2 Vegan Parmesan Substitutes: Brazil Nut Parmezan and Cheesy Sprinkle

In my recent plant-powered kids post about picky eaters, I mentioned two toppings that our girls love: “Cheesy Sprinkle” and “Brazil Nut Parm“.  Well, it’s not just our girls that love these sprinkly toppings – the adults in this household do too!

Ok, I love both.  Hubby is not the biggest nooch (ie nutritional yeast) fan, so he doesn’t “get” the Cheesy Sprinkle – but he LOVES the Brazil Nut Parm.  Both recipes are in Let Them Eat Vegan.  And, I decided I would share both recipes with you today.

First, the Cheesy Sprinkle.  This is somewhat like Parma, if you’ve ever tried that product.  I used to order Parma from Vegan Essentials.  But, it became pricey, and also I found the walnut base made my mouth a little sore (walnuts are the only nut that I cannot eat ‘freely’).  I started making it at home, and found that I preferred using a different nut base – being a combo of almonds and cashews.  Not only could I eat it ‘freely’… I enjoy the taste better.  For me, the blend of cashews and almonds is just right – cashews being a little softer/creamier and almonds harder/drier.  This is my favorite blend, but of course if you prefer to use the full amount of either cashews or almonds you certainly can.  Plus, I have a nut-free version for you so this can be used in school lunches (the nut-free version is NOT in my book, I just tested it out and giving it here).  While this type of nutritional yeast-based topping is often touted as a ‘vegan parmesan’, I don’t think it tastes anything like parmesan.  It tastes like a nutty, cheesy, savory sprinkly topping – hence the name “Cheesy Sprinkle”.

Cheesy Sprinkle (from LTEV)

Cheesy Sprinkle gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free  LINK to share/print

This topping, affectionately called Cheesy Sprinkle in our house, will be a favorite for kids big and small. Try it on salads, tossed into pasta, sprinkled on rice and beans, worked into sandwich mixtures, as a pizza topping, or eaten off a spoon (yeah, I’ve done it before)!

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1/4 cup raw almonds (see note)

1/4 cup raw cashews (or more raw almonds)

1/2 tsp (scant) sea salt (about ¼ + 1/8 tsp)

1/4 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Put all the ingredients into a standing blender and pulse until very fine and crumbly. Don’t overprocess, just pulse several times. That’s it! Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Makes about 1 scant cup

Adult-Minded: Try adding 1⁄8 teaspoon of onion or garlic powder.

Kid-Friendly: I make this often for our kiddos, and make it quick and simple using just the nooch, nuts, and salt. You may enjoy added flavor depth from the zest, but it’s not essential.

Savvy Subs and Adds: To make this mixtre nut free, substitute the almonds and cashews with: 3 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 tbsp chia seeds (preferably white chia), and 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds (or sesame or sunflower).  Voila!

Alright, let’s talk about parmesan for a moment!  When I became vegan, parmesan was the last and hardest cheese for me to stop eating.  I even bought rice parmesan for a period of time (which was misleading because it contained casein).  And you know what?  I was hooked on that rice parmesan.  I remember searching town for it once when I ran out.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the casein was the culprit.  As my dynamic and talented friend Julieanna Hever explains in this clip, casein is VERY addictive.  And, as Dr. Colin Campbell outlines in The China Study, casein is particularly bad for the body, and promotes the development of cancer.  Dairy is bad news.  Once I finally kicked the casein – dairy was no longer an issue.  I didn’t crave it, didn’t want it.  No longer did I “need” that parmesan on my pasta or salads.

Still, most of us do like toppings, things that add flavor and texture to a dish.  So, in my quest to deliver a dairy-free parmesan to you, my readers, I came up with my next recipe – Brazil Nut Parmezan.  For me, this is the closest thing to a parmesan topping.  No, it doesn’t taste exactly like parmesan, but it gives you the same pleasurable notes as a parmesan… it is salty, tangy, and a richness from the natural whole-foods fats in the nuts.  Unlike the Cheesy Sprinkle, this delivers a parmesan mouth taste and feel.  And, it’s all from the technique.  It’s the slow, low-heat baking of the sprinkle that allows the tart lemon flavor to infuse into the processed brazil nuts, along with just a hint of cheesy flavor from the nooch that makes magic happen.  I explain more in this video. (Excuse the not-great hair… and the toddler screech at the end! Also this is pre-tripod, vertigo-inclined beware) 😉

And, since I didn’t give you a glimpse of the final product in that clip, here’s the money shot!

Brazil Nut Parmesan (from LTEV)

Brazil Nut Parmezan gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free Link to share/print

There are many versions of vegan Parmesans available, and in fairness, none of them are really like dairy Parmesan. But, we don’t need them to be! What we want is a tangy, salty, rich-tasting sprinkle that we can use for topping salads, pastas, pizza, and more. This topping delivers!

