This truly is the BEST Vegan Mac and Cheese and it’s easy to make! The stovetop version is ready in less than 20 minutes, or bake it for a few minutes with a buttery breadcrumb topping. Irresistibly cheesy and creamy without a hint of dairy!

spatula grabbing a hunk of vegan mac and cheese baked in a pan

My favorite thing about this recipe is how easy and quick it is to throw together. It’s ready in the same time it would take for you to make a box of regular mac and cheese!

When I’m craving comfort food, I turn to a big bowl of noodles, and this plant based mac and cheese hits the spot. The luscious sauce is oh-so-creamy, cheesy and mild with just a little tang. It’s sure to become a staple meal in your home!

I highly recommend pairing it with some sort of vegetable or salad. My favorite add-ins are: thawed frozen green peas, roasted brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower or broccoli, roasted asparagus or cooked kale.

Stovetop or baked macaroni and cheese

I’ve included both a simple stovetop version (ready in less than 20 minutes) and a baked version. If you have a few extra minutes, the baked version is out of this world amazing!

looking down on a pan of noodle casserole, golden brown on top

Ingredients needed (with substitutions)

  • Raw cashews – This is what makes the sauce so delightfully creamy and cheesy at the same time. There isn’t a good substitute for this recipe, but if you need a nut free cheese sauce, try this Nut Free Vegan Cheese Sauce instead and pair it with noodles. I also created Dairy Free Mac and Cheese, which is nut free.
  • Water
  • Fresh lemon juice – From about 1 large lemon. Use fresh squeezed for the best flavor. I love my lemon juicer and use it daily.
  • Nutritional yeast – If you really dislike it or don’t have it, you could leave it out. But it adds a lot of cheesy flavor.
  • Turmeric – Mostly for color!
  • Garlic powder – For flavor. A little bit of onion powder also works well here.
  • Salt
  • Vegan cheese – I added a bag of Follow Your Heart cheddar shreds. This is optional, but I loved the extra cheesiness and creaminess it added.
  • Elbow noodles – Or your favorite pasta. Use gluten free if needed. But for classic mac and cheese, use white elbow noodles.
  • Panko bread crumbs – Make sure they are vegan friendly. Optional for the baked version.
  • Vegan butter – Also for the buttery crumb topping.
  • Smoked paprika

How to make vegan mac and cheese

It’s so easy to prepare, you won’t believe it!

  1. Pour boiling hot water over the cashews in a bowl or measuring dish. I usually heat water in my tea kettle or a small pot, then pour it over the nuts. Get your pasta cooking as well.
  2. Let the nuts soak for about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a Vitamix, you may want to let them soak for an hour or even overnight so they will get smooth when you blend them. Drain the cashews and add them to a blender, along with the fresh water, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, garlic powder, salt and vegan cheese if using.
  3. Blend until very, very smooth! This will take a few minutes, perhaps a little longer if you are using a regular blender.
  4. If making the baked version, mix the breadcrumbs, butter and paprika in a small bowl until crumbly.
collage of how to make cheese sauce with cashews

If making the stovetop version, simply drain the pasta, add it back to the pot and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir until it thickens somewhat, then serve immediately.

For the baked version, add the drained noodles to a casserole dish and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir so the noodles are coated.

casserole with cooked noodles and vegan cheese sauce

Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping over the top and bake for about 15 minutes. Do NOT over bake or it will dry out. I also broiled it just for a few minutes until the breadcrumbs turned a golden brown.

breadcrumbs covering mac and cheese in dish for baking

How to thin the sauce if it’s too thick

Serve the mac and cheese right away for the best texture and flavor. The sauce will thicken as it sits, even after 20 minutes. But I have a solution! Simply add some additional warm water (a few tablespoons at a time) and stir it in well. The sauce will thin perfectly – problem solved!

Do the same thing with leftovers. When reheating, add some more water and stir until you reach the desired consistency. This won’t work well with the baked version, but I found these leftovers saved better anyhow.

spoonful of pasta, orange sauce and breadcrumbs

Tips for the best vegan mac and cheese

  • Classic elbow noodles – While other pasta is totally fine to use, classic elbow noodles will give the dish that certain mac and cheese feel.
  • High powered blender – This is probably the most important thing. It might work okay with a regular blender or food processor, but to really create a cheesy, perfectly smooth sauce out of cashews, you need a Vitamix or other high powered blender.
  • Fresh lemon juice – The flavor will be much better with fresh squeezed lemon juice than if you use bottled.
  • Add in some vegetables! I think this makes mac and cheese amazing. My favorite is stirring in some roasted vegetables, yum.
  • Sprinkle some vegan bacon for extra flavor and protein – Try my tempeh bacon or tofu bacon.

