Creamy, dreamy dairy-free mac and cheese? Like, that can be a thing? Why, yes! Yes it can.

The sauce for this vegan mac and cheese recipe is so irresistibly creamy and full of flavor, coating every piece of pasta in its deliciousness. If you’re looking for the comfort of mac and cheese but dairy is not in the cards, this mac and cheese recipe without milk, cheese, or butter will blow you away.

A forkful of dairy free Mac and cheese above a white bowl with more Mac and cheese in front of a black background.

Table of Contents

The Story Behind the Recipe

Giving up macaroni and cheese was a tough one for me. I mean, it’s safe to say it’s been my favorite food since the beginning of time. Buuuut … as much as I love dairy, dairy – specifically the whey in dairy – does NOT love me back.

This dairy-free mac and cheese recipe, though? Makes it allll okay.

A white bowl of creamy dairy free Mac and cheese in front of a black background.

I’d already dreamed up one vegan mac and cheese recipe – another stovetop recipe made with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and coconut milk. I do adore that recipe, but I needed another one for when 1) it’s not fall or winter and 2) I haven’t been to the grocery store in awhile. Just a few pantry recipes, and dairy-free mac and cheese is yours.

A wooden spoon full of dairy free Mac and cheese after stirring the sauce and the pasta together.

I first discovered the joy of creamy cashew-based mac and cheese sauce when I tried this recipe from Detoxinista. SO GOOD. I started with that and tweaked from there, changing the pasta/sauce ratio up (less pasta, more sauce) and adjusting the flavorings a tad.

Note that I used to call this recipe “Ridiculously Creamy Vegan Shells & Cheese.” It is still ridiculously creamy, and it’s still a vegan mac and cheese. But I thought more people might find their way to this recipe with the new name.

Ingredients for dairy free Mac and cheese on a gray background. Cooked pasta, lemon, nutritional yeast, spices, garlic, and cashews.

Dairy Free Mac and Cheese Ingredient Info

  • Cashews – use raw, unsalted cashews. I like to soak them first for the creamiest possible situation, but I have skipped the soaking step and just given them some extra time in my high-speed blender, and that works too.
  • Lemon juice – The bright acid tang combined with the other ingredients tastes surprisingly cheese-like!
  • Nutritional yeast – This powerhouse ingredient adds umami for days and is important for cheesy flavor.
  • Garlic – flavor!
  • Dry mustard – more flavor!
  • Chili powder – just a little bit makes a world of difference for – you guessed it – flavor!
  • Turmeric – I love using turmeric for a yellow this-is-mac-and-cheese hue.
  • Salt & pepper – to enhance it all.
  • Water – this is a mac and cheese recipe without milk, and it’s really not needed! The water mixes with the cashews for a lusciously creamy milk-like situation.
  • Pasta – I love shells for a vegan shells and cheese situation (as photographed), but elbows, penne, or another mid-sized pasta with nooks and crannies will be fab. Make it a gluten free dairy free mac and cheese by subbing in your favorite gluten-free pasta.

How to Make Lactose Free Mac and Cheese

This dairy free mac and cheese not only ridiculously creamy, it’s ridiculously easy to make.

Seriously – soak your cashews, cook up your pasta, blend up your sauce, drain your pasta, mix it all together, devour happily.

We’re talking dinner on the table in 20 minutes tops.

Creamy dairy free mac and cheese sauce is being poured into a pot of cooked pasta.

A bowl of dairy free mac and cheese

This dairy-free mac and cheese recipe has been in my keeper files for a long time now, and it’s one of my fave pantry recipes. It’s made with items I almost always already have on hand – cashews, spices, lemon, garlic, pasta. Perfect!

5 from 6 votes

Dairy Free Mac & Cheese

Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Author: Kare
Yield: 4
Fast, easy, and so tasty, it's even carnivore-approved. Made simply with ingredients from the pantry, you'll love this comfort food classic sans the dairy anytime!


  • 1 cup raw unsalted cashews
  • 8 ounces small pasta shells (can substitute another pasta like good ol’ macaroni)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 medium clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (+ more to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black (+ more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley (for garnish; optional)


  • High-speed blender
  • Large pot


  • First soak your cashews using either the cold water (slower) method or the hot water (faster) method. Place cashews in a medium bowl or jar and pour 3 cups water over the top. If using cool water, they’ll need to soak at room temperature for at least 2 hours (up to 24 hours). Alternately, you can pour 3 cups boiling water over the top, and then they’ll only need to soak for about 15 minutes.
  • Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add several pinches of salt to the water then add the pasta. Stir and cook according to package directions.
  • While the pasta is cooking, whip up the sauce. To the pitcher of a high-powered blender, add the soaked cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, mustard, chili powder, turmeric, one teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and water. Blend on high until completely smooth. The sauce should be thick, but a pourable consistency. If it’s is too thick, add another tablespoon or two of water and blend again until it can be poured.
  • Drain the cooked pasta and return to the pan (off the heat). Pour the sauce over the pasta. Gently stir with a wooden spoon until the pasta is completely coated with the sauce.
  • Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Scoop into bowls or onto plates and garnish with a bit of chopped parsley if you wish. Serve and devour!


Jan. 10, 2024 update: Recipe title changed from Ridiculously Creamy Vegan Shells & Cheese to Creamy Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese.
Adapted from Detoxinista

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 400kcal, Carbohydrates: 54g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Sodium: 592mg, Potassium: 394mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 38IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 28mg, Iron: 3mg

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