This creamy nut-free vegan mac and cheese is a hit with kids and adults alike! Made with raw sunflower seeds and whole-food ingredients like nutritional yeast and roasted red peppers, this vegan cheese sauce is impressively rich and satisfying, even without cashews!
This recipe is also pantry-friendly, oil-free (or add vegan butter for extra richness), and easily made gluten-free with your favorite gluten-free pasta.
If you're looking for the BEST vegan mac and cheese without cashews, you've found it! The flavor of this cheesy sauce was inspired by our popular Stovetop Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe, but this one is made without oil or cashews.
Actually, if you're ever in the mood for a more decadent vegan mac and cheese, but still nut-free, the other recipe can be made with sunflower seeds instead of cashews. It's seriously delicious. I even won a local mac and cheese cook off with that recipe.
But today's recipe has a few things going for it that the other recipe does not have.
This nut-free vegan mac and cheese is:
- significantly lower in fat
- and ridiculously quick and easy to make!
- raw sunflower seeds - these are the base for our nut-free vegan cheese sauce. I've been using seeds more often in some of my favorite cheesy recipes, like this pimento macaroni salad. They're widely available, affordable, and I've found that soaking them first helps soften the naturally nutty flavor.
- rolled oats - instead of using a starch like tapioca or potato (or the starch naturally present in cashews) to give our cheesy sauce an extra boost of creaminess, I've included a small amount of rolled oats, similar to this no-cook cheese sauce recipe. If you avoid oats, feel free to use a tablespoon of tapioca starch instead.
- nutritional yeast - I recommend a non-fortified nutritional yeast like this one by Sari Foods.
- miso - just a touch of white miso or chickpea miso adds an authentic, cultured flavor to the sauce.
- roasted red pepper - a magical ingredient for boosting cheesy flavor in dairy-free cheese recipes!
- garlic - adds savory, umami flavor. Adjust the amount to suit your palate.
- lemon juice + vinegars - these combine to create a tangy, cheesy flavor without the flavor of any one acidic ingredient coming through too strongly.
See the recipe card below for amounts and full instructions.
Making this healthy nut-free mac and cheese is as easy as boiling water and operating a blender. Seriously!
- First, place sunflower seeds in a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for about 30 minutes, then drain and rinse.
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- In a blender combine the drained sunflower seeds with 1 cup of the water and the remaining sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth. I mean really blend it! This helps release the starch in the oats AND makes the sauce ultra creamy, of course. Add the remaining 1 ½ cups water, and blend to combine.
- With the pasta draining in a colander, cook the cheese sauce over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the pasta, and stir to coat.
Voila! You're ready to eat. Isn't that super easy? No veggies to cook in advance, and ready in 25 minutes (not counting soak time).
You can take the flavor of this easy vegan macaroni in so many different directions:
- Cooking for kids? Reduce the garlic to 1 clove.
- Love garlic? Include several cloves of roasted or sautéed garlic.
- Make it smoky with a touch of smoked paprika and a few drops of liquid smoke.
- Add roasted and chopped poblano pepper or jalapeños for irresistible Tex-Mex flavor!
- Make it fresh and herbaceous by stirring in pesto or zhoug sauce.
- Turn it into a full meal with sautéed kale, broccoli, or asparagus, green peas, beans, or cubed tofu or seitan.
As the mac and cheese cools the sauce thickens and the pasta may soak up quite a bit of the sauciness. Simply add a few splashes of water or non-dairy milk to make it lusciously creamy again.
I haven't tested this sauce using a standard blender, but achieving a smooth texture shouldn't be too difficult. If you're concerned your blender won't get the job done, feel free to soak the seeds a little bit longer.
You can also pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to catch any unblended oat or seed bits.
How to Store Leftovers
Store leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in a microwave.
The texture of pasta sometimes changes after freezing, and not for the better. So if possible, I would avoid freezing the leftovers.
More vegan cheese and comfort food recipes:
- Vegan Feta Cheese
- 25 Amazing Vegan Mac and Cheese Recipes
- Vegan Pimento Cheese
- Easy No-Cook Cheese Sauce
- Low-Fat Vegan Queso
- Air Fryer Stuffed Peppers
- Vegan Crockpot Lasagna
- 1-Skillet White Chili Casserole
- The Best Lentil Chili
I hope you love this nut-free vegan mac and cheese. If you try the recipe I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below to let us know.
Nut-Free Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces dry macaroni or gluten-free pasta of choice
- ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
- 2 ½ cups water
- 3 tablespoons old fashioned rolled oats - Or sub 1 tablespoon tapioca starch.
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- small piece of roasted red pepper (the type from a jar), about a 1-inch strip of a pepper - Start with less then increase to taste.
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 ½ tablespoons white or chickpea miso
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder - Or 1 teaspoon dijon mustard.
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- pinch of nutmeg
- white pepper, optional, to taste
Option for richer mac and cheese:
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vegan butter, optional - Add directly to the pot in step 5.
- Place raw sunflower seeds in a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. While the water comes to a boil and the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce.
- To make the sauce, in a blender combine sunflower seeds, 1 cup of water, oats, garlic, red pepper, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, miso, both vinegars, salt, mustard powder, onion powder, and nutmeg. Gradually increase speed, and blend on high for about 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed. Blend again until the sauce is completely smooth. Add the remaining 1 ½ cups water, and blend to combine.
- Taste the sauce, and adjust the flavor as desired, possibly adding another small piece of red pepper, more onion powder, nutritional yeast, salt, white pepper, etc. Blend again.
- When the pasta is done, drain in a colander. Pour the cheese sauce into the empty pot, and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. If opting for richer mac and cheese, add the vegan butter now. Add the pasta to the pot, and stir to coat. The sauce will thicken as it sits. Serve hot.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.