Frequently asked questions

  • Does it freeze well? The sauce itself freezes wonderfully, and is great for freezing, then taking out small portions for single meals or kids lunches. You could even freeze the sauce in an ice cube tray, then transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. I don’t recommend freezing the pasta + sauce, as it gets very thick and mushy.
  • How to store and reheat leftovers – The dish will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator. And like I said above, add more water to the leftover pasta so it’s not too thick. The baked version won’t need any additional water. Reheat in the microwave until warm and enjoy.
  • Can you make vegan mac and cheese without nutritional yeast? You can, yes. If you leave it out, make sure to add the bag of vegan cheese. Nutritional yeast gives vegan cheese sauces a wonderful cheesiness, but some people don’t care for it.
bowl of mac and cheese with blue striped towel

More drool-worthy pasta recipes

square image of vegan mac and cheese bake
4.99 stars (180 ratings)

The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese

This truly is the BEST Vegan Mac and Cheese and it's easy to make! The stovetop version is ready in less than 20 minutes, or bake it for a few minutes with a buttery breadcrumb topping.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 8 servings


Mac and cheese

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (7-oz) bag shredded vegan cheddar cheese, optional I used Follow Your Heart
  • 12 ounces elbow pasta

Optional breadcrumb topping

  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika


  • Preheat oven and prep – If planning on baking it with the breadcrumb topping, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a casserole dish (I used a 9×13 inch dish). Skip this step for stovetop mac and cheese.
  • Soak the cashews – Soften your cashews by covering them in boiling water for 5 minutes. I do this by heating up water in my tea kettle, and then pouring the boiling water over the cashews in a large glass measuring cup. 
  • Cook pasta – Cook the pasta according to package instructions, but do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
  • Blend cheese sauce – Drain the soaked cashews and discard the soaking water. Add the cashews, 2 cups fresh water, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, garlic powder, salt and bag of shredded cheese (if using) to a high powered blender and blend until very smooth.

Stovetop version

  • Simply return the pasta to the pot and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir until the sauce thickens and serve immediately.

Baked version (the best!)

  • Make the breadcrumb topping by mixing the breadcrumbs, melted vegan butter and smoked paprika in a small bowl until crumbly and moist.
  • Add the drained pasta to the prepared casserole dish, and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir to coat the noodles. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on the pasta and bake, uncovered for 15 minutes. I also broiled it for a few minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately and enjoy!



  1. The bag of vegan cheddar cheese is optional, but takes it to the next level of creamy and cheesy deliciousness!
  2. The cheese sauce freezes well, so feel free to make extra sauce and freeze some for a super quick meal or kid’s lunch option.
  3. Leftovers will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator. The sauce does thicken when it cools or sits out for awhile, but there is an easy fix. Simply add a little warm water and stir, noodles and all, while you reheat it. The sauce will thin and it will be perfect again.
  4. Gluten free – Use gluten free pasta, any variety you like.
  5. Nut free – Go make my Dairy Free Mac and Cheese, which is nut free.


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 304kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 443mg | Potassium: 309mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 18mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Author: Nora Taylor
Did you make this recipe?Mention @nora_cooks_vegan_ or tag #noracooks!

*This recipe was originally posted in August 2018 and has been updated November 2021 with new photos and better instructions. I also added an optional bag of vegan cheese and an optional topping for baking.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Read my full disclosure here.

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  1. By far the best vegan mac and cheese I’ve ever made! I’ve tried other recipes that use potatoes or carrots for the cheese sauce, but I find that the texture never turns out quite right- cashew is absolutely the way to go. I also baked it with the breadcrumb topping and that really brought this recipe up to a whole other level. I did use a bag of shredded vegan cheese and next time I may try without to see if it’s still just as good, but this is definitely a recipe I’ll be making again and again. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful review and comments! I’m so thrilled that you loved the mac and cheese! Happy cooking!

  2. The title of this recipe says it all:  THE BEST!  I’ve tried quite a few other recipes on other sites, but I had supreme confidence that Nora Cooks would know how to do this dish right. In my opinion, if you’re going to go with a decadent dish, might as well go all the way with vegan cheese shreds, panko topping, and baking in the oven, if you can, as Nora suggests. Fabulous!  Thank you, Nora!  

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful review and comments! Your words of praise for my recipes mean much to me. I appreciate you, and am so glad you love my recipes! Happy cooking!

  3. Im always hesitant to try vegan Mac and Cheese recipes because they always seem to miss the mark, but I decided to make this as part of our Thanksgiving feast. I’m so sorry I doubted you, Nora, because this recipe was SO. GOOD. Even the cheese eating carnivores went back in for seconds. I didn’t have any nooch so I subbed in violife Parmesan for a similar flavor. I also think I had it warming in the oven for a bit too long because the the top was a bit dry, so I’ll just keep an eye on that next time. But will definitely make this again. So easy and the taste was so amazingly on point. Thanks for continuing to create amazing recipes!

    1. Your words are really wonderful! I am so thrilled that you loved the Mac and cheese and that it was a hit at your gathering! Thank you for sharing your wonderful review and comments! Also, thank you for using and trusting my recipes!

  4. Tried this for Thanksgiving this year, it came out B_O_M_B!!!! We added some more cheese shreds, because we felt like it, and it came out perfect. No modifications needed.

    1. Thank you for sharing your fantastic review! I’m glad the Mac and cheese was a hit at your Thanksgiving! Happy cooking!

