Paneer is a popular cheese in Indian food that is delicious and versatile, adding a delectable flavor to any dish. But if can’t get your hands on Paneer at your local store or it’s too expensive, don’t worry. But what is the best paneer substitute?
Queso Panela is an excellent substitute for paneer cheese due to its similar texture and mild flavor. Queso Panela can also be easily crumbled or sliced, making it a great choice for salads or sandwiches. Its ability to hold its shape when cooked also makes it an ideal option for grilling or frying.
But first, let’s discuss paneer and understand why it’s so prevalent in Indian cuisine.
Paneer is an Indian cheese created by curdling hot milk with an acidic substance like lemon juice or vinegar, then straining the curds and pressing them into a block or mold.
But what do you do when you can’t find paneer or it’s too expensive for your budget?
That’s where this list comes in! I’ve compiled a variety of substitutes that will work just as well in your favorite Indian food recipes, from tofu and halloumi to ricotta and goat cheese. Plus, I’ll share some tips for using each substitute and what to expect regarding flavor and texture.
Why Do People Look for Paneer Substitutes?
Paneer cheese is essential in many Indian dishes, such as curry, saag, mattar, and paneer tikka. However, it can be challenging to find and can be pretty expensive when you finally do find it.
Speaking of curry, did you know that Indian curry is almost totally different than Thai curry? In that recent article I just linked to, I get into all the differences including which one actually uses the leaves of the curry plant.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
But why is paneer cheese so important in Indian cuisine? Paneer is a crucial ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan Indian dishes. It is a unique ingredient that can be marinated, grilled, or fried, making it perfect for various recipes.
Another reason why people may look for substitutes for paneer cheese is if they follow a vegan or lactose-intolerant diet. Paneer is manufactured from cow’s milk, making it inappropriate for those who do not consume animal products or have lactose intolerance.
It is critical to find an appropriate replacement to preserve the dish’s flavor and texture without compromising its quality.
— ELA’S FOOD JOURNAL (@elazfoodchannel) September 3, 2020
The Best Paneer Substitutes For Your Recipes
There are many great paneer substitutes that you can use in your recipes that will maintain the flavor and texture of the dish. We’ve mentioned 18 paneer cheese alternatives below:
1. Extra-firm tofu
Extra-firm tofu is an excellent substitute for paneer cheese since it has a high melting point and is easy to find. Press the liquid and cube it in your delicious Indian dish. Its firm texture and mild flavor make it an excellent paneer replacement that won’t compromise the recipe too much.
2. Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella cheese can be an excellent replacement for paneer in Indian cuisine.
This well-liked cheese has a mild taste and smooth consistency that complements various dishes. Although it doesn’t have the same melting and stretching properties as paneer, this cheese’s crumbly texture adds a desirable creaminess and richness to many meals.
It imparts a unique character to dishes and is considered one of the most nutritious cheeses in traditional cooking.
3. Bread Cheese
Bread cheese, also known as juustoleipa, is a good substitute for paneer cheese due to its similar texture and ability to hold its shape when cooked. It is a semi-soft cheese that originated from Finland and is made from cow’s milk.
To make bread cheese from scratch, you’ll need to heat milk to around 86°F (30°C), add rennet or vinegar to coagulate the milk, strain the curd, and then press and shape the cheese. Bread cheese is a versatile cheese that can be used in a variety of dishes, including sandwiches, salads, and as a topping for pizza.
Tempeh is a meaty and flavorful decision for substituting paneer cheese. It’s made from fermented soybeans, giving it a unique flavor that works well in Indian cuisine. Tempeh’s grainy texture works well in saag paneer or tikka masala dishes. The high protein and low fat content make it a healthy substitute for paneer.
5. Queso Oaxaca
Queso Oaxaca, also known as string cheese or quesillo, is a Mexican cheese with a texture similar to mozzarella.
It is a soft, white cheese that can be stretched and pulled, making it an excellent substitute for paneer cheese in dishes like saag paneer or palak paneer. Queso Oaxaca is not a hard cheese and cannot be fried like paneer.
But it can be quickly browned in a skillet.
