12 Paneer Substitutes [Plus Vegan & Dairy Free]

Are you a big fan of Indian food? I definitely am. I love the strong flavors of Indian cuisine and make it frequently. Luckily, my husband and kids also like eating Indian food as much as me. 

Lots of Indian dishes use paneer cheese. While I love paneer and even learned to make my own paneer, there are times I don’t have it on hand.

Luckily, there are quite a few paneer substitutes you can use that work really well. Many of these paneer substitutes are great if you are looking for something dairy free.

I also looked for substitutes that have a smoother taste as some find paneer to be too acidic.

I know there is a paneer substitute on this list that will work for everyone and for everything! 

The best substitute for paneer is halloumi cheese. It has a nice mild flavor, holds its shape when cooked and it is often found in Indian cuisine, just like paneer. Halloumi is nutritionally comparable to paneer as well. Mexican queso blanco is another great paneer substitute. It is made almost exactly the same as paneer and tastes almost identical. Tofu or vegan mozzarella cheese are perfect vegan substitutes for paneer. 

Paneer Substitutes

1. Halloumi Cheese

Many people wonder what the difference is between paneer vs halloumi. There are quite a few! They both may be popular in Indian cuisine but they are quite different. 

Halloumi cheese is usually made from sheep’s milk or goat’s milk. Just like paneer, it does not melt when heated and will hold it’s shape well. This makes halloumi cheese the perfect paneer substitute for grilling and frying. 

Halloumi is usually made with rennet which is not always vegetarian friendly. Check your halloumi label if you are looking for a vegetarian cheese. Some newer brands use vegetarian rennet while others do not. 

Halloumi has a mild flavor that is similar to paneer. It is a good source of protein, vitamins and calcium.

One ounce (28 grams) of halloumi cheese has 90 calories, 6 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat.

It is about the same calories as paneer so keep this in mind when using it as a substitute.

Halloumi Cheese

2. Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella cheese is a fresh, unaged cheese like paneer. Mozzarella actually tastes best when eaten right after it is made! 

Mozzarella does melt when it is heated but it can be breaded and fried or sauteed. The breadcrumb coating will help contain the cheese as it cooks and keeps its shape. 

Mozzarella cheese has a mild, creamy taste just like paneer. It is full of nutrients and is actually considered one of the healthiest cheeses in the world.

One ounce of mozzarella cheese has 85 calories and 6.3 grams of fat making it very similar to paneer nutritionally.

Mozzarella Cheese

3. Homemade Paneer

Making your own paneer is definitely the best substitute for paneer bought in the store.

Fresh paneer tastes better and is very convenient to have. The best part is that it is easy to make!

Take a look at our simple paneer recipe below. Try making your own paneer next time you need a substitute.

Chances are, you already have everything you need to make paneer right at home! 

4. Feta Cheese

Feta cheese is a Greek type of cheese. It is made with sheep’s milk and is aged for about four to six weeks. Since feta is aged, it has a slightly stronger taste when compared to paneer. 

The texture of feta is a little more firm than paneer but it crumbles in the same way. This makes it a great substitute for paneer in salads, appetizers and side dishes. 

Feta cheese is very easy to find. Most grocery stores carry either blocks of feta or feta cheese crumbles.

Feta has only 75 calories per ounce and 6 grams of fat. It is lower in calories than paneer but also only has about 4 grams of protein.

Feta Cheese

5. Mexican Queso Blanco

Queso Blanco is a fresh white cheese that originated in Mexico. It is a simple cheese that can be made at home, just like paneer. 

Queso blanco is made with milk and vinegar. It is usually made with cow’s milk. Queso blanco has a crumbly texture and does not melt when cooked. It is great to sprinkle on top of a salad or as a finishing touch to pastas and meats. 

Paneer and queso blanco are almost the exact same cheese. The recipes are almost identical!

Even the nutritional values are the same. This makes queso blanco the ideal substitute for paneer.

