This vegan nacho cheese has the perfect cheesy flavor and you can eat it as a dip, mix it with pasta, or drizzle it over veggies. It's made without cashews and it's oil-free, gluten-free, nut-free, and ready to eat in 30 minutes!
This nacho cheese is so incredible! I love it, my husband loves it, my family loves it, everyone who has tasted it...loves it! Most of these people aren't even vegan. If that doesn't convince you to try it then I don't know what will.
Many of the vegan cheese sauce recipes out there use cashews as the base, but this recipe is made with a combination of sunflower seeds, cauliflower, red bell pepper, garlic, onions, lots of spices, and pickled jalapeños. It's thick, creamy, super flavorful, and so versatile!
Sunflower seeds are much more affordable than cashews, and they give a very similar buttery texture. You can also use them to make this vegan wild rice soup, or this creamy vegan lasagna soup.
You can drizzle the cheese over nachos, as a dip, sauce for pasta, or as a topping for loaded baked potatoes.
Ingredients & Substitutions
This oil-free and gluten-free nacho cheese is made with a combination of fresh or frozen vegetables and pantry staples. Let's go over the ingredients and substitutions if you need them.
- Cauliflower - This is the main ingredient of the recipe. You can use fresh or frozen. You could also use one large cooked russet potato.
- Raw Sunflower Seeds - This is what makes the nacho cheese texture so thick and creamy. The best substitute to use is raw cashews.
- Onion - You can use a shallot or yellow, sweet, or white onion.
- Red Bell Pepper - The red color helps create the color of the nacho cheese. You can substitute an orange bell pepper for the red pepper, but don't sub a green pepper because it will change the color of the sauce.
- Garlic - You can use fresh or 1 teaspoon of dried.
- Nutritional Yeast - This gives the nacho cheese a delicious cheesy flavor! If you don't have it, try substituting 1 tbsp of miso paste.
- Dried Seasonings - Cumin, turmeric, and salt add so much flavor! Turmeric gives the sauce its vibrant golden color. If you don't use turmeric, it will still taste delicious but the color will be much paler.
- Lime Juice - Acidity balances the creaminess. If you don't have lime juice, you can use lemon.
- ACV - Apple cider vinegar has a strong flavor, but you can try substituting ½ the amount of white vinegar if you don't have it.
- Nacho Sliced Jalapeños - I used the jalapeño slices and the juice because it adds a delicious tangy, slightly spicy kick. If you don't have it, you can substitute cayenne pepper. Start with ⅛ tsp and add more to taste.
How To Make It
Start by boiling the seeds in water for 10 minutes (Photo 1). While the seeds are boiling, saute the onion and bell peppers in a large pan until they're soft (Photo 2). Add the garlic and the cauliflower and let it cook until tender (Photo 3).
Combine the seeds, cooked vegetables, and the rest of the ingredients in a large blender cup and blend until smooth and creamy (Photo 4).
This nacho cheese sauce is so versatile! Of course, it's fantastic drizzled over nachos, but you can also serve it as a dip for a crunchwrap supreme, tortilla chips, or raw vegetables like broccoli florets, carrot sticks, or slices of bell peppers.
You can also drizzle it over baked potatoes stuffed with broccoli, jackfruit enchiladas, or use it as a sauce for pasta. It's also surprisingly delicious used as a salad dressing for a nacho taco salad.
- Make it Spicy - Use fresh jalapeños instead of the nacho slices for a spicy kick.
- Nacho Taco Pasta - Use the cheese as a sauce for pasta! Add black beans, diced tomatoes, grilled corn, a little bit of diced red onion, and fresh cilantro.
- Vegan Meat - Stir in some cooked impossible meat crumbles before you serve it.
How To Store It
Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days or you can freeze it for 2-3 months.
When you're ready, take the container out of the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours. The ingredients will separate a little bit while it is defrosting, but all you need to do is stir it until it's all combined again. You can warm it up in the microwave for a few minutes or in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat until it is hot and bubbling.
Frequently Asked Questions
It's made of cauliflower, sunflower seeds, onion, bell pepper, garlic, dried seasonings, jalapeños, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, and nutritional yeast blended together into a creamy dip.
Yes! I often use frozen bell peppers and cauliflower instead of fresh vegetables to make this vegan cheese because I usually keep them on hand in the freezer.
- Boil the seeds for 10 minutes to make them softer to blend and easier to digest.
- Use a blender to make the sauce consistency extra creamy. You can use a food processor but it may not be as smooth. If it is gritty at all, keep blending until it's completely smooth.
- The golden color mostly comes from the turmeric and red bell pepper. It is ok to use an orange or yellow bell pepper instead of red, but don't use green because it will muddy the color.
Want More Vegan Cheese Recipes
Vegan Nacho Cheese
- Medium Saucepan
- Large Pan
- ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
- 2 ½ cups water (divided)
- ¼ cup vegetable broth or water (to saute)
- ½ medium red onion sliced
- 1 medium red bell pepper sliced (seeds and membranes removed)
- 4 medium garlic cloves minced
- 8 oz cauliflower florets
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ¼ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp pickled jalapeno juice (from the jar)
- 3 pickled jalapeno slices (add more to taste)
- Put the sunflower seeds in a medium saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Increase the heat until the water boils and let it cook for 10 minutes.
- In a large pan over medium heat, saute the onions and bell peppers until soft. Add more liquid if the pan gets too dry. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the cauliflower florets and ¼ cup water. Increase the heat until the water starts bubbling and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and let it cook for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.
- Transfer the cooked vegetables, boiled sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, turmeric, cumin, salt, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, pickled jalapeno slices, pickled jalapeno juice, and ¼ cup water to a large blender cup and then blend until it's smooth and creamy. The sauce will be very thick, you can add more water to thin the consistency if you like. Taste and add more salt and jalapenos to your preference.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days or you can freeze it.
Absolutely shocked at how delicious it is! Served over baked potatoes and steamed broccoli for dinner and it was 🔥. Even my six year old granddaughter loved it and cleaned her plate!
Thank you, Morgan! I'm so glad you and your granddaughter both enjoyed the recipe!