To make queso Oaxaca from scratch, heat milk in a saucepan until it reaches 90°C, then add a small amount of rennet and let it rest for 10-15 minutes until curd forms. Drain the curd and heat it in a pot of hot water until it becomes stretchy. Then, shape it into balls or strings and let it cool.
Queso Oaxaca can also be found in many specialty grocery stores or online.
Prepared Mexican dish using Queso Fresco cheese/ In India, it is called Paneer Bhurji. (Instead of desi Paneer, I used Queso Fresco cheese which tastes much better than Paneer and better substitute than Paneer) pic.twitter.com/ey2hjdJpZq
— Solitude Soul (@solitudesoul7) April 18, 2023
Cotija cheese is a Mexican cheese that is commonly used in salads, soups, and as a topping for tacos and other dishes. It is a hard, crumbly cheese that has a salty and slightly tangy flavor. While Cotija cheese is not a soft cheese, it can still be used as a substitute for paneer in some recipes.
Cotija cheese cannot be fried quite like paneer, but it can be grated or crumbled to add to dishes.
To make Cotija cheese from scratch, heat milk in a saucepan until it reaches 32-37°C, then add a small amount of rennet and let it rest for 30-60 minutes until curd forms. Cut the curd into small pieces, then heat it in a pot of hot water until it becomes stretchy. Drain the curd and shape it into a ball or block, then let it age for several weeks until it becomes crumbly.
Cotija cheese can also be found in many specialty grocery stores or online.
7. Emmental Cheese
Tofu ricotta is a versatile ingredient that can be used in various recipes. To make tofu ricotta, blend firm tofu with lemon juice and salt until it reaches a creamy consistency. This dairy-free substitute has a mild flavor and soft texture that works well in dishes like lasagna, stuffed shells, and even on pizza as a cheese alternative. Plus, it’s lower in fat and calories than traditional ricotta cheese.
8. Ricotta Salata Cheese
Ricotta salata cheese is a pressed and dried version of traditional ricotta cheese. It has a grainy texture and a sweet taste that makes it an excellent paneer alternative. Use it in Indian dishes like palak paneer or matar paneer to add a unique flavor and texture to your meal. It can also be used in salads or as a topping for pasta dishes.
9. Feta cheese
Feta cheese is a tangy, salty white cheese that can be crumbled over salads or used in Greek dishes like spanakopita. It has a crumbly texture and a milky flavor that makes it an excellent paneer substitute. Feta cheese is originally made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, but you can also make it using cow milk if it is unavailable. Use it in Indian cuisine as a replacement for paneer to add a salty flavor to your dishes.
10. Halloumi cheese
Halloumi cheese is a Cypriot layered cheese with a high melting point, making it a great paneer substitute for a recipe that involves grilling or frying. It has a unique flavor and a firm texture that can be grated or sliced as a paneer replacement. Use halloumi cheese in dishes like palak paneer to add a salty taste and chewy texture to your meal.
11. Queso Blanco
Mexican queso blanco, or Mexican white cheese or queso fresco, is a mild cheese with a creamy texture.
Because the name simply means “white cheese” it can come in a variety of forms with a variety of hardness. If you are planning on sauteeing or pan frying the cheese look for one that is hard like a brick of parmesan and not one that is soft like cottage cheese.
If you haven’t milkmaxxed yet or dislike milk, you are probably h0m0.
Milk is one of the most total foods to ever exist. Its applications go from the solid paneer to the liquid chaach. Substitutes oil with ghee too.
Imagine milk and butter in the pic, too lazy to put it. pic.twitter.com/QffMwnMzS4
— Metaphysical Hindusthāna (@ctrl_hindustan) March 21, 2023
12. Queso fresco cheese
Queso fresco cheese is a soft and crumbly Mexican cheese with a salty taste. It’s a great alternative to paneer in many Indian dishes, including paneer makhani and paneer tikka. Queso fresco cheese is commonly used in Mexican cuisine, particularly in dishes like tacos and enchiladas, and can be found in most grocery stores.
13. Asiago cheese
Asiago cheese is an Italian cheese made from cow’s milk with a medium heat and nutty flavor. It’s a great alternative to paneer in cold dishes, such as paneer salad. Fresh Asiago has a thin, white, or pale yellow rind with scattered, tiny holes. It features a solid sponge cake-like medium texture, a flavor that is subtly sweet and sour, and a buttery odor.