6. Queso Fresco

Queso fresco is often mixed up with queso blanco. While they are both fresh, white kinds of cheese, queso fresco is made with rennet. Rennet helps curdle the milk and turn it into cheese.

Queso fresco has a nice buttery taste. It is crumbly like paneer but can also be sliced. Use the same amount of queso fresco to replace paneer in any recipe.

Queso Fresco

7. Panela Cheese

Panela is another soft Mexican cheese. It is very similar to cottage cheese but is molded in a basket. It is actually often called basket cheese! 

Panela is a fresh cheese, just like paneer. It is made from cow’s milk and has a creamy, soft texture. 

Panela also does not melt. It can be cut and sauteed in any recipe to re[lace paneer. Panela does soften when cooked so it will lose a little of its shape in the pan. 

One ounce of panela has about 100 calories which are more than paneer. It has 6 grams of protein but 1 gram of carbs. It is also higher in fat with 8 grams of fat per one-ounce serving.

Panela Cheese

8. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese with a creamy, rich texture. It is much softer than paneer and does contain salt, which paneer does not. 

Cottage cheese is a great paneer substitute since it is high in protein but low in fat. It can replace paneer in many dishes which ask for paneer crumbles, making the food lower in fat and calories.

A half cup of cottage cheese only has 116 calories and 5 grams of fat. Choose large curd cottage cheese which will have a texture similar to paneer.

Cottage Cheese

9. Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta is a very versatile, mild cheese. It is usually used in Italian recipes but can replace paneer in many Indian foods. 

Ricotta has a very soft, grainy texture. Strain the ricotta well and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

This will make the texture of the cheese closer to paneer cheese. Whole milk ricotta is also the best choice. 

100 grams of ricotta has 10 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. It is lower in calories when compared to paneer. 

Ricotta Cheese

10. Tofu

Extra firm tofu is a great substitute for cubed paneer. Tofu has a nice chewy taste like paneer and the mild taste will just soak up the flavors in your recipe. 

Tofu can be fried, grilled, baked, or blended into a dessert. It is very versatile and can replace paneer in almost any recipe. 

Tofu can be found in most grocery stores. You should easily be able to find tofu if you can’t find paneer! 

Tofu is lower in calories than paneer with only 70 calories per 3 ounce serving. It also has only 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein.

You will lose a little of the creamy, cheesiness of paneer but all the benefits of tofu make up for that!

Organic Raw Soy Tofu

11. Tofutti Ricotta

Tofutti brand ricotta is a vegan ricotta cheese made completely with tofu and spices. It looks like ricotta, tastes like ricotta but is completely vegan. It is a great substitute for paneer. 

Strain the Tofutti well before using it to replace the paneer. Use a little less Tofutti than your paneer recipe asks for as it will be more watery than regular cheese. 

Tofutti has about the same amount of calories as paneer with 85 calories per ounce. It has 9 grams of carbohydrates and just 5 grams of fats.

12. Miyoko’s Vegan Mozzarella

Vegan mozzarella is a fantastic vegan paneer substitute. Miyokos is our favorite brand of vegan mozzarella and can be found in most grocery stores. It is made with cashew milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, and seasonings. 

Cut the vegan mozzarella into cubes and use it to replace paneer in any recipe. Use the same quantity of vegan mozzarella to replace paneer.

Miyoko’s mozzarella has only 60 calories per one-ounce serving which is less than paneer. It is such a great vegan, low-fat replacement! 

What is Paneer?

Paneer, also known as panir or ponir, is a fresh cheese used frequently in Indian cuisine. It is a non-aged, cheese and it also does not melt. 

Paneer can be made from cow’s milk or buffalo milk. The milk is curdled with lemon juice then strained and squeezed to form a block. 

Paneer has been around since the 16th century. Decades later, it is still eaten as a snack, as part of an entrée, or even as breakfast food. 

What Does Paneer Taste Like?

Paneer has a very neutral taste. It is mostly creamy, slightly spongy, and buttery. The milky flavor in paneer may be its strongest taste. 

