Cheese powder is a versatile ingredient used to add cheesy flavor to various dishes and snacks.
While convenient, it may not always be readily available or fit specific dietary needs. Fortunately, there are a few effective substitutes for cheese powder.
What Is Cheese Powder?
Cheese powder, sometimes labeled as cheddar powder or cheese flavor, is made from real cheese that has been dehydrated into a fine powder. It typically contains cheese cultures, milk solids, salt, and emulsifying agents.
The powdered format allows the cheese flavor to be easily incorporated into recipes without adding moisture or changing the texture. It has an intensely concentrated, tangy cheese taste.
Cheese powder is commonly used to add flavor to:
- Snacks like chips, crackers, and pretzels
- Sauces, dips, dressings, and soups
- Pasta dishes, casseroles, potatoes, rice, and vegetables
- Eggs, hashes, sandwiches, breads, and baked goods
It's especially handy for boosting cheesy flavor without extra fat. Many brands also come in cheddar, nacho cheese, parmesan, and other flavors.
When shopping for cheese powder, look for products made with real cheese rather than artificial flavors. Store in an airtight container away from moisture, heat, and sunlight.
Choosing Cheese Powder Replacements
There is no perfect universal substitute for cheese powder. However, you can mimic the salty, tangy, savory notes by combining ingredients.
Ideal cheese powder swaps should:
- Add rich, cheese-like flavor
- Mix easily into foods without altering texture
- Come in powdered form with a long shelf life
- Complement the original recipe rather than overwhelm it
Think about the dominant flavors needed, whether you want dairy or non-dairy, and how it will react during cooking. You may need to experiment with amounts to suit your tastes.
Here are common substitutes to consider:
Nutritional yeast is a vegan substitute made from deactivated yeast. It has a nutty, cheesy umami flavor from glutamic acid. The flakes can be ground into a fine powder with a blender or food processor.
Nutritional yeast adds savory depth and cheesy notes without dairy. It works well in pasta, potatoes, soups, sauces, vegetables, and pops nicely on toast or popcorn. It does have a distinctive taste, so use sparingly at first.
Dried milk powder provides subtle dairy flavor without adding moisture. Look for nonfat versions to avoid extra fat. For more tang, mix it with lemon juice or citric acid before adding to recipes.
Milk powder combines well with cornstarch, arrowroot, or flour to thicken sauces and dairy-based dishes requiring cheese powder. It also boosts the cheesy flavor of alternatives like nutritional yeast.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste common in Japanese cuisine. Its salty, savory umami essence mimics cheese notes. Mix white or light yellow miso paste with water to form a smooth, pourable liquid before use.
Miso works well in Asian-inspired dishes like noodles, stir-fries, dressings, and soups. Start with small amounts, as the flavor can be quite intense.
Use it sparingly, starting with just 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cup of liquid. Too much can make foods bitter. Mustard powder works in sauces, soups, salad dressings, cheese balls, and pasta dishes.
Arrowroot is a starchy powder extracted from tubers that acts as a thickener. It can lend a smooth, creamy mouthfeel and neutral flavor to cheese sauces or soups when blended with milk powder and seasonings.
Note that arrowroot loses its thickening power when boiled, so add it at the end of cooking. It also doesn't reheat well. Use cornstarch instead if making dishes that require reheating.
Like arrowroot, cornstarch thickens liquid and can provide a velvety texture. Make a slurry by mixing it with cold water before adding it to hot foods. For more complexity, incorporate some milk powder and lemon juice as well.
Cornstarch holds up well to prolonged cooking and reheating. Use it for smoother cheese sauces and gravies.
Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits and adds tartness. Just a small pinch can brighten other substitutes like milk powder and arrowroot, adding the sharp bite of real cheese.
Lemon or lime juice can also provide acidity, but may alter the liquid ratio in a recipe. Citric acid works well in dairy-based sauces, dips, soups, and dressings calling for cheese powder.
Making Cheesy Powder Blends at Home
You can easily whip up DIY cheese powder replacements in your blender or food processor. Play around with ingredients and portions to match the flavor profile you want. Here are two recipes to try:
Savory Nutritional Yeast Blend
- 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 2 tablespoons nonfat milk powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Smooth Dairy Cheese Blend
- 1 cup nonfat milk powder
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or citric acid
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt to taste
Process all ingredients together until powdered. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Shake or stir before use.
Start with 1 to 2 tablespoons per cup of liquid when substituting for cheese powder. Adjust amounts to suit your preference.
Top Dishes for Cheese Powder Substitutes
Cheese powder replacements work for any recipe, but are especially suited for certain foods. Here are some of the top options:
A sprinkling of cheese powder is a classic popcorn topping. For a quick swap, use nutritional yeast or commercial vegan cheese powders. They provide the vibrant orange color and tangy flavor popcorn lovers crave.
Sauces and Gravies
Powdered cheese is commonly stirred into sauces and gravies for a smooth, cheesy flavor. Use milk powder blends to provide creaminess without unwanted liquid. Thickeners like cornstarch or arrowroot also prevent curdling.
Mashed, scalloped, or au gratin potatoes all demand cheesy richness. Nutritional yeast, citric acid, mustard powder, and nonfat milk powder combine to mimic melty cheese textures.
Buttery cheddar Alfredo sauce, queso fundido, and macaroni and cheese all require copious cheese. For smooth, creamy sauces, use cornstarch or arrowroot slurries mixed with nonfat milk powder, miso paste, or lemon juice.
Cheese powder seasons everything from broccoli cheese to beer cheese soup. For plant-based versions, incorporate nutritional yeast, nondairy milk, mustard powder, and cornstarch or arrowroot for thickness.
In addition to popcorn, cheese powder gives crackers, chips, and pretzels addictive flavor. Lightly dust with nutritional yeast, spice blends, or vegan cheese powder substitutes.
Is cheese powder bad for you?
Cheese powder itself isn't necessarily unhealthy, but some versions are highly processed and may contain additives. Read labels and look for products made with minimal, recognizable ingredients. Used in moderation, natural cheese powder can add flavor to otherwise healthy foods.
What's the best cheese powder substitute for mac and cheese?
For smooth, creamy dairy-free mac and cheese, try mixing nondairy milk with nutritional yeast, mustard powder, miso paste, and cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Allow the pasta to cook until slightly underdone before mixing in the cheese sauce substitute so it can soak up maximum flavor.
Can I use Parmesan instead of cheese powder?
Grated parmesan lacks the powdery consistency of cheese powder, but can mimic some of the savory flavor in dishes like pasta, pizza, salads, and eggs. For a closer match, use a microplane to finely grate parmesan to a fluffier texture. Combining it with lemon juice or mustard powder boosts the sharpness.
Is powdered cheese unhealthy?
In moderation, cheese powder made from real cheese can be part of balanced diet, similar to using grated cheese. But ultra-processed versions with chemical additives are less healthy. Powdered cheese also has high sodium levels to be aware of.
Can I use dried cheese rinds as a substitute?
Finely grated dried cheese rinds add depth, but won't fully mimic the smooth consistency of cheese powder. For a rich umami flavor, try blending grated rinds into mac and cheese, soups, sauces, omelets, or rice dishes. Use rinds from good quality parmesan or cheddar.
While cheesy powder gives convenience, several pantry staples can mimic the salty, tangy flavors when needed.
Nutritional yeast, milk powder, miso, mustard, arrowroot, cornstarch, and citric acid in different combinations provide versatility.