14. Queso Panela
Queso Panela, also known as basket cheese, is a Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk with a crumbly texture and a salty flavor. It’s an excellent substitute for paneer in dishes that require a salty taste, such as paneer tikka or saag paneer. You can use the Queso Panelo in various ways, including crumbled, sliced, baked, or even as a fried dish!
15. Gouda cheese
Gouda cheese is a Dutch cheese known for its distinct nutty flavor and firm texture. It is made from cow’s milk and is typically aged for several months, which gives it a complex flavor profile. It’s a great alternative to paneer in dishes that require a milky taste, such as paneer butter masala.
16. Manchego cheese
Manchego cheese is a Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk with a firm texture and rich flavor. It is available in wide varieties and has an inedible rind with a distinctive, traditional herringbone basket weave pattern. Manchego Cheese is an excellent substitute for paneer and can be used in many Indian dishes, including saag paneer.
17. Pecorino Romano cheese
Pecorino Romano cheese is an Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk with a distinct and mild flavor and grainy texture. It’s a perfect substitute for paneer in dishes that require a salty and milky taste, such as paneer tikka. This cheese is readily available in most grocery stores and is famous in the Italian subcontinent.
18. Grana Padano cheese
Grana Padano cheese is an Italian cheese typically matured for two years and prepared with unpasteurized, semi-skimmed cow’s milk from two milkings. Grana, an adjective that means “grainy” in Italian, describes the fine granular texture and lovely flavor.
The flavors in Grana Padano intensify, and the cheese grows firmer as it ages while the surface becomes crumblier. It’s an excellent substitute for paneer in dishes that require a milky taste, such as paneer butter masala.
Firm tofu, coated with nutritional yeast, garlic powder and a little tahini, then baked makes a (much nicer!) substitute for paneer, for example: pic.twitter.com/EVQwoiaARh
— Alan Watson (@Alan_Watson_) January 2, 2021
Edam cheese is a semi-hard cheese that originated in the Netherlands. It is a good substitute for paneer cheese as it has a similar texture and mild flavor. Edam cheese is versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, including curries, sandwiches, and salads.
The cheese is aged for several weeks to develop its distinctive flavor and texture. Edam cheese can be fried, but it is not commonly done as it is a semi-hard cheese with a relatively low moisture content.
Gruyère cheese is a hard cheese that originated in Switzerland. It can be a good substitute for paneer cheese as it has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor and a firm, dense texture. Gruyère cheese is often used in French and Swiss cuisine, particularly in fondues and gratins.
The cheese is aged for several months to develop its distinct flavor and texture. Gruyère cheese can be fried, but it is not commonly done as it is a hard cheese with a relatively low moisture content.
Parmesan cheese is a hard cheese that originated in Italy. It can be a good substitute for paneer cheese as it has a sharp and nutty flavor and a crumbly texture.
Parmesan cheese can be fried, although it is often sold in stores in a grated or shredded form. The drying process gives it its characteristic texture and flavor.
To make Parmesan cheese from scratch, one would need to heat cow’s milk to a specific temperature, add rennet to coagulate the milk, and then press the curd to remove excess whey. The curd is then salted and allowed to age for several months to develop its distinct flavor and texture.
The longer it ages, the sharper and more flavorful the cheese becomes.
So there you have it, our list of 21 best paneer substitutes for your Indian recipes! Whether you were looking for paneer cheese at your local grocery store or it was too expensive, these substitutes will help you easily recreate your favorite dishes.
I hope this list gives you some ideas for your next Indian recipe. Don’t hesitate to experiment with different substitutes to find your favorite! With these options, you can still enjoy paneer’s creamy texture and unique flavor without compromising the recipe.
So whip up some paneer tikka, saag paneer, or butter masala using one of our recommended substitutes. Happy cooking!
Which milk products are similar to paneer?
Several milk products are similar to paneer. For instance, panela cheese and queso blanco are excellent substitutes.
What is a vegan substitute for paneer?
Tofu is among the best vegan substitutes for paneer in the market today.
What can I use instead of paneer for masala?
Paneer can be substituted with cottage cheese. One of the few nutritious dairy products used in Indian cuisine is cottage cheese, which has low fat and comparatively high protein content.