Paneer is a fresh, white cheese. It is one of the most versatile Indian cheeses and can be used to make numerous dishes.
But what if you are not drinking milk or are allergic to it? How will you still get to eat paneer? Never panic; here’s our list of recommended paneer substitutes that you can use instead:
Paneer has many substitutes in terms of taste, texture, and even nutrition. Some of these include cottage cheese, mozzarella, ricotta, and others.
Not everyone can drink milk or eat it in general for some reason or another. Some people are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk. Or perhaps someone just doesn’t like the taste of cow’s milk or goat’s milk and would rather have something else instead.
If that sounds like you, read on to learn more about recommendations for paneer substitutes that aren’t made from milk in general!
What is Paneer Cheese?
Paneer cheese is a staple of Indian cuisine that has gained worldwide attention. Unique in its dry curd that’s neither aged nor salted, paneer does not melt and can be eaten right after making it or frozen.
Paneer is made from curdled milk combined with an acid, like most cheese. This acid can be provided by vegetables or fruits.
It’s generally agreed to have been introduced to the world by the Persian and Afghani rulers for the first time. Now, it is the main ingredient in many Indian dishes and a familiar favorite in Indian street food.
What Can You Use Instead of Paneer?
1. Halloumi Cheese
Halloumi is a cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. As a white cheese with a consistency similar to mozzarella, Halloumi cheese makes an excellent paneer cheese substitute for grilling as it becomes crispy and savory, rather than melting.
Not all varieties of Halloumi are vegetarian as rennet is used as the acid. Rennet is an animal stomach acid. Vegetable rennets are also available to use instead of the traditional animal rennet.
Unlike paneer, Halloumi can be a little salty and works best in recipes that require it to be cooked. Cooking brings out its flavor the best.
2. Panela Cheese
This Mexican cheese was traditionally molded in a basket. As a cottage cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk, Panela is a fresh paneer alternative.
When choosing paneer substitutes, you want cheeses that maintain their shape when cooked. Even with its soft and creamy texture, Panela cheese won’t lose its shape when you cook it, only soften nicely.
Even better, Panela absorbs the flavors of what it’s cooked in and often comes covered in pepper and/or garlic.
3. Feta Cheese
This traditional and ancient Greek cheese made from sheep’s milk has become famous the world over.
Unlike paneer, feta is an aged cheese; usually from four to six weeks. Because of this, while you can’t eat it straight away, it can last up to several months.
Feta is a great paneer substitute on salads, appetizers, and side dishes.
4. Fresh and Well-Drained Ricotta
Ricotta isn’t exactly a cheese, but a by-product of cheese. Made from heating the leftover whey, this Italian cheese is named for this process, as ricotta literally translates to ‘re-cooked’.
Being a low-sodium cheese with a soft and grainy texture, it makes an excellent paneer alternative for many recipes. However, do not try to use ricotta as a substitute in soups and curries.
Watch its shelf-life. Ricotta will only last in your refrigerator for a few days.
Not only is mozzarella a fresh, un-aged cheese, but it also tastes best when eaten straight away.
This Italian cheese is one of the healthiest cheeses you can choose from being full of nutrients but low in sodium and fats.
Unlike other paneer substitutes, mozzarella does not keep its shape and texture when cooked, so keep that in mind. It’s best used in side dishes, on salads, or as an appetizer.
6. Mexican Queso Blanco
Mexican Queso Blanco can easily be made at home with a simple combination of milk and acid (like vinegar or lemon juice).
Queso Blanco is a vegetarian-friendly cheese made from cow’s milk or a mix of cow’s milk and goat’s milk. Its firm, crumbly texture doesn’t melt making it a great cooking paneer substitute.
Because of its crumbly, feta-like texture, it’s also great on salads or over other dishes but also combines well with fresh fruit.
What makes it the best paneer substitute? It can be made at home following the same recipe as paneer.
7. Queso Fresco
This non-vegetarian-friendly alternative is often confused with Queso Blanco. Made with rennet, Queso Fresco could be vegetarian friendly if a vegetable rennet were used as opposed to animal rennet.
Queso Fresco has a buttery taste and is crumbly like paneer while still capable of being sliced.
8. Extra Firm Tofu
Heartier dishes are complimented best by the chewiest tofu variety, extra firm. Because of the incredibly firm texture, this tofu can be pan-fried, baked, boiled, glazed, stir-fried, and crusted.
Tofu is often used as a vegan paneer alternative, especially in curry and soups.
9. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a fresh, protein-packed cheese that is very similar to paneer.
It’s a fresh cheese with a very similar texture which makes it an excellent paneer substitute. You can make it at home, and it’s recommended as homemade cottage cheese is creamier and richer in flavor.
