The best vegan cheese sauce
This delicious vegan smoked gouda mac and cheese is quick and easy to make. A super creamy, decadent and slightly smokey cashew cheese base is sure to satisfy your comfort food cravings. Dairy free and can be made gluten free.
I probably make this recipe about once a week. It’s perfect for those tiring days when you’ve had enough and you just need a big bowl of comfort food to make the world seem right again.
❤️ Why you’ll love this recipe
- This vegan cheese sauce is a hell of a lot healthier for you than dairy mac and cheese because it contains no cholesterol.
- Made up of simple, healthy ingredients and doesn’t require any store-bought cheese.
- Easy to make for a quick weeknight dinner that even your kids will love.
- Full of good fats from cashews. Cashews have been linked to “ benefits like weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and a healthier heart.” according to health line.
- Great recipe to impress your non-vegan friends. Take this to a pot luck and everyone will be blown away.
🧂 Ingredients and substitutions
- Raw cashews – I love buying these in bulk for a more affordable option. Cashews, when blended and soaked create an amazing creamy base.
- Seasonings – Garlic powder and onion powder are a must.
- Nutritional yeast – this is what give the cheese sauce its cheesy, savory flavor. This is a must-have ingredient.
- Corn starch – this helps to thicken up the sauce even more.
- Liquid smoke – This gives the smoked gouda flavor. You can also use smoked paprika.
- Lemon juice – Helps to balance out the flavors and add a slightly cheesy, tangy flavor.
- Pasta shells – I love the elbow macaroni shells, but use whatever are your favorite. Use gluten free shells to make this recipe gluten free.
- Vegan butter – helps to give a richer, creamier flavor.
👩🍳 Expert tips
If you have left overs the next day, when you re-heat this bad boy, add a little bit of water. It thickens up the longer it sits or the more you heat it up.
If the sauce is too thick for you liking, add a splash of water. The longer the sauce is heated up, the more thick it becomes.
You don’t need to soak your cashews over night. You can do a quick soak by boiling some water and soaking the cashews for 10 minutes.
If you need some extra comfort or decadence, add in a tablespoon of vegan butter when blending the cheese sauce. You can also leave it out and it’s still very tasty and a bit healthier.
Make sure to scroll down to the recipe card for the full ingredients list and instructions!
Step one – Boil some water, then pour over the raw cashews. Let them soak for 10 minutes, then drain.
Step two – Cook the pasta in lightly salted water until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of cooked pasta water, then strain and set aside.
Step three – Blend the soaked cashews with the seasonings and some vegan butter and unsweetened oat milk.
Step four – Add the cheese sauce to a sauce pan and bring it to medium heat. Stir the whole time. The sauce will thicken as it heats up. Once the cheese sauce has thickened, add in the cooked pasta and ¼ cup of reserved pasta water. Stir until noodles are well coated.
This lasts about a week in the fridge, in an airtight container, if you can manage to not eat it all in one sitting.
You can also freeze this and reheat it. It will change the consistency slightly, but not too much.
🥦 Serving suggestions
I love eating this with steamed broccoli or peas. It adds some greens to your meal which is always a good thing. Serve this with a side of BBQ tempeh or BBQ tofu and collard greens for a southern meal. This also goes really well with some vegan seitan ribs.
I haven’t tried this recipe any other way, but you may be able to substitute a half a carton of silken tofu for the cashews. It won’t be as thick and creamy, but it will do the trick. I have made a creamy vegan alfredo sauce this way and it turned out wonderful.
The cashew cheese sauce is gluten free. To make this fully gluten free, use gluten free pasta noodles.
🧀 More vegan cheese recipes
If you loved this recipe, leave a 5 ⭐️ rating on the recipe card and comment below!
BEST vegan smoked gouda mac and cheese
- ½ cup raw cashews
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke or smoked paprika
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1½ teaspoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter
- 8 oz of dry pasta shells (Use gluten free pasta if wanting to make this recipe gluten free)
- Soak your cashews in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Drain after soaking.
- Bring salted water to a boil on stovetop. Cook the pasta shells. Keep ¼ cup of cooked pasta water and drain the rest. Set pasta aside.
- While the pasta cooks, pour all of your cheese sauce ingredients (everything except the pasta shells) into the blender and blend until smooth.½ cup raw cashews, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1½ teaspoon salt, Juice of ½ lemon, 1½ cups water, 1 teaspoon liquid smoke or smoked paprika, ¼ cup nutritional yeast, 1½ teaspoon corn starch, 1 tablespoon vegan butter
- Pour cheese sauce into a pan on low/medium heat and stir constantly until it thickens (about 5 minutes). To make extra decadent add another tablespoon of vegan butter to cheese sauce and let melt.
- Once cheese sauce is thickened, add the pasta, pasta water and mix it all together. If it thickens too much, add a drop of water until you get the consistency you desire8 oz of dry pasta shells
- Add steamed broccoli, salt and pepper if needed and Enjoy!
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Thank you so much for this recipe! My daugter found it on Pinterest and it has quickly become a family favorite! 🙂
Damn Tasty Vegan
That’s wonderful! It’s one of my favorite recipes as well because it’s so easy and minimal ingredients. Thank you for the kind comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe.
I absolutely love this recipe. I have a few friends that are allergic to nuts as well as dairy… do you know if this could be made using an alternative to cashews? Maybe an oat milk? Or coconut milk?
So glad you love the recipe! Here is my nut and dairy free mac and cheese recipe. If you want to make it a smoked gouda, just use vegan smoked gouda cheese or add in 1/2 tsp of liquid smoke https://damntastyvegan.com/instant-pot-vegan-mac-and-cheese/
This is the best cheesy vegan sauce I’ve ever made, thank you!
Can you make this without the vegan butter??
Damn Tasty Vegan
Yep! It will be a little less rich but still delicious
This is delicious. My husband couldn’t believe it didn’t have real cheese. I added roasted broccoli. Try it you will love it!!
Damn tasty vegan
So glad you loved it! I love the roasted broccoli idea! Thanks for that tip
This is without a doubt the BEST vegan mac/cheese sauce recipe I have ever tried – and I’ve made many! This recipe has totally become a staple in my house. I made with vegan seitan ribs and bread pudding for a vegan southern meal that reminded me of home.
This recipe is delicious and seriously versatile. Thank you so much for sharing it!
I’m so glad you loved it! Thank you for the comment