Vegan poké, almond-based cheese: Vancouver's latest food trends

The market for vegan food has exploded across B.C. in recent years, with everything from almond-based cheese to vegan tuna taking off.

'Vegan cheese is set to be an area of mind-blowing growth,' says CBC food columnist

Blue Heron Creamery uses ingredients like cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and coconut milk for their dairy-free cheeses. (Blue Heron Creamery)

The market for vegan food has exploded across B.C. in recent years and everything from almond-based cheese to vegan tuna is taking off.

Vegan foods recently topped $3.1 billion in sales, according to U.S.-based Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute, and demand is only going to continue growing.  

"Vegan alternatives to dairy products in particular are seeing huge spikes in sales," said CBC On The Coastfood columnist Gail Johnson.

While sales of cow's milk dropped last year, sales of plant milks increased, according to the same study by the Plant Based Foods Association and Good Food Institute. Global sales of vegan cheese are expected to reach more than $3.9 billion by 2024.

And in Vancouver, there are plenty of up-and-coming options for plant-based dairy products and new vegan options.

Non-dairy cheese

"Vegan cheese is set to be an area of mind-blowing growth," Johnson said.

When Blue Heron Creamery opens in early February at 2410 Main St., it will be the first and only stand-alone vegan-cheese shop in the city, Johnson said.

It's co-founded by Colin Medhurst and chef Karen McAthy, whom Johnson describes as "the Vancouver pioneer of the global vegan cheese sector."

Most dairy-free cheese-makers around the world tend to use cashews as their base but Blue Heron will also work with almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and coconut milk.

Ahimi is made out of tomatoes but has the texture of tuna. Westcoast Poké is the first restaurant in Vancouver to serve it. (Westcoast Poké/Facebook)

Vegan tuna

Poké is always popular but with a staple ingredient of raw tuna, it's been off-limits to vegans. But that's now changing.

A new vegan substitute called ahimi has recently made its debut. It's made of five main ingredients: tomatoes, water, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil.

"The ahimi resembles ahi tuna in many ways: it's got that deep, red hue," Johnson said. "And when you eat it, you notice it also has a meaty texture as well as umami — a rich, savoury flavour."

Westcoast Poké in Cambie Village is the first restaurant in Canada to be serving vegan tuna, Johnson said. A second location will be launching in Richmond soon.

With files from On The Coast.