1½ cups brazil nuts (see notes)

½ tsp (little scant) sea salt

1 ½ tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 275°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Process the brazil nuts in a food processor or blender until fine and crumbly. Don’t overprocess, or they will begin to heat and become pasty. Just pulse until finely crumbled.  Spread on the prepared pan. Toss in the salt, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. Use your fingers to work these ingredients through the crumbled nuts.  Place in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, being sure to toss three or four times through the baking process (and check during last minutes of baking; the mixture should become dry and maybe a touch golden around the edges, but should not brown). Remove from the oven, let cool, and transfer to a container to refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups.

If This Apron Could Talk: If you cannot eat brazil nuts, I would substitute 1 1/2 cups raw almonds.  You could also try about 1 1/4 cup of almonds along with 1/4 cup of pine nuts.  After trying this for the first time, you might want to double your batch the next time round. It can disappear quickly! It’s one of my husband’s favorites; in fact, he keeps saying, “You should bottle this up and sell it”!

Kid-Friendly: Your little ones might love this just the way it is, but you can try bumping up the nooch another tablespoon to make it a little more cheesy. Also see Cheesy Sprinkle (recipe follows) for a cheesier-tasting topping.

Serving Suggestions: Any tomato-based pasta sauce will welcome this seasoning, as will a very modestly dressed pasta, such as one with olive oil and lemon juice. This topping works wonders on salads, and adds crunch and depth to cooked rice and other grains, as well as simple bean preparations.

Tomato Artichoke Pasta with Brazil Nut Parm (both from LTEV) photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky

We LOVE this parmezan, and think you will too!  Please try both of these recipes, and feel free to share, tweet, etc.  You can find this and other healthy recipes in Ricki Heller’s Weekend Wellness!

I’d love to hear how you like these toppings!  Have you felt addicted to parmesan? What’s your favorite cheesy topping?

p.s. I have heard from so many of you that are loving LTEV.  If you haven’t shared a review on amazon, I would greatly appreciate if you could add a few words about what you love – even a sentence or two.  (And, upload any food images if you like!)  Thanks. 


  1. Jenni says

    The pic looks like there is lemon zest in the Brazil nuts. The video shows you adding zest I think. But I don’t have any sound for the video. How much zest do you add?

  2. Ann says

    since many people speak of cashew nuts as being “cheese-like”, I wondered if you could substitute that and still be really good? I don’t have Brazil nuts, but have lots of raw cashews. Any thoughts?

    • Dreena says

      Hi Ann, you certainly can sub cashews. I find they are a sweeter nut, but for sure will still be delicious in this recipe. Enjoy!

    • Dreena says

      Hi Ann, no this is an inactive yeast, it’s used for flavor not for leavening. You can omit it if you don’t have it handy.

  3. Alexa says

    Yum, I made brazil nut parmesane, it’s so damn good! (I’m not going vegan in “cold turkey” manner ;], I just try lots of vegan recipies and I enjoy it).
    I have got smoked salt, so next time maybe I will make even sharper and more savoury sprinkle than yours.
    I make my own almond milk, maybe this “almond cheese” staing on cloth after filterink milk, could be nut base for “parmesane”? Kind of wallet-friendly idea.

    • Dreena says

      Terrific! Glad you enjoyed it Alexa. :) Oh, that smoked salt idea is brilliant – please let us know how it turns out. And, yes, def use your almond milk pulp. I once pureed it into a quick cheese, adding some lemon juice, touch of miso, salt, fresh herbs – was wonderful. Also can be used in baking!

      • Alexa says

        With smoked salt this sprinkle tastes similar to oscpek- traditonal Polish smoked cheese, made with sheep milk. Years ago I used to dry this cheese and use it as sprinkle (this is not so traditional idea), but vegan-smoked-cheese-sprinkle tastes fine, and also sounds less gross than stone-hard sheep cheese 😛
        I used smoked salt for soups (some Polish soups are boiled with smoked bacon or sausage, and I hate meat (that makes vegetarianism very easy :D), but without smokey flavour this soups tasted “poor”) and I used ths salt for scrambled tofu, but it worked in this “smoked cheese” idea as well as in “let’s pretend it was boiled with smoked meat” ideas.
        And, as I started to talk about Polish stuff, lots of our traditional dishes are meat-based and I don’t like them, but while everyone is excited about quinoa, we have another lovely pseudograin: buckwheat groats. I love it (and in my country it’s as cheap as white rice, so it’s kind of “realistic part of usual diet” :P). With mushroom sauce, or vegetarian stew… yum. And buckwheat flour is great for pancakes and crepes. It’s quite good source of protein and vitammins, becouse botanically it’s not a grain but… nut. Great thing, not marketed as “health food”, but not less healthy and tasty.

  4. says

    I made the cheesy sprinkle tonight and it was amazing!!! I sprinkled it on garlic navy bean soup with potatoes and bok choy. Amazing!! I haven’t really cared for nutritional yeast in the past but I thought i would give it another try and I really liked it tonight. Maybe it was the added nuts? it just tasted more rounded and not so in your face. I am pretty new to my transition of eating vegan and I was wondering how often you find you eat nutritional yeast? A sprinkle here and there throughout the day everyday? Or is it an every few days type of thing?

