Also referred to as Indian cottage cheese, paneer cheese is a form of strained and curdled milk cheese known for its all natural method of curding as well as its rather distinct texture, making it a mainstay of many dishes and recipes from the Indian subcontinent.
However, due to a lack of availability or the desire to spice up an otherwise tried and true recipe, paneer cheese may be substituted with certain alternative ingredients that can replicate any characteristics needed by the recipe.
Paneer cheese’s rather distinct flavor and texture, while difficult to replicate in its entirety, may be substituted quite well by a variety of ingredients such as halloumi cheese or certain plant based proteins that can be nearly indistinguishable from paneer cheese in the correct context.
What are the Characteristics of Paneer Cheese and its Substitutes?
Paneer cheese possesses rather prominent characteristics due to the unique nature of its curdling and the manner of which it is processed prior to reaching its end point.
The particular flavor of paneer cheese is often described as mild, with a milky and slightly sweet taste that pairs quite well with a variety of dishes, or is perfectly suitable for consumption on its own.
In terms of its texture, paneer cheese is rather crumbly and heavy, of which makes it excellent for adding to salads or being used as a main ingredient in fried or grilled dishes, wherein its particular heft and texture make it not only an excellent addition in terms of flavor but also in mouth feel.
This particular texture makes paneer cheese a very poor melting cheese – something that is not necessarily a drawback when using paneer cheese as a cooking ingredient, as its ability to maintain firmness under heat allows it to be used in ways that other cheeses cannot.
While quite a few types of cheeses and other ingredients may share one or two of the characteristics normally found in paneer cheese, one should take note that no single foodstuff is capable of replicating the experience and function of paneer cheese in its entirety.
Flavor Substitutes to Paneer Cheese
With a flavor profile often described as delicate, understated and moderate, paneer cheese is noted for its ability to perfectly complement a wide range of dishes and recipes with its mild and milky taste, a characteristic that is fortunately somewhat common among white cheeses, thus making substituting it quite easy.
It is important to remember, however, that the following substitutes may not replicate the full flavor profile of authentic paneer cheese in its entirety, especially in concerns to the finer flavor notes found therein, and as such it is best to utilize these substitutes alongside other ingredients so as to mask these minute differences.
A highly versatile cheese with varying levels of moisture but a flavor profile quite similar to that of paneer cheese, ricotta cheese makes an excellent substitute to paneer cheese in the sorts of recipes that do not require a textural substitute to the latter cheese also be present.
This is due to the fact that, even in its firmest and most dehydrated form, ricotta cheese will oftentimes dissolve or fall apart in the sort of conditions that paneer cheese would normally retain its shape in.
As such, ricotta cheese is best used as a substitute to ricotta cheese in such dishes like salads, desserts and a variety of vegetarian recipes that do not subject the cheese to direct heat or excess moisture.
A common ingredient in many Western refrigerators, cottage cheese in most of its brands may act as a possible substitute to paneer cheese in concerns to the flavor and sodium content of each cheese.
Though it may vary between each individual brand and type, cottage cheese generally takes on a mild and neutral flavor with notes of milkiness that are quite similar to what would be found in paneer cheese prior to grilling or frying.
This makes cottage cheese a suitable substitute to paneer cheese in a direct one to one ratio by volume, as cottage cheese possesses an intensity of flavor as mild as paneer cheese itself.
A drawback to cottage cheese is the fact that, in most cases, it possesses far too much moisture to be used in any substitutional capacity relating to the physical integrity or the particular texture of paneer cheese.
Originating from the country of Mexico, queso blanco or white cheese is produced in a manner practically identical to that of paneer cheese – producing a texture, appearance and flavor also quite similar to paneer cheese, with practically no distinguishable difference.
In fact, queso blanco is considered one of the best possible substitutes to paneer cheese, to such a point that they are interchangeable in a recipe with little to no difference in texture, taste or visual appearance taking place in any manner.
Queso blanco may be used in the same volume in practically any recipe that would ordinarily contain paneer cheese, such as in its unaged and crumbled form, or placed in a curry or soup wherein the rather durable integrity of queso blanco rivals that of paneer cheese.
Texture Substitutes to Paneer Cheese
Paneer cheese possesses a texture considered to be rather firm and crumbly, with only a minute amount of moisture that is subsequently lost if the cheese is aged or cooked in some manner, thereby only increasing its density and crumbliness.
This particular characteristic is rather uncommon in most cheeses, especially those with a mild flavor profile similar to that of paneer cheese, and as such the sort of cheeses that may act as potential texture substitutes to paneer cheese in recipes or as a stand alone snack are rather uncommon and far between.
Another potential substitute to paneer cheese with its birthplace in the country of Greece and neighboring regions, manouri cheese is in fact sourced from goats or sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk as paneer cheese normally is.
