Cheeseless pizza can still be flavorful

Chris Young

For many people, part of the attraction of pizza is removing a slice from the pie and leaving strings of gooey cheese trailing behind.

Let’s face it. Many of us love cheese on just about everything.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cheese consumption in the United States has tripled since 1970, from 11 to 31 pounds per person in 2003.

But not everyone can enjoy cheese without feeling sick. Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant — meaning they can’t digest the lactose (a kind of sugar) present in some milk, cheese and dairy products.

Kelly Powell, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, says lactose intolerance likely is more prevalent than the statistics indicate.

“I would say it is under-reported, no matter what the numbers are,” Powell says. “It’s probably under-reported because many clients never admit to any food allergies or problems.

“When I evaluate their diet and notice they don’t consume dairy products, they say, ‘Oh, I don’t drink milk because it gives me gas.’”

While some cheeses, especially those that have been aged, are better tolerated, they still contain some lactose.

Staying away from cheese doesn’t have to mean staying away from pizza, however. There are substitutes for dairy cheese. And there are a number of pizza recipes that use other ingredients to punch up the flavor.

 Cheesy alternatives

Bruce Williams, produce manager of Food Fantasies in Springfield, Ill., says a variety of cheese substitutes are on the market. There also are ways to substitute for the texture of cheese by using other ingredients.

“We have a lot of alternatives here: soy cheese, almond cheese and rice cheese,” he says. “There are some new rice cheeses coming out that are pretty good.”

The first attempts at rice cheese were not so palatable, Williams says. “But they are starting to perfect it.”

Going cheese-free

Still, the substitutes aren’t always even necessary.

“When I’m making a pizza, I don’t use any of those fake cheeses,” he says. “I just use a bunch of veggies, sauce and nutritional yeast.”

Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast that looks a bit like cornmeal.

“It’s dry, and you can sprinkle it on a pizza or popcorn,” Williams says. “It’s full of B vitamins, and it’s good for you.”

Olives can fill part of the void left by cheese.

“I love a ton of olives on a pizza, and somehow that gives it a little bit of texture — a little chewy, like cheese,” he says. “I really overdo it with olives.”

Cheese often gets the credit for holding the ingredients of a pizza together. Williams says sauce also can do the trick.

For extra flavor, pile on green peppers, onion, tomatoes and other veggies.

Fruit, such as pineapple, can be added for sweetness.

To really ramp up flavor to compensate for the lack of cheese, sun-dried tomatoes add punch.

For those looking to go beyond cheese and reduce calories further, try using a flour tortilla as a sort of ready-made crust. It’s the same idea as substituting a wrap for regular bread or a bun.

Calorie counts

In terms of calories saved, 1 ounce of part-skim-milk mozzarella cheese has 72 calories, according to the federal government’s nutrition labels. Making a pizza minus 6 ounces of cheese saves you 432 calories.

For those looking to avoid lactose — or simply trying to cut calories — a cheeseless pizza can be an option that does not reduce flavor. The recipe below allows you to make both a cheeseless pizza and a pizza for those who just have to have cheese on top.

Sweet Veggie and Fruit Cheeseless Pizza


1 cup warm water

1 packet yeast

2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup (divided)

2 1/2 cups flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

Beat water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of honey or maple syrup until frothy and let stand a few minutes.

Add flour, olive oil and another tablespoon of honey or maple syrup.

Mix pizza dough and let stand covered for a few minutes in a warm place. Separate dough into one-third and two-thirds. Spread smaller dough in a greased glass pie dish and prick the bottom with a fork to keep it from rising. Spread the larger batch of dough on a round pizza pan greased with olive oil. Prick the bottom and bake both crusts for 5 minutes or so at 400 degrees.


1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

Oregano and parsley flakes — about 1 teaspoon each or to taste

Dash of cumin

1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup


Chopped sun-dried tomato pieces or dollops of sun-dried tomato pesto sauce

Shredded mozzarella cheese

4 very thin tomato slices fried in a bit of olive oil long enough to cook off most of the water (to keep the tomatoes from making the crust soggy)

1/2 chopped red bell pepper

1 small can sliced black olives

1/2 can mango (you may substitute pineapple) chopped into small pieces, well drained

Combine sauce ingredients. Break up the pesto (if using) into small bits with fingers. Remove both crusts from oven.

On the smaller pizza, use only sauce and mozzarella cheese for those who just have to have cheese.

Top the larger pizza with sauce and the other toppings. Return both pizzas to oven and bake until crusts are golden-brown and bits of sun-dried tomato pesto start to darken.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

About lactose intolerance

People who are unable to tolerate dairy products lack an enzyme in the small intestine called lactase that breaks down the lactose in milk, cheese and other dairy products.

Kelly Powell, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes instructor with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, said there are two main types of lactose intolerance: primary and secondary.

“Primary is the most common, and it usually occurs later in life,” she says. Primary lactose intolerance is where the crucial enzyme is missing. “And there potentially is a genetic component to become intolerant to lactose.”

Secondary lactose intolerance normally is caused by some injury to the small intestine or disease.

“There are tests to diagnose it, but in all reality what we recommend is that people eliminate lactose and then reintroduce small amounts to see if the symptoms come back,” Powell says.

“Some people can tolerate 8 ounces of milk and are lactose intolerant, while some people couldn’t tolerate even 2 ounces of milk.”

Powell says some cheeses, particularly aged cheeses, have less lactose.

“The aged chesses are typically a little better tolerated,” she says. “But cottage cheese is not tolerated, usually.

“Ice cream does give people a lot of trouble and so does pudding, which is made with milk,” she says. “Try sherbet or something similar.”

Powell says there is an increased risk of becoming lactose intolerant among certain ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians.

For those who want to continue using dairy products, there are lactose-free milk products, usually based on soy. There also are enzyme drops and tablets that can help.

The State Journal-Register