With approximately 65 percent of the global population estimated to be lactose intolerant, it makes sense that the plant-based cheese market is expected to be valued at $4.42 billion by 2027. Plant-based cheeses are commonly made from ingredients like cashews, almonds, coconut, and soy, and a not-so-common ingredient showing up in alternative cheese is potatoes.
Loca Food, based in the Bay Area, is one company that uses potatoes to recreate a plant-based version of classic queso cheese sauce. The company piloted its plant-based queso in several test market outlets in 2019, including Oracle Stadium in San Francisco, the University of San Francisco, and the NVIDIA Corporate campus to name a few. Loca had plans to launch in restaurants, retailers, and ballparks in 2020, but these plans were brought to a halt when the pandemic began.
Cheese was the hardest food to give up when Loca Founder Lauren Joyner started following a plant-based diet, so she wanted to recreate an alternative queso dip that reminded her of her childhood.
“If you’ve been to the South, then you know that cheese dip is central to every gathering,” Joyner told me by phone this week, “It’s always been this food that has brought people together and represented community, fun, and positivity.”
The main ingredients in Loca’s shelf-stable queso are potatoes, carrots, and sunflower oil; all of which are non-GMO. Nutritional yeast provides both a cheesy flavor and several B vitamins. The queso sauce comes in two flavors, Mild and Spicy, and the kick comes from whole, fresh jalapenos that are blended into the sauce.
The unassuming potato might seem like an unlikely ingredient to be found in a plant-based cheese alternative. However, the starchiness of potatoes provides the thickness of traditional queso, and its neutral flavor allows for the desired cheesy flavor to shine through.
Loca’s queso is also an option for those who suffer from common food allergies as it is soy, dairy, nut, and gluten-free. A few other companies make allergy-friendly alternative cheeses from unique ingredients, including Grounded Foods (cauliflower), Noquo (legumes), Legendairy Foods (microbes), and Perfect Day (microbes).
Loca isn’t the only company using potatoes in its plant-based cheese. GOOD PLANeT makes mozzarella cheese shreds and slices from coconut oil and potato starch, and HeartBest uses potato and tapioca starch for its alternative shredded cheese and cream products.
Loca Food has so far raised an undisclosed seed round of funding led by Siddhi Capital and participation from Clear Current Capital, Rose Culinary, and several angel investors. Loca’s products are currently only available on the company’s website, and a two 12 oz jar package costs $25, while a four jar package costs $45. The company’s products will soon be available through Good Eggs (San Francisco) and Pop-Up Grocer (Chicago).