Is Feta Cheese Dairy? or Dairy-free?

Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Aaron

Feta cheese is traditionally made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. However, there are versions of feta available in some places that are made from cow’s milk. Regardless of the type of milk used, feta is still a dairy product because it comes from the milk of an animal.

If someone is lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, they should approach feta with caution.

Lactose is the sugar present in milk. According to Monash Fodmap, feta contains 0.13 grams of lactose per 125g serving size, and the content is generally lower than in many other cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese, especially those made from cow’s milk. So, some people with lactose sensitivity might tolerate it better than other dairy products.

This can be attributed to both the type of milk used (sheep or goat) and the fermentation process. However, the lactose content is not negligible, so it’s not considered lactose-free.

Why is Feta “Not Dairy”?

There might be a few reasons you’ve come across the idea that feta is “not dairy”:

Some people mistake “dairy” for “lactose.” Feta, especially when made from sheep or goat milk, often contains less lactose than many cow’s milk cheeses. People who are lactose intolerant might be able to tolerate small amounts of feta, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dairy.

Furthermore, feta is a cheese that’s aged in brined for a few good months. As cheese ages, the lactose content can decrease. This is because the bacteria used to ferment cheese can consume some of the lactose, turning it into lactic acid.

Additionally, some people find that they can better tolerate sheep’s or goat’s milk cheeses than cow’s milk cheeses. This isn’t necessarily because of the lactose content (though goat’s milk does have slightly lower lactose than cow’s milk), but possibly due to other proteins or fats that differ between these milk sources.

Milk allergy is an immune response to the proteins in milk (like casein or whey). Someone with a milk allergy should avoid feta entirely, as even small amounts could trigger a reaction. Read the 5 Reasons Allergic to Feta blog post.

Non-dairy Substitutes for Feta Cheese

If someone is referring to “feta” that is not dairy, they might be talking about a dairy-free or vegan alternative or imitation of feta. These versions are made to resemble the taste and texture of feta but are made without animal-derived milk. Instead, they might use ingredients like tofu, nuts (such as cashews or almonds), or other plant-based components.

Almond “Feta” Cheese – Made primarily from almonds, this substitute resembles the crumbly texture and tangy flavor of traditional feta. Almonds are soaked, blended, and then mixed with ingredients like lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil to give the characteristic feta flavor.

Daiya’s Feta Style Block – Daiya’s Feta Style Block is a vegan and dairy-free cheese alternative product made by Daiya, a company well known for its plant-based cheese products. The product typically contains ingredients such as filtered water, coconut oil, potato protein, tapioca starch, and other natural flavors and preservatives to achieve the desired taste and consistency. It melts but maintains its shape without melting away. Daiya and similar vegan brands are often described as “a hit or miss”.

Tofu “Feta” – Tofu can be a versatile base for many vegan cheese recipes. For a feta substitute, firm tofu is often marinated in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, and other seasonings. The tofu absorbs the flavors and provides a crumbly texture similar to feta. It’s quite healthy as well, tofu is a good source of protein, minerals, and isoflavones. However, it might not fully replicate the strong feta taste. Some individuals avoid soy due to allergies, hormonal concerns, or other dietary reasons. For them, tofu-based products might not be suitable.

Cashew “Feta” – Like almond feta, cashew feta uses cashews as its primary ingredient. Cashews are soaked and blended with seasonings to give a creamy and tangy feta-like flavor. Better texture than tofu feta, which is also smoother and slightly less crumbly. Cashew feta is somewhat well-received but can be more expensive than other ingredients, such as soy.

It’s important to know that…

Those new to vegan cheeses might initially find that they don’t quite capture the exact taste of dairy cheeses. Vegan and non-dairy substitutes for traditional dairy products often aim to mimic the texture, appearance, and taste of the original, but it’s important to manage expectations.

It’s worth noting that the taste might not be an exact match. The flavor profiles of nuts, tofu, and other vegan ingredients are distinct, and while they can be manipulated to come close, there will always be differences.

Also, vegan cheeses especially artisanal or specialty ones can sometimes be more expensive than their dairy counterparts.

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