This easy 5-ingredient sunflower seed cream cheese makes for a delicious nut-free and vegan alternative to regular cream cheese. It is ultra creamy, has a perfect balance of flavor and is very versatile. Plus, it keeps well in the fridge, so you can use it over bagels for breakfast or in sandwiches for lunches all week long. 100% dairy-free and naturally gluten-free.
Since my kids need daily nut-free lunch boxes for school, I decided to try making a vegan sunflower seed cream cheese for a change and I have to say that I was happily surprised.
We love this tofu cream cheese for making sandwiches, and this plant-based cream cheese made with sunflower seeds didn't disappoint either.
I was actually worried that the natural flavor from the sunflower seeds would be overpowering and maybe too strong, especially for kids, but it was not at all. Oddly, you can barely taste the sunflower seeds and the flavor is super smooth and perfectly balanced.
This recipe combines only a few simple ingredients: sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast for a mild cheesy flavor, lemon juice for a subtle tangy taste and spices, mostly salt, onion powder and garlic powder. This makes for a savory flavored creamy dip or spread that you can customize to taste with more flavorful ingredients, if you want.
Plus, it is super easy to make. You will need to soak some raw, shelled and unsalted sunflower seeds to help them get crushed to smooth, then simply blend using a food processor until velvety and rich.
This recipe will give you plenty of vegan cream cheese to use over bagels for breakfast, but also in sandwiches, for dipping veggie sticks, to toss in pasta dishes and much more. So versatile!
Let me know if you gave it a try! ❤️
Why use sunflower seeds for making a homemade vegan cream cheese
When making a soy-free spread that's made without tofu, I often use raw cashews since they give an amazing creamy texture to dairy-free dips or sauces. This is what I used to make my vegan mascarpone cheese and my ricotta cheese.
This time, I wanted to change things up so I used sunflower seeds instead of cashews. I feel like sunflower seeds often are left unnoticed and this recipe is a delicious way to highlight all they have to offer!
Here is why using sunflower seeds works amazingly in this recipe:
- Nutrition: even though they are tiny, sunflower seeds pack an impressive amount of nutrients. They are known to be rich in vitamin E, flavonoids and selenium, which all act as antioxidants. They are also loaded with plant-based protein, fiber and healthy non-saturated fats alongside tons of vitamins and minerals. Plus, this recipe is made without coconut oil!
- Cost: needless to say that making your own sunflower seed cream cheese is much cheaper than buying it at the store. Plus, sunflower seeds are fairly cheap if you compare their price to other seeds and nuts. I got a large bag of raw and shelled sunflower seeds online for 15$, which should give many batches of cream cheese!
- Accessibility: they are easy to find in any grocery store and even online.
- Allergen-friendly: this is the recipe you need to make if looking for a nut-free cream cheese! This cream cheese also is naturally dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free and soy-free.
- Flavor: sunflower seeds have a naturally mild nutty and even sweet flavor. They can be slightly bitter as well, but this cream cheese recipe includes soaking the seeds and pairing them with flavorful ingredients to balance the overall taste.
Ingredients you will need
- Sunflower seeds: I used these raw organic sunflower seeds from the brand Anthony's that I bought online.
- Lemons: fresh lemon juice brightens up the flavor and gives it a nice tang that's typical of cream cheese. Lime juice works too and you can also use apple cider vinegar if in a pinch, although you will have to add less so the vinegary flavor isn’t too strong.
- Nutritional yeast: responsible for the mild cheesy taste and deep umami flavor. I wouldn’t recommend skipping it!
- Garlic and Onion powder: help the cream cheese have a delicious savory flavor without being too strong in taste.
How to make sunflower seed cream cheese
This recipe is super quick to make, but you will have to plan ahead since the seeds need to soak before blending.
Soak the raw sunflower seeds
There are 2 ways to soak the raw seeds:
- Short soak: soak the sunflower seeds in boiling water for at least one hour.
- Long soak: soak the sunflower seeds in fresh water for at least 4 hours.
- If in a pinch, you can even boil them for about 10-15 minutes.
Once they are done soaking, drain the water (no need to rinse).
Transfer the soaked seeds to a food processor and add the nutritional yeast, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder and salt. Then, add ½ cup of water (plain plant-based milk works too).
Process for about 30 seconds. Then, use a spatula to scrape the walls and stir in the food processor. This will ensure all the spices are incorporated. Then, process again for about 2-3 minutes continuously. The spread will slowly turn creamy, smooth and pale.
Stir in the food processor again and check on texture. You may need to add more water if it is too thick (add 1-2 tablespoons extra at a time until desired consistency). Also, you can taste and adjust flavoring ingredients to your preference (add more lemon, salt, spices, etc).
Process more as needed until the consistency is ultra smooth without pieces of seeds left. This can take 5-7 minutes total of processing.