Since paneer is so mild, it goes well with many dishes. The cheese takes on the flavor of anything it is cooked with, adding a creamy, milkiness to the dish. 

Health Benefits of Paneer

Paneer is a milk-based product so it has a lot of the same health benefits as milk. Whole milk is usually used to make Paneer so the soft cheese does contain some fats as well as protein.

Here is a quick look at the nutritional information for paneer. These quantities are based on a 1-ounce serving of paneer.

Carbohydrates1 gram
Fats7 grams
Fiber0 gram
Calcium200 grams
Protein6 grams

Paneer is pretty low in carbs. This makes it a great food for anyone watching their calorie intake. A little bit of paneer will fill you right up without adding excess calories to your diet. 

Uses for Paneer Cheese

There are many ways to use paneer cheese. Indian cuisine uses paneer quite frequently to add a cheesy component to the food. You may need a great paneer substitute in curry!

Here are a few of the most popular paneer dishes. 

  • Samosa– Samosa are a fried pastry that is filled with potatoes, paneer, meat and veggies
  • Paneer Butter masala– Soft pieces of paneer are cooked in a creamy, tomato gravy broth. 
  • Paneer bhurji– This is a popular Indian breakfast made with crumbled paneer, tomatoes, onions and spiced
  • Palak Paneer– A vegetarian dish made from pureed spinach and paneer pieces. 

In addition to cooking with paneer, you can also pan fry it and serve it as a side dish. Paneer does not melt so it will sear in the pan, getting a nice crispy edge with a soft center. Grill paneer in the summer to get a beautiful char on the outside of the cheese. 

Spread paneer on a piece of toast and drizzle it with honey for an easy breakfast. Chop paneer and serve it as part of a charcuterie board or cheese platter. You can even make dessert using paneer. 

Try these sweet, honey balls called Paneer gulab Jamun from Archana’s Kitchen. They may be my favorite way to use paneer cheese. I do love desserts! 

Where to Buy Paneer

If you have a local Indian grocery store, they will definitely have paneer in stock. Many standard grocery stores carry paneer as it is growing in popularity.

You can even order paneer online. Amazon carries fresh paneer and can deliver right to your door!

Making paneer at home is a great option as well. It is actually quite easy to do and will give you fresh, delicious paneer in just a few minutes. Our easy paneer recipe is below.

saag paneer curry dish

Homemade Paneer Recipe

Yield: 5 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Paneer is so easy to make. You may actually prefer to make paneer than to buy it! Take a look at our easy paneer recipe and give it a try next time you need some paneer cheese. 


  • 12 ½ cups of whole milk
  • 4 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice


  1. Bring the milk to a boil over high heat. 
  2. Add the lemon juice and stir. 
  3. When the milk begins to curdle and separate, remove the pot from the heat. Let the mix sit for about 5 minutes to separate more. 
  4. Pour the mix through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth or muslin cloth. 
  5. Use the cloth to press down the cheese, really squeezing out the moisture and packin the curds into a solid cheese. 
  6. Use the cheese cloth to pick up the cheese, squeezing it again in the cheese cloth to get out the past drop of water. 
  7. Place the cheese cloth wrapped fresh cheese on a plate and place something heavy on top of the cheese block. A few pounds of butter, a gallon of milk or a big cook book are all great heavy objects to help press the cheese. 
  8. Place the cheese in the fridge while still under the press. Chill and press the cheese for at least two hours. 
  9. Unwrap the homemade paneer and use it as desired! 


Making paneer is not only useful but it is also fun. Try your hand at making this tasty fresh cheese and let us know what you think! 

This helpful video will show you how to make paneer at home. Watch how easy it really is! 

Final Considerations

Paneer really is such a great cheese. It is a true Indian food staple. If you do not have paneer on hand or if you are looking for a lower calorie or vegan substitute, use one from our list!

You will have great results without needing to search for paneer in every store. Enjoy!

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