Cottage Cheese can be used in any recipe as a paneer alternative, but keep in mind that it does contain salt. Since paneer does not contain salt, adjust the rest of your recipe accordingly.
10. Brie Cheese
This creamy, French cheese is now produced all over the world and is easily obtained. Its creamy soft texture is traditionally made from cow’s milk but can be achieved with goat’s milk as well.
Brie is best used at room temperature as it softens considerably when baked. Use it as a paneer alternative with fresh fruits and vegetables or bread.
Another French cheese, Camembert, is made from cow’s milk and has more depth to its flavor than fresh cheeses. Its cream texture combines with an earthy flavor that combines well with fruits, nuts, and bread.
Much like brie, camembert should be used as an alternative in room temperature recipes as it softens considerably when heated and has a very strong flavor on its own when cooked.
12. Tofutti Ricotta
This vegan ricotta is made with tofu and spices. It looks and tastes like ricotta.
Make sure to strain the Tofutti ricotta well before using it as a paneer substitute. You’ll also want to use less than the amount of paneer called for as Tofutti will be more watery than regular cheese.
13. Miyoko’s Vegan Mozzarella
Vegan mozzarella would be a great paneer substitute if you’d like to make a vegan dish. This favorite brand of vegan mozzarella can be found in most supermarkets.
Vegan mozzarella is a combination of cashew milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, and seasonings.
This cheese replacement can be cut up and used as a paneer replacement in any recipe. Use the same quantity of your vegan cheese as you would paneer cheese.
14. Homemade Paneer
Homemade paneer, much like homemade cottage cheese, has a much creamier and more crumbly texture than store-bought. The only exception might be grilling, as store-bought paneer holds up firmer in the heat.
Before running off and making your own cheese, remember that fresh-made cheese only lasts a few days in the fridge. Don’t make it more than a week ahead of time.
- Whole milk
- Lemon juice
Line a colander with a thick, double layer of cheesecloth and then place it in the sink.
Take 8 cups of whole milk and bring it to a mild boil over medium heat, making sure to stir constantly.
Add some lemon juice and reduce the heat to low.
As you stir, the curds will start to form. When they form, remove your pan from the heat and strain the contents through that prepared colander. Rinse with cold water.
Squeeze out any extra liquid with the cheesecloth and your hands.
Tie the cloth to your faucet, letting the cheese hang and drain. Twist the cloth to form the cheese into a ball. Place this ball between two plates and use a heavy pot to weigh it down. Squeeze the cheese in this state for at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.
How to Choose a Substitute for Paneer Cheese
Due to the incredibly unique nature of this cheese, it can be hard to satisfy yourself with paneer replacements.
To choose the best paneer substitute for your needs, consider the following:
The most similar
If flavor and similarity are the most important to you, then seriously consider making your paneer at home. That’s the easiest way to satisfy your desires. If that’s not possible. Then you can also try cottage cheese or Mexican Queso Blanco.
The most versatile
You want or need to find a paneer substitute, but which one? When this is your only criterion, then aim for the most versatile options in mozzarella and extra-firm tofu. If you’re replacing it in a grilling recipe, then go for halloumi to safely get the desired texture and flavor.
The vegetarian/vegan alternative
Choosing cheese in this situation is challenging. Some cheeses can be made with or without animal rennet, so check labels or do a little research for your vegetarian options.
Making homemade Paneer or Queso Blanco would be a valid alternative as they are both vegetarian options.
For a vegan alternative, extra-firm tofu is the best choice. Tofutti ricotta is an alternative depending on the recipe and cooking involved as is Miyoko’s Vegan Mozzarella.
Where is Paneer from?
This Indian cottage cheese is common in the Indian subcontinent: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Can you eat Paneer raw?
You can eat paneer raw. However, it’s recommended to cook it before eating as that improves the taste and texture.
Does Paneer come from cow’s milk?
Yes. Most often paneer is made from cow’s milk or buffalo milk or a combination of the two.
Is there a vegan substitute for paneer?
Yes. Your best vegan alternative for paneer is extra-firm tofu. For some recipes, you can also use Tofutti ricotta or Miyoko’s Vegan Mozzarella.
Paneer is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It’s nutty and earthy in flavor and can be used in several ways in cooking. However, since it’s made from cow’s milk, vegans, and those who are lactose-intolerant are likely to have issues consuming it.
Fortunately, there are many alternatives at hand.
Now that you know how to make paneer at home and the many excellent paneer substitutes, you can enjoy it in all the usual Indian dishes, from curries and dosas to salads and pasta.