Then, the cream cheese is ready to use right away, but if you have the time, I recommend scooping it in a glass container and transferring it to the fridge to chill before serving.
- It can take a little while to reach a super smooth texture, especially if you do not have a very powerful food processor. I processed mine for at least 2-3 minutes, but it could take even longer. Try to be patient!
- If you have a small food processor, then the ingredients might not fit all in it. In that case, you can make a half batch.
- Adjust consistency to your preference. You can start with less water (about ½ cup) then process until smooth. Once that's done, add 1-2 tablespoons of extra water and process again. Repeat until just the right texture for you.
- Try making the cream cheese ahead of time so you can chill it in the fridge just a little bit before serving. This will help thicken the texture and give some time for the flavors to blend together.
This vegan sunflower cream cheese is absolutely perfect over toasted bagels and garnished with cucumber and fresh herbs. Try adding some dill and chives for a delicious pairing in savory flavor.
You can also swap vegan mayo for this vegan cream cheese spread when making sandwiches for a boost in nutrients, but also to give more texture and character to your snack. A great match would be this cream cheese paired with smoky roasted tofu or blackened tofu with sliced tomatoes and marinated dill pickles. Or, try using this cream cheese in this roasted vegetable sandwich!
More ways to use this cream cheese include:
- Add a few dollops over pizza after done baking
- Tossed in creamy pasta sauces to make them more rich in texture
- As a dip for crackers and veggie sticks for a healthy snack
- Stuffed in vegan lasagna, lasagna roll-ups, manicotti or eggplant rollatini.
- Add some to your salad or even whisk in a salad dressing to make it creamy
Favorite flavor boosters
You can leave the cream cheese plain so you can serve it in different ways during the week. But also, you can get creative and flavor it with extra boosters, such as:
- Fresh herbs: my favorite kind of plant-based cream cheese includes dill, chives and plenty of onion/garlic powder. Try adding some!
- Tomato-basil: add a small handful of finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and a little fresh garlic for an Italian-style cream cheese that bursts with flavors.
- Olives: you can add some chopped kalamata olives for a nice tang and salty addition. Capers would also be great.
- Spicy: add a little heat by including a pinch of red pepper flakes or finely chopped jalapeño. Marinated jalapeño would work well too.
Keep the vegan cream cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Some separation might occur while storing, so just give it a good stir before serving.
Can I use toasted and salted sunflower seeds?
I do not recommend it since toasted seeds would not give you a super creamy consistency and the dip might end up being too salty.
Can I skip soaking the seeds?
No, you need to soak them so they can blend to a creamy texture. Also, soaking the seeds prior to blending makes their flavor more mellow and makes the seeds easier to digest.
Can I use this cream cheese in sweet recipes?
Yes, you can use this recipe in your favorite desserts! Simply blend the seeds with the water, a little pinch of salt and some lemon juice until creamy (omit spices and nutritional yeast). If you want, you can add a little maple syrup and even some other spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice mix, etc.
Can I use a blender?
I like using my food processor when making a thicker kind of dip, it simply works better. But yes, a high-speed blender would work well to crush the seeds to a super smooth texture. You will have to take a few extra breaks if the cream cheese is sticking to the walls a lot so the texture is uniform and smooth. A regular blender would work too, but you will likely have to blend for longer.
More recipes like this
- Vegan rotel dip
- Butter bean hummus
- Vegan mascarpone cheese
- Vegan feta cheese
- Tofu sour cream
- Vegan tofu cream cheese
- Vegan Hawaiian cheese ball
- Cashew ricotta cheese
I hope you like this sunflower seed cream cheese as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
Vegan Sunflower Seed Cream Cheese
- 2 cups raw and shelled (hulled) sunflower seeds - unroasted and unsalted
- ½-¾ cup water - or enough for desired consistency, plant-based milk works too
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- salt - to taste
- Soak the sunflower seeds in plenty of fresh water for at least four hour (or overnight) or in boiling water for at least 1 hour.
- Then, drain well and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the remaining of the ingredients and blend for about 30-60 seconds. Then, use a spatula to scrape the walls and ensure that all the ingredients are incorporated. Process again for 2-3 minutes or even longer. The cream cheese should be very smooth and creamy.
- Taste and adjust the flavor to your liking: you can add more nutritional yeast, more salt, more lemon juice, etc. Once the cream cheese is smooth, then you can also add some dried or fresh herbs for a herbed cream cheese and pulse a few times (such as dill, chives, basil, etc).
- Transfer to the fridge to chill for ideally 1-2 hours before enjyoing.
- Storage: Keep the cream cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Give it a good stir before serving.
- This cream cheese is amazing over bagels, in sandwiches, tossed in pasta or salad dressing or served as a dip with crackers and veggie sticks.
- Feel free to flavor the cream cheese with more ingredients. Once the cheese spread is smooth, then pulse in some dried or fresh herbs, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, green onions, and more. Check out the blog post for more ideas!