea chips
- Pizza rolls
- Zucchini chips
- Steamed broccoli or cauliflower
- Potato wedges
- Raw crunchy vegetables: cucumber, carrots
- Sunflower Seed Crackers
The best ingredients to make a vegan cheese sauce recipe for nachos or pasta are:
- Raw Cashews – This is the secret ingredient: raw cashews soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes or overnight in cold water. Soaked cashews get tender, and when blended with liquids, they create a smooth and creamy cheese sauce without the need for dairy. You can also make macadamia cheese and replace cashews with soaked macadamia, but it increases the fat.
- Nutritional Yeast – This ingredient brings the cheesy flavor to this creamy sauce. It’s often used in vegan recipes to mimic cheese taste. Some are fortified in vitamin B12, a great addition to your vegan diet.
- Spices – You need more than a pinch of nutritional yeast to create a tasty vegan nacho cheese sauce dip! Garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and salt are must-adds! That is the perfect combo to enhance this cheese dip’s flavor.
- Vegetable Broth or vegetable stock – I used low sodium vegetable stock to prevent the sauce from getting extremely salty.
- Lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. This adds a tangy flavor to the cheese sauce.
- Red-orange Vegetables – The best way to mimic the orange color of nacho cheese sauce is to add roasted red bell pepper. Other options are steamed sweet potato puree or carrots. They have a sweeter flavor but work very well in this recipe if you can’t have red bell pepper.
- Pickled jalapeños – This is optional, of course, but for a spicy cheese sauce, I highly recommend adding some fresh jalapeño.
How To Make Vegan Nacho Cheese
To make your own cashew nacho cheese at home, you only need a few ingredients and a high-speed blender.
Soaking The Cashews
First, make sure you have been soaking the raw cashews. There are two options:
- in cold water for at least 8 hours.
- in boiling water for 30 minutes.
This is very important to follow one of these methods, sticking to the waiting time and water temperature.
Cashews that are soaked for a shorter time won’t turn into a cream and would instead create a grainy cheese sauce.
Roasting Bell Peppers
To get the best flavors, I love to roast the red bell pepper. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Cut the red pepper in quarters from top to bottom. Slide the tip of a small sharp knife under the attached seeds and membranes to cut them out. If any seeds remain, remove the seed membrane with your fingers.
Place the pepper quarters in a large oiled baking dish. Brush their skin with olive oil to increase the roasting.
Roast the red bell pepper for 25 minutes until the skin is grilled and soft. Peel off the skin before using it in the recipe, as it can lead to digestive issues for some people.
Next, you must use a high-speed blender, not a food processor, to blend the soaked nuts with the liquid ingredients into a smooth cream.
Always blend on high speed, stopping the blender if needed to scrape down the jug’s sides and repeat until the texture is creamy.
Blending Vegan Nacho Sauce
You may have to add more liquid, almond milk, or vegetable stock to reach the smooth texture you like.
It usually takes 2 minutes, in intervals of 30 to 45 seconds, to achieve a creamy vegan cheese sauce with cashews.
Adjusting The Texture
I won’t stress this enough, adjust the texture of your cheese sauce to your liking! Adding more liquid – like water, plant-based milk, or more vegetable stock.
Everyone has different tastes when it comes to cheese sauces. Some people love them thick, as in my picture below, but others love a smoother, runnier sauce.
Adjust the liquids to create a sauce that tastes great for you. Feel free to add up to 1/3 cup liquid in this recipe for a less thick cheese dip.
This vegan cheese sauce is not only good with tortilla chips but also a delicious cheese sauce for any vegan meals like:
- Vegan casserole – steam broccoli or cauliflower, place the florets onto a large baking dish and cover the vegetable with this sauce. Bake with extra shredded vegan cheese on top for a comforting veggie casserole.
- Vegan pasta – blend your cooked pasta into this sauce to make cheesy vegan pasta.
- Vegan tacos – to drizzle onto tacos such as my Vegan Birria Tacos.
- Vegan appetizer – to dip any vegetables, vegan cornbread, or corn chips.
You can store this vegan cheese sauce for up to 4 days in the fridge in a glass mason jar.
The sauce thickens with time, and you can thin the sauce by adding a splash of cold water or almond milk in the jar, shaking, and serving!
This vegan cheese sauce can be frozen too and thaw in the fridge the day before use.
Frequently Asked Questions
I didn’t try this recipe with seeds, but some followers reported success using soaked sunflower seeds.
However, keep in mind that sunflower seeds turn food greenish, and it has a bitter aftertaste. It won’t provide the same creamy smooth texture and lovely color.
No, the nacho cheese at Taco Bell is made with dairy products.
No, almost all commercial canned nacho cheese options contain milk products.
More Vegan Appetizer Recipes
If you love vegan appetizer recipes, I have some more delicious recipes for you to try!
Did You Like This Recipe?
Vegan Nacho Cheese
Soaking the nuts
- Place the raw cashews in a glass bowl, cover with boiling water, cover the bowl with a lid or plate. Set aside.
- Soak for 45 minutes. You can also cover the nuts with cold water and soak overnight or at least 8 hours if preferred.
Roast the red bell pepper
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Cut the red pepper in quarters from top to bottom. Slide the tip of a small sharp knife under the attached seeds and membranes to cut them out. If any seeds remain, remove the seed membrane with your fingers.
- Place the pepper quarters in a baking dish. Brush the skin with olive oil.
- Roast for 25 minutes until the skin is grilled and soft. Peel off the skin before using it in the recipe.
Make the vegan nacho sauce
- Drain, rinse the soaked cashews.
- In a blender, add soaked cashews, roasted capsicum, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, spices, jalapenos (if used), and vegetable stock – start with 1/2 cup and add more as you go to reach your favorite texture.
- Blend on high-speed for at least 30 seconds or until the sauce starts to come together. You will have to stop the blender, scrape down the sides of the jug, and repeat, adding more liquid (almond milk or vegetable broth) until creamy and smooth. You shouldn't add more than an extra 1/4 cup of liquid to create a creamy sauce. Depending on your taste, you may add more for a thinner sauce. It should not take more than 2 minutes in total to create a creamy dip.
- Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to enhance the flavors.
- Serve as a corn nacho chip dip or veggie dip.
- Store in the fridge in a glass mason jar for up to 4 days.
- Note that the sauce thickens after a few days in the fridge. You can thin the sauce by adding an extra tablespoon of water or plant-based milk in the jar, shake and serve!
- Freeze in an airtight container and defrost in the fridge the day before.
- Vegan keto followers, one serve contains 3 grams of net carbs. The recipe makes 6 servings.
- You can use cashews or macadamia nuts for this recipe. Macadamia nuts are less sweet and contain fewer carbs, so I recommend them if you are on a vegan keto diet.
- You can use any nuts, raw nuts, sprouted nuts, or roasted nuts, but not salted nuts, or the dip would be too salty.
- Use a high-speed blender, not a food processor, or your sauce won’t be as creamy and smooth.
- Always start with 1/2 cup of vegetable stock before adjusting the sauce. For a thick cheese sauce, don’t add more liquid. For a smoother, liquid cheese sauce, add up to 3 tablespoons of liquid (water, plant-based milk, or extra stock)