Lactose intolerance is a common food intolerance amongst Asians, with an estimated 90% of Singaporeans affected to varying degrees. But fret not, you can have your cheese and still eat it, thanks to Nut Culture: their plant-based cheeses are dairy-free, suitable for those who are lactose-intolerant, or who choose not to have dairy for health or ethical reasons.
Nut Culture is the brainchild of Hadas Vaknin, an Israeli who moved to Singapore in 2015. A vegetarian for over a decade, she became informed about ill practices in the dairy industry after moving across countries and went full-fledged vegan. However, the huge cheese lover had a hard time searching for dairy-free cheeses that would fit into her new diet. So she decided to make her own, first starting from home, then moving to a factory in Tuas, and now at a new innovation hub at Chin Bee Drive.
The 29-year-old singlehandedly helms Nut Culture. Prior to launching in 2018, she took almost one-and-a-half years to come up with one viable prototype, trying hundreds of recipes along the way. “I tried with a variety of nuts,” she shares. “Macadamias and almonds work great, but they were either a lot more expensive or had a slightly grainier texture (than what I would have liked).”
Fast forward to today, Nut Culture has two dairy-free cheeses for sale: the Smoked Paprika ‘Cheese’, and Garlic and Herb ‘Cheese.’ These vegan ‘cheeses’ are handcrafted with care: organic cashew nuts are first soaked and fermented, after which they are flavoured and put into wheel moulds for ageing. The entire process takes two to three months. “The fermentation is what gives it the (regular cheese-like) flavour, and the ageing is what gives it the creamy yet firm texture,” explains Vaknin.
While Nut Culture’s flavourful ‘cheeses’ contain zero cholesterol and are high in protein, good fats and probiotics, they do have one downside – they do not melt like real cheese. “I am trying to commercialise a good vegan mozzarella!” Vaknin declares enthusiastically. “But it is going to take some time because all the processes, ingredients and equipment used are vastly different from our current ones.”
Not a problem Vaknin; we’ll brie waiting.
Nut Culture’s dairy-free cheeses are available on Redmart and at selected cafes, such as Shake Farm and Carrotsticks and Cravings.