How to Make Vegan Cashew “Cheese” Sauce that Everyone Will Love

Updated: Dec. 09, 2020

Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her vegan cashew "cheese" sauce recipe she uses as a plant-based substitute for dips, drizzles, or as an add-in.

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Vegan cashew “cheese” sauce

How can something—namely, cashews—be both decadent and incredibly good for you? A one-ounce portion (or quarter cup) of raw cashews provides 5 grams of protein and 12 grams of healthful fat. It also provides a range of nutrients, including 20 percent of the Daily Value for magnesium, a mineral needed for muscle and nerve function, and the regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure. For women, adequate magnesium may help support healthy sleep, suggests a study published in 2018 in Nutrients. (Here’s how cashews grow.)

Health benefits of cashews

The combination of beneficial fat, nutrients, and antioxidants in cashews are likely why this nut has been shown to protect heart health. A study, published in 2017 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at the effects of cashews in people with or at risk of high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol. Researchers found that those who consumed cashews regularly for 28 days had reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol. (These are the healthiest nuts you can eat.)

A study, published in a 2018 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, assessed the effects of cashew consumption in people with type 2 diabetes. Two groups followed a standard diabetes-friendly diet for 12 weeks, but those in the intervention group also ate 30 grams (about an ounce) of cashews daily. The cashew eaters had reductions in systolic blood pressure and increases in “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, with no negative effects on body weight or blood sugar management. (Also, try these diabetes superfoods.)

Another study, in a 2019 issue of International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, followed 50 people with type 2 diabetes for eight weeks. The intervention group, who consumed 10 percent of their daily calories from cashews, experienced improved cholesterol and reduced insulin levels. (Cashews are just one of many brain foods that can make you smarter.)

How to make cashew dishes

From a culinary perspective, cashews are quite versatile. You can enjoy them as is, blended into cashew butter, or chopped and added to a variety of sweet and savory recipes, from overnight oats and fruit salad to garden salads and veggie stir-fries.

Cashews as a dairy-free base

The creamy texture of cashews also makes them the perfect base for dairy-free cheeses. In this recipe, I transformed soaked cashews into a basic cheesy sauce that can be used in a variety of ways. Enjoy it as a warm dip for raw veggies or drizzled over cooked broccoli or a baked potato. Or, use the sauce as an ingredient, in dishes like veggie enchiladas or vegan scalloped potatoes.

You can also doctor up the sauce with add-ins like minced jalapeños and pico de gallo as a plant-based stand-in for nacho cheese. (Need a dairy substitute? Here’s how to use cashew milk.)

Ingredients in vegan cashew “cheese” sauce

In addition to color, the nutritional yeast adds energy-supporting B vitamins and a bit of iron and potassium. Turmeric, which also adds color, contains natural anti-inflammatory compounds, according to a study in the Polish Medical Journal. And per a study, published in 2017 in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, the oat milk further boosts the sauce’s antioxidant content. (These are the best antioxidant-rich foods.)

Apart from the soaking time, the recipe is quick and easy.

Tip: You can add additional seasonings based on your preferences. Try it with added garlic, onion powder, or crushed red pepper.

vegan cashew cheese sauceCourtesy Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD

Vegan Cashew “Cheese” Sauce


1 cup raw cashews

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

¼ teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons filtered water

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 cup unsweetened oat milk


Place the cashews in a bowl, cover with water, and soak in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the cashews. Transfer the cashews to a food processor or high-speed blender.

Add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, and water and blend into a smooth, but thick consistency. Transfer to a small saucepan and add the salt, pepper, and oat milk. Stir continuously over medium heat for three to four minutes.