Spero Foods sells a range of vegan cream cheese spreads that are made from organic sunflower seeds. Like everything else on this site, I discovered them at the Grocery Outlet – they cost $2.49, compared to the normal price of $5.99 at Whole Foods. I’m happy to say that they are now one of my favorite vegan cheese products, alongside Violife’s vegan feta.
About Spero Foods
Phäedra Randolph, a scientist who previously worked as a software developer, established Spero Foods in the Bay Area around 2017. Since then, the company has been attracting a lot of attention for a number of reasons. First, it’s a well thought out idea that has sustainability advantages over dairy and even compared to nut-based cheeses. Second, it’s a tasty and nutritious product and a significant step towards replacement of dairy with products that don’t compromise on flavor.
Spero cream cheese review
Spero Foods currently make 8 flavors of cream cheese – three of which are sweet (strawberry, chocolate, and cinnamon). I bought three savory varieties at the Grocery Outlet – the original, the herb and the goat. I tried them in various scenarios – toast, crackers, and even tortilla chips, because they are light enough to scoop with a chip. I actually liked all of them about equally – even the original had a good flavor – and I think my favorite would depend on the situation. For example, the goat, which is a little tart, goes well with a spicy tortilla chip : )
There’s some similarity to one of my other favorite vegan cheeses (Violife’s feta) in that a lot of thought went into production and secret flavors. Besides the natural vegan flavors that go into Spero’s spreads, there are also probiotics – i.e., microbes such as lactic acid bacteria. This makes sense to me – cheese should contain microbes as they typically add a lot of the flavor and they are also good for gut health, of course. The Spero products are only available in the US for now but will eventually be going international, starting with Canada.
Spero cream cheese – ingredients and nutrition facts
There’s almost no difference between the flavors in terms of nutrition – the main ingredients in each case are organic sunflower seeds, water, coconut oil, salt, natural flavors, and probiotics. The only difference is the composition of the natural flavors and possibly the probiotics.
Seeds are really amazing, nutritionally, because they contain everything required to start a new plant (besides sun, water, and soil!) and I always try to include them in my diet. Because sunflower seeds are the main ingredient, Spero cream cheeses are fairly rich in minerals and also high in vitamin E. Another aspect that I like is that the products are also fairly high in protein (around 10%, by weight) and lower in fat than most of the vegan cheeses that are primarily coconut oil.
How sustainable are sunflower seeds?
You can probably guess that sunflower seeds are a reasonably high yield crop – otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to use them as a source of cooking oil. Yield per acre of land is an important sustainability metric and others include agricultural inputs (water, fertilizer, pesticides), carbon footprint, and impact on soil health.
As you probably know, vegan cheese is generally a big improvement over dairy in terms of sustainability and ethics. Spero Foods goes beyond this by pointing out that cheese made from sunflower seeds is also an improvement over cheese made from almonds or cashews. Spero makes some bold claims when it comes to sustainability of sunflower seeds compared to the competition:
- Sunflower seeds require 96% less water to grow than almonds.
- Sunflower seeds require 97% less land to grow than cashews.
- Sunflower seeds generate 99% less CO2, compared to dairy.
Spero doesn’t actually include a reference on its website for these claims (tsk tsk) and it would nice to see the assumptions – especially for the comparison to cashews for land use. It must factor in the fact that cashew trees need to grow for a few years before they achieve commercial yields but I’m not sure that it accounts for the higher yields of newer dwarf cashew varieties. The numbers for water consumption and CO2 emissions compared to almonds and dairy sound about right to me.
If you want to read more about the benefits of sunflower as a crop, check out this 2017 paper. One benefit of sunflower as a crop that Spero didn’t mention is that those big beautiful flowers, when grown without insecticides, are a great support to pollinators.
Besides the carbon, water, and land footprints, one thing that I’m especially glad about is that Spero chose to source organic sunflower seeds. If you’re familiar with my posts then you’ve probably heard me expressing disappointment when companies chose to use conventional sunflowers (or soy) as most conventional crops in the US are treated with insecticides known as neonics (neonicotinoids). My recent post on the Green Stars Project site that takes an in-depth look into the risks associated with imidacloprid, one of the most common neonic insecticides used on crops like sunflower.
Ethical rating for Spero cream cheese
Overall, I think that Spero cream cheese deserves 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:
- Spero Foods products are all vegan
- The main ingredient, sunflower seeds, is organically grown
- The carbon, land, and water footprints are very low, compared to dairy – even compared to nut-based cheeses
- Besides the low footprints, sunflower crops also support pollinators
- The container is made from polypropylene, which may actually be slightly greener than PET.
- I would prefer, however, that it was made from post-consumer recycled PET / polypropylene.
- Woman-owned, mission-driven company
Summary scores (out of 5) for Spero cream cheese:
- 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
- 5 green stars for social and environmental impact
Three other products that have achieved a score of 5 Green Stars so far on this site: Alter Eco truffles, Nature’s Path cereal, and Endangered Species chocolate. There is still room for improvement in all of these products but all three companies have done something big (or several things) to address social or environmental issues and improve life on this planet.
I think that Spero’s products also leave a little room for improvement but are certainly in the top 10% (in the cheese category) and therefore deserve this score. Processed food is a luxury and, considering our planet’s situation, all products should be developed with sustainability as the main criterion (and nutrition, second). I think Spero Foods have achieved this pretty well in the vegan dairy space.
If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )