This Vegan Nacho Cheese is the best dairy-free cheese sauce you’ll ever make. It tastes like the nacho cheese sauce you’d get at a sporting event or movie theater, only better!
What’s special about this recipe is that you don’t need any specialty ingredients to make it– not even nutritional yeast, which typically adds a “cheesy” flavor.
This recipe is naturally gluten-free and will quickly become one of your favorite vegan cheese recipes. Especially since it’s so fast to prepare!
Ingredients You’ll Need
This nacho cheese sauce gets its creaminess from raw cashews, rather than using cornstarch or other thickeners. Canned green chiles and a few jarred jalapeño slices give the sauce an amazing flavor without needing to boil or chop anything.
Because the ingredients aren’t orange, this sauce won’t look like the neon-orange nacho cheese you may be used to. You can add a pinch of paprika or chili powder for color, but the spices will change the flavor, so be sure to taste it before making any changes.
Need a nut-free recipe? Try my vegan cheese sauce, which is made with boiled carrots and potatoes. It also has the traditional orange color you’d expect!
How to Make the Best Vegan Nacho Cheese
There’s no need to soak raw cashews if you are using a high-speed blender, as it will easily pulverize them. If you don’t have a powerful blender, place the cashews in a large bowl and cover them in hot water.
Let them soak for up to 2 hours.
Drain well before adding them to the blender, then proceed with the recipe as written.
In a high-speed blender, combine the cashews, lemon juice, water, green chiles, jalapenos, and salt. Secure the lid and blend until the sauce looks smooth about 60 seconds.
Taste the sauce and make any adjustments you like. Add more jalapenos for a spicier flavor, or a pinch of garlic powder or onion powder if you’d like. For a runnier consistency, add another tablespoon of water and blend again.
This cheese sauce will thicken as it sits, so if you’re not going to use it right away you may need to stir in an extra tablespoon of water to thin it out again.
Serve it in a bowl for dipping, or drizzle it over tortilla chips, tacos, black beans, french fries, or even pizza!
Leftover nacho cheese sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Thin it out with water as needed, if it thickens when chilled.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you need to use another nut, blanched almonds may provide similar results, but the flavor could be slightly different. I’ve also swapped hemp hearts (hulled hemp seeds) for cashews in my vegan ranch dressing with wonderful results, so feel free to give that a try. In that case, the mouthfeel may be slightly different.
The canned green chiles give this sauce an amazing flavor. but you could use half of a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (like Rotel) for more of an orange queso dip if you need a swap.
Yes, add a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce when blending, for a smoky, spicy flavor.
Yes, you can use almond milk or soy milk, if you’d like to, but it’s unnecessary. The cashews add plenty of creaminess already, and water won’t add an extra flavor the way store-bought milk can.
Best Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce
- 1 cup cashews (not roasted or salted)
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon juiced)
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt (I use Real Salt brand)
- 1 (4-ounce can) diced green chilies (I use Rio Luna organic)
- 6 jarred jalapeno slices (optional, but recommended)
- In a high-speed blender, combine the cashews, water, lemon juice, salt, diced chilies (along with their juices), and jalapeno slices. Secure the lid and blend until very smooth.
- Serve right away with your favorite tortilla chips for dairy-free nachos, or use it as a topping for tacos, burrito bowls, and more. This nacho cheese sauce will thicken when you store it in the fridge, so add a tablespoon of water to thin it out again, if needed. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it for up to 3 months.
Fun Fact: No cheese is naturally orange. All natural cheese should all be white, like this dip! Orange-colored cheddar cheese and nacho cheese-style dips are dyed orange, typically using annatto seed. Check out NPR’s story on the history of cheese to see how adding orange color was sparked by an act of fraud in the 17th century.
If you try this vegan nacho cheese sauce, please leave a comment and star rating below letting me know how you like it.