    • Dreena says

      Yeah! That’s great, Jessica! Yes, the nuts round out the flavor, along with the salt. I didn’t even like nooch for the first 10 years or so I was vegan – you’re ahead of me. 😉 I don’t think about how much I eat it really. I WAS a bit addicted to it for a while, ate it every day, several tbsps, prob too much. Now, I use it prob every other day, and in recipes.

  5. says

    There’s a raw restaurant in my town that serves the most amazing food – and they do a brazil nut parmesan too – I was just wondering if I could find a recipe and this was the first to come up. I can’t wait to try it and will definitely let you know when/how it turns out. I made your kale slaw last week and it was wonderful – the curried almond dressing? I could eat it from a spoon also. Thanks for making the idea of giving up dairy start to seem more feasible for this cheese-lover! I really appreciate that you don’t rely on soy – bravo! (I do eat some soy, but like to do so sparingly)

  6. yessie says

    thanks for this…i so agreed with giving up the parmesan cheese!! i also love gouda cheese…n havent found a good tasting cheese :S but i will for sure give this one a try!!! btw i knew everytime i had brazil nuts it reminded me of a cheesy flavor!!! that is why i was like yeahhhh!!! im gonna give it a try!

  7. Linda Hardesty says

    Hi Dreena. I just discovered your blog and books. I have tried nutritional yeast years ago and did’t like it. Can you please recommend a good brand? Thanks so much. p.s. I asked for your cookbooks for Christmas:-). Linda

    • Dreena says

      Hi Linda! Welcome to my kitchen. 😉 I didn’t like nutritional yeast years ago either – couldn’t understand why the vegan community had such affection for the stuff. Then I tried it in a few things in small amounts, and warmed up to it. Some recipes require a lot, and initially that amount can be off-putting. So, I’d suggest you try a recipe that uses a small amount first – such as the Brazil Nut Parm (instead of the Cheesy Sprinkle). Also, if you search for my “Vegveeta Dip”, that uses NO nooch, but has a cheesy flavor. You could try making that and then adding just 2-3 tsp of nooch to see how you like the flavor with it. As for brands, I like the large flakes, the Bob’s Red Mill brand. You want a fortified nutritional yeast (most are), and sometimes the very small flakes (more like a powder) have a more bitter aroma/taste. When I say large flakes, they are just flaky rather than very powdery. Here is a link: http://www.amazon.com/Bobs-Red-Mill-8-Ounce-Packages/dp/B000EDM8FS/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1355493450&sr=1-1&keywords=bob%27s+red+mill+nutritional+yeast Hope that helps. :)

  8. Sherry (BTLover2) says

    Hi Dreena,

    Not sure if my previous comment went through. I’m making your Brazil nut parm right now (smells great). Do you know how long it will keep in the fridge? And can it be frozen? Thanks so much!

    • Dreena says

      Hi Sherry, sorry – I didn’t see your comment come through. It keeps in the fridge for weeks! After a month or two you might find it absorbs other odors from the fridge – but I have made double batches and stored it for a month or more. :)

    • Dreena says

      oh, and I haven’t tried freezing it – I think it would be okay, but if you suspect you’d use it within a month or two, I’d prob just refrigerate.

  9. Sherry (BTLover2) says

    Hi Dreena! I’m going to be making your Brazil nut parm shortly but have a question. Do you know how long it will keep in the refrigerator? And can it be frozen? I’m the only person in my house who will be eating this and hate to waste a single bit!! Thank you.

  10. Sferd says

    A quick question about the Brazil nut version…is there a reason the additional ingredients (nooch, salt, lemon juice) are not just added into the blender/food processor after the nuts are ground up?


    • Dreena says

      Hi, just seeing your comment – very sorry for not replying sooner. I don’t add any liquid to the blender/food processor b/c it can easily turn the nuts into a paste. It’s easier to grind them finely, then toss with the juice, nooch, etc. Hope that answers your q.

  11. Tash says

    Ok, made the cheesy sprinkle yesterday! Had it on my dinner last night and it was SO good. I do miss cheese on top of things, and this was great. Even my kids loved it and it helped them eat their dinner with less nagging haha.

    • Dreena says

      thank you. :) I sometimes make a double batch, and it keeps well for weeks. After 3-4 weeks, it can start to absorb other odors in the fridge, but certainly at least that long.

  12. says

    Yum! We are nooch fiends in my household, and tend to just use it straight (especially on popcorn), but these both look like great new things to try, particularly on pasta.

    I really enjoy your videos – you have a fun presence and such a pretty, pleasant voice. I’m pretty new to your blog, but I’ve been enjoying following your posts, and next time I’m in the cookbook section of the local bookstore, I’m going to head right to B for Burton. :)

    • Dreena says

      Hi Carrie, “nooch” is the nickname for nutritional yeast… I will note that in the post, sometimes forget that this affectionate term is not so well known. :)

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