Can vegetarians eat cheese?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Can vegetarians eat cheese?” and will discuss what ingredient in the cheese is non-vegetarian and will also discuss which class of vegetarians can eat cheese.

Can vegetarians eat cheese?

Yes, vegetarians can eat cheese. Cheese is often consumed by vegetarians. There are some classes of vegetarians that can freely consume meat like lacto-vegetarian and ovo-lacto vegetarian. A vegetarian’s decision to consume cheese is influenced by a variety of factors. The person’s particular brand of vegetarianism. The key decisive elements are whether or not the cheese includes animal by-products and the ethical treatment of animals.

The global market of plant-based alternatives to dairy was estimated to a value of USD 22.6 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 40.6 billion by 2026, recording a compound annual growth rate of 10.3% in terms of value (1). 

Why are non-vegetarian ingredients present in cheese?

Traditional Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Camembert, Gruyere, and Manchego all employ animal by-products as one of their main ingredients, and this is no exception. Rennet is used as an ingredient in this recipe.

Rennet: What Is It and Why Do We Need It?

Young cows, goats, pigs, and sheep have rennet enzymes in their stomachs. The enzyme aids in the process of separating the curds from the whey in milk. Animal rennets are prepared by extracting the dried (usually) or salted gastric tissue (referred to as vells) with 10 % NaCl and activating and standardizing the extract. Chymosin (an aspartyl acid proteinase, i.e., a proteinase with two aspartic acid residues at the active site and with a pH optimum of 2–4) represents >90 % of the milk clotting activity of good quality veal rennet, the remaining activity being due to pepsin. As the animal ages, especially when fed solid food, the secretion of chymosin declines while that of pepsin increases (2).

According to legend, rennet was found in a dried calf or sheep’s stomach around the year 8000 BC when someone was carrying milk in that container. Dairy products such as curds and whey were created when rennet was added to the milk in the stomach (2).

Vegetarian Rennet: What Is It?

Vegetarian cheese may be made without using animal rennet because of the availability of vegetarian substitutes. Rennet originates from plants like thistles, artichokes, figs and nettles (6). Instead of utilizing animal-based rennet, the thickening enzyme is extracted from the plants by soaking them in water. However, plant rennets are not suitable for the manufacture of long-ripened cheese varieties (3).

Yeast or mold cultured in a lab produces microbial rennet, which acts as a coagulant. The enzyme chymosin, which is created during fermentation, is the same enzyme that’s found in animals’ stomachs. Cheesemakers have been using the fermented product for over 30 years. Microorganisms including Rhizomucor pusillus, R. miehei, Rhizopus oryzae, Endothia parasitica, and Irpex lactis have been extensively used as sources of microbial rennets (4)

Recombinant rennet are also used to make cheese. Due to the shortage of calf stomachs and the economic value of cheese rennet, calf chymosin was one of the first mammalian enzymes which was cloned and expressed in microorganisms (3). Even though the cheese’s chymosin is a genetically modified substance, the cheese itself is not a GMO. 

Which Cheese Uses Vegetarian Rennet and How Can You Tell?

Acid-coagulated cheeses (e.g., Cream, Cottage, Quarg, some types of Queso Blanco) are those varieties which are produced from milk or cream by acidification to ca. pH 4.6, which causes the caseins to coagulate at their isoelectric point. Ricotta and Mascarpone are examples of acid-heat coagulated cheeses and are coagulated by a combination of heat and acid. These cheeses are produced without rennets (2). 

Manufacturers of cheese are not required by FDA to disclose where their rennet originates from. Enzymes are indicated on the cheese label, although it’s not always clear whether or not they’re rennet. Fermentation-produced chymosin is used in the production of the vast majority of American cheeses.

Vegetable rennet, microbial rennet, or vegetarian-friendly cheeses will tell you whether or not the product contains animal rennet, so look for such labels while shopping. The cheese manufacturer can authenticate the source of the rennet as a last resort. Cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Swiss are examples of soft cheeses that are manufactured without the use of rennet.

Look for kosher-certified cheeses if you want to be safe. For religious reasons, milk and meat must never be mixed. As a result, animal rennet will not be found in kosher cheese. When you’re in the grocery store, look for the labels certified kosher, K, or KU. Plant proteases in cheesemaking meet the requirements for labeling kosher, halal and vegetarian food (6).

No matter what kind of cheese you choose, rennet is almost always included in the ingredients list.

Which vegetarian cheese options are available?

·         Cashew cheese is created by SieteFoods.

·         Field Roast offers a wide range of cheese products manufactured mostly from coconut, tofu, and potatoes, including shreds, slices, and blocks.

·         Gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free cheeses are available from Daiya.

·         Nooch turns cashews into parmesan cheese for grating.

·         Miyokos uses age-old cheese-making traditions to create organic nut and legume cheeses and butter.

People Who Eat Cheese as Vegetarians

·         Vegans eat largely plants, whereas Flexitarians take dairy, eggs, and meat in moderation (5).

·         A vegan who also eats dairy, eggs and seafood is known as a Pescatarian.

·         It’s possible to be a Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian while still consuming dairy and eggs.

·         In contrast to Lacto-Ovo vegetarians, who consume both dairy and eggs, Lacto vegetarians abstain from eating both.

Those that aren’t cheese eaters are classified as the following:

·         Ovo-Vegetarian — A person who consumes just ovo A vegetarian does not consume any of these foods. Except for eggs, they eat a mostly plant-based diet.

·         In Veganism , no animal products are consumed.

Is It Immoral for A Vegetarian to Consume Cheese?

However, even without animal rennet, there may still be the inhumane treatment of animals that vegetarians should take into account if they choose this cheese option.

I’m not going to go into all of the cruel thing’s animals go through when they’re exploited to make food, since that would be pointless. That news stunned me to no end when I learned that male calves are ripped from their mothers at dairy farms as soon as they are born and used for veal.

If the treatment of animals is a point of contention for you, do your homework before making a decision.

Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.

Did vegetarianism become popular?

Do vegetarians eat dairy?

Do vegetarians live longer?


In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Can vegetarians eat cheese?” and discussed what ingredient in the cheese is non-vegetarian, and also discussed which class of vegetarians can eat cheese.


  1. Boukid F, Lamri M, Dar BN, Garron M, Castellari M. Vegan Alternatives to Processed Cheese and Yogurt Launched in the European Market during 2020: A Nutritional Challenge? Foods. 2021, 10, 2782.
  2. Fox, Patrick F., et al. Fundamentals of cheese science. New York: Springer US, 2017.
  3. Fox, P.F. (1993). Cheese: An Overview. In: Fox, P.F. (eds) Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology. Springer, Boston, MA. 
  4. An, Zhigang, et al. Characteristics of miniature Cheddar‐Type Cheese made by microbial rennet from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens: A comparison with commercial calf rennet. J food sci, 2014, 79, M214-M221.
  5. Hargreaves, Shila Minari, et al. Vegetarian diet: an overview through the perspective of quality of life domains. Int j environ res public health, 2021, 18, 4067.
  6. Aktayeva, S., Z. H. Akishev, and B. Khassenov. Proteolytic enzymes in cheese making. Euras J Appl Biotechnol, 2018, 1.