Despite this, manouri cheese nonetheless presents a similar flavor profile to paneer cheese in terms of its rather mild intensity and ever so slightly rich undercurrent of taste, of which is paired with its rather dense texture that can rival that of paneer cheese as well.
The only drawback to using manouri cheese is its lack of a crumbliness to its texture, a distinction that may be otherwise unnoticeable if paired with the correct recipe, such as in a curry or soup wherein the moisture will negate any crumbliness found in the original paneer cheese anyway.
A signature cheese originating from the country of Greece, feta cheese in its most authentic form often takes on a dry and crumbly texture quite comparable to that of paneer – though with the caveat of a distinctly more salty underbody of flavor, something that is not present in most forms of authentic paneer cheese.
As is normal usage for feta cheese, paneer cheese is best substituted by the Greek dairy product in salads and sandwiches where its salty flavor is somewhat covered up by the presence of other ingredients that also take advantage of feta cheese’s firm and crumbly texture.
Substitutes to Paneer Cheese for Grilling or Frying
One of the defining characteristics of paneer cheese is its ability to retain its shape and internal texture when fried, grilled or otherwise subjected to direct contact heat. This is in combination with the crust that is formed on the surface of the cheese as it is cooked, creating a unique and rather pleasing experience.
Fortunately, this characteristic is not only somewhat common among certain types of cheeses but also in other non-dairy products, allowing individuals with certain dietary conditions to enjoy the same texture and effect without the addition of cheese.
Within the context of being an excellent cheese for the purposes of frying or grilling, there are few candidates as fitting as that of halloumi cheese, of which is primarily used for such manners of cooking, much like paneer cheese as well.
When substituting paneer cheese for halloumi cheese, it is best to use a smaller volume of the cheese so as to avoid overpowering the dish with the relatively more salty flavor of halloumi cheese.
Additionally, if one is choosing to substitute paneer cheese with another cheese of a more vegan nature, not all forms of halloumi cheese are considered vegan due to the manufacturing process it undergoes, though certain brands of halloumi cheese do indeed possess the status of a vegan friendly cheese.
Not a type of cheese but in fact a meat substitute produced from wheat gluten, seitan makes an excellent textural substitute to that of paneer cheese, though with none of the mild and milky flavor that would ordinarily come with the addition of the Indian cheese product.
As such, seitan is best used in curries or grilled foods that primarily use paneer cheese for the purposes of its texture, with the taste of the paneer cheese being only secondary to its actual purpose in the recipe.
Also not a type of cheese product and instead a form of compressed soybean protein, tofu holds its place as one of the most versatile ingredients not only as a stand alone food product but also in the course of substituting for other ingredients.
Much like paneer cheese, tofu holds up quite well to the rigors of frying and grilling, and achieves a very similar internal consistency and crisp surface when subjected to such cooking methods, allowing tofu to substitute paneer cheese without the use of actual dairy products.
This, much like seitan, is additional alongside the benefit of tofu’s vegetarian status, allowing individuals of vegan or vegetarian beliefs to consume tofu without worry.
Queso Para Feir
Somewhat softer than other grilling cheeses such as halloumi or paneer, queso para feir is nonetheless perfectly capable of withstanding the sort of temperatures and moisture that paneer cheese itself would normally be subjected to in its traditional recipes.
In terms of flavor, queso para feir is also produced from cows milk and as such possesses quite a similar body of flavor to paneer cheese, though with a slightly more salty flavor.
Despite this, the relative intensity of queso para feir’s taste is as mild as that of paneer cheese, making it an excellent substitute not only for the purposes of grilling or frying but also for incorporation into traditional Indian curries and soups.
Produced from sheep or goats milk as opposed to cow’s milk, kefalotyri cheese can be used as a potential substitute to paneer cheese in the situation that the flavors and texture of paneer cheese is not intense enough for the recipe.
In terms of grilling or frying, kefalotyri cheese holds up extremely well to high temperatures, even in the presence of significant moisture – and is perfectly capable of forming the much coveted crust that is a hallmark of halloumi and paneer cheese.
However, as previously mentioned, kefalotyri cheese is not only more crumbly and somewhat lower in moisture content to paneer cheese, but also distinctly more tangy and pungent – a distinction that may or may not be a drawback depending on the intensity of flavor of other ingredients in a recipe.
1. Kumar S, Rai DC, Niranjan K, Bhat ZF. Paneer-An Indian soft cheese variant: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2014 May;51(5):821-31. doi: 10.1007/s13197-011-0567-x. Epub 2011 Oct 26. PMID: 24803688; PMCID: PMC4008736.
2. Papademas, Photis & ROBINSON, RICHARD. (2007). Halloumi cheese: The product and its characteristics. International Journal of Dairy Technology. 51. 98 – 103. 10.1111/j.1471-0307.1998.tb02646.x.
3. Davidson, Alan (2006). Jaine, Tom (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Food (2 ed.). Oxford: OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0191018251