  5. This was so delicious! I made the baked verision with the panko topping and the topping really took it over the top. And it is so quick and easy! Thank you so much for another fabulous recipe. You’re recipes have never failed me. 

    1. Hi Ellie! Thank you for using my recipes, and for sharing your wonderful review and comments! I’m so thrilled the Mac and cheese turned out great for you!

  6. Okay listen. I’ve been vegan for almost 3 years and I could never fully buy into the soaked cashew technique to make cheese sauce. I’m a college senior and never have a blender around unless I’m home for breaks. This year, I buckled down and fully committed and made this baked mac and cheese. I literally cannot tell you how good this is. It is incredible. The cheese sauce tastes so good after everything’s all baked. I added Violife Cheddar to the mix like Nora said to and it is everything I’ve ever wanted in a mac and cheese dish and more. Worth every step!! Thank you Nora for the A+ recipes! I don’t even hesitate anymore. Whatever the recipe calls for, I trust it to be mind-blowing and it always is.

    1. I would keep the sauce separate from the cooked noodles. Otherwise the noodles will keep soaking up the liquid, making them soggy and the whole thing rather dry.

  7. I’m trying this recipe for thanksgiving since I love all your recipes. Do you think I can add cream cheese too? 

      1. Thanks Nora I will definitely try it. I did make it as is for the first time like I usually do before adding anything and I have to say it was delicious! 

        1. I’m so glad you loved it Jennifer! Let me know how it turns out with the cream cheese! Thank you for sharing your great review!

        2. This receipe was awesome. I mainly made it the nut free way for my 3 year old grandaughter who’s allergic to nuts and dairy and I ate it. Was delicious like all of your receipes. Will definitely make this again. I’m freezing the extra sauce. Two thumbs up ? ?

  8. Delicious!  I loved it and I was not raised on Mac and Cheese so I am particular about it.  We will definitely make this again.

  9. I’ve made a few of your recipes and everything is DELICIOUS!!!
    Thank you so much for sharing! 
    My daughters went vegan about 6 years ago so I followed them & ended up really loving the food!! 
    Thank you….you’ve given me many recipes that I use! ?❤️

  10. We have made many vegan Mac and Cheese recipes and this one is hands down the best. It was a bit rich for our two year old but the adults at the table LOVED it. Thank you!

    1. I don’t think it will work very well because it won’t get the cashews blended until smooth. Your cheese sauce will likely be a bit grainy. You could try this Dairy Free Mac and Cheese, which doesn’t need a blender. It’s super good, too!

    2. Amber, I use cashews all the time to make it cheese sauce & use my food processor….Kitchen Aid. It always comes out great!! Smooth & cheesy! ?

  11. This was amazing!!! Big hit with husband and nonvegan friends too. I was nervous that the sauce seemed grainy because I don’t have a high-powered blender, but once it was all baked together, you couldn’t tell at all!

  12. I have made many – many! – “best mac and cheese ever” since starting a whole food plant based diet five years ago and I am here to say THIS IS IT. Delicious, creamy, and with the addition of 1/4 tsp of ground mustard as suggested by another poster comes the closest to my mother’s homemade recipe. I’m going to eat more now. Thank you Nora!

    1. Hi Kristi! I’m smiling! I’m honored by your wonderful review and comments! I’m thrilled you love the Mac and cheese! I appreciate you taking time to share! Thank you, and happy cooking!

  13. Did the recipe from 2018 call for less water in the cheese sauce? I feel like the 2 cups is too thin if not using the cheese shreds, which I prefer.

    1. Yes, the older version called for only 1 cup of water, but I found that I always had to add extra water because it thickened up so fast in the pot. But you can use only 1 if you want!

  14. I can’t believe I’ve never tried this recipe before because I love all of the recipes I’ve tried. This was outstanding and by far the closest to a real Mac and cheese flavour that I’ve had in the 5 years I’ve been dairy free. Thank you!!! Also it was kid approved by my 2 and 4 year old. We will add peas next time for some extra! 

    1. Hi Jen! I’m so glad you tried the recipe – and loved it! I’m also glad it was a hit with the kids! Thank you for sharing your great review and comments! Happy cooking!

  15. What can you use in place of the cashews. Do not have a high speed blender. Would cashew butter or milk take that place?

  16. Nora, I made your vegan tomato soup yesterday and we just finished eating your mac n cheese today. I am blown away! Every recipe we’ve made of yours is incredible. This is coming from a house of vegans, one of which has been vegan for 25 years! We’ve tried so many vegan recipes over the years and yours are hands-down the easiest and most delicious. So glad we found you!

    1. Hi Vanessa! Welcome to my site! I’m glad you’ve found it, and thrilled that you are loving my recipes! Thank you so much for sharing your great comments! I hope you enjoy your journey through my recipes! Wishing you lots of happy cooking!

  17. Hi Nora! This is my absolute favorite Mac n cheese recipe. The only one I make. Hey can the  boiled water used to soak the cashews be used to make the sauce meaning when you say to add 1 cup of water to the blender?  Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Louise! I’m glad you love the Mac and cheese! The 1 cup of water being added to the blender is a fresh cup of water, not the water the cashews were soaked in! Thanks for the question, and I hope this helps!

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