I personally taste-tested various halloumi substitutes to find the best one for every occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitutes for halloumi are paneer, panela, or Tropical Queso de Freír (a type of queso blanco). All of these cheeses will hold up on a grill without melting and have a mild flavor. For a vegan alternative, you can use marinated tofu. And for something more melty, try provolone.
I grilled up each of the suggested substitutes to taste-test them and compare the texture to halloumi.
Halloumi is a semi-hard, unripened cheese traditionally made from sheep’s milk (although now it’s mainly made from cow’s milk). It’s renowned for its squeaky texture and unique ability to stay firm under high heat. It has a mildly salty flavor, sometimes with a hint of mint, and it’s mostly served grilled or fried.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Paneer||Mild and milky flavor||9/10|
|Panela||Doesn’t brown as much||9/10|
|Marinated tofu||Vegan option||9/10|
|Tropical Queso de Freír||Salty flavor||8/10|
|Homemade halloumi||Cheaper option||8/10|
|Provolone||Soften but not too quickly||7/10|
|Bread Cheese||Rich and buttery flavor||8/10|
Paneer is a fresh cheese commonly used in South Asian cuisine. I’m a massive fan of paneer in curries, so I was already familiar with this cheese and thought of it straight away.
It’s also an acid-set cheese, so it doesn’t melt and holds its shape well under high heat. It’s slightly more crumbly than halloumi though, which is very firm and dense. In terms of flavor, paneer is milder with a milky taste and doesn’t have the same saltiness as halloumi. You can always salt the paneer yourself though.
Another advantage of paneer is that it’s really easy to make at home with milk and lemon juice or vinegar. This also means it’s a cost-effective option.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with paneer.
Panela is a staple in Mexican cuisine and is known for its light and fresh flavor, with a very subtle sweetness (in contrast to halloumi’s robust saltiness). But its flavor isn’t why it’s a good alternative to halloumi, its texture is.
Just like halloumi, it will hold its shape while grilling or frying and has a chewy bite. When I was grilling it, it didn’t hold up as well as halloumi but it was still easy to handle and flip.
Because of the higher moisture content, the panela also didn’t brown as much as halloumi. But despite these small differences, it’s still a very decent substitute.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with panela.
Tofu is a versatile and widely available halloumi cheese substitute that’s vegan and budget-friendly. It’s also a healthier choice with less saturated fat.
You’ll need to use extra-firm tofu and a marinade is essential – otherwise your ‘halloumi’ won’t taste of anything. There are lots of recipes online with different marinades, but they generally include ingredients like lemon juice, salt, mint, olive oil, miso, black pepper, or nutritional yeast. For best results, always aim to marinate the tofu overnight.
I recommend cutting pretty thin strips of tofu because I find these crisp up better in the pan and have a nicer texture than thicker slices.
Pro tip: Some people like to freeze and thaw their tofu to give it a spongier, more meat-like texture that will soak up marinades more easily.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with marinated tofu.
Tropical Queso de Freír (or Queso Blanco)
Tropical Queso de Freír means “frying cheese” in Spanish. It’s produced specifically so it can hold its shape under high heat and has a very high melting point. One small difference is that it becomes pretty creamy on the inside as it cooks, while halloumi stays rubbery.
Both cheeses have a salty flavor, but exactly how salty will vary by brand. But Tropical Queso de Freír is mild and uncomplex apart from that, while halloumi has a more robust tangy flavor.
Psst… you can also use Queso blanco which has a softer, crumblier texture so won’t hold its shape as well but also wont melt on the grill.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with Tropical Queso de Freír or Queso blanco.
If time is no issue and you don’t mind some DIY work, making your own halloumi is surprisingly easy, even if you’re a complete novice with cheese making. It’s a pretty forgiving cheese because there are no complex aging or culturing processes. It’s also cheaper than buying it from the store.
You’ll need: milk (preferably goat’s or sheep’s milk for authenticity, but cow’s milk will work), rennet, and salt. The easiest way to buy rennet is to get it online.
The process involves heating the milk, adding rennet to turn it into curds, and then pressing the curds after cooking them. The final step is to boil the cheese in a brine solution, which gives halloumi its characteristic salty taste and chewy texture. I recommend watching this YouTube video if you want more information.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade halloumi.
Provolone is a common Italian cheese that you can use as a tasty alternative to halloumi. It’s not technically a “grilling” cheese because it will soften and melt on the grill, but not so quickly that you can’t flip it.
You’ll want to start with a good quality, hard provolone cut into thick slices. Then grill on medium heat, flipping regularly. I also lightly oiled each side to ensure an easy release from the grill.
The end result was a melty, gooey cheese with a smokey but sharp flavor profile. I highly recommend serving it with some crunchy bread. Perfection!
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with provolone.
Bread Cheese (also known as Juustoleipä in Finnish) is a great halloumi alternative if you like the sound of a rich, buttery cheese. It’s a baked cheese that’s traditionally made with reindeer milk, but you’ll often find it made with cow’s milk now.
The name bread cheese comes from the golden-brown crust the cheese develops after it’s baked. The cheese has a springy, dense texture similar to halloumi and a caramelized flavor. It will hold its shape when heated but softens nicely on the inside leaving you with a crispy outside and a gooey inside.
Pro tip: In Finland, bread cheese is traditionally dunked in coffee.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with bread cheese.
Feta and halloumi are both popular Mediterranean cheeses and while feta isn’t as similar to halloumi as some of the other substitutes on this list it is super easy to get hold of whatever country you’re in.
Feta is more salty and tangy than halloumi, so you won’t need to use as much of it to get a similar flavor. And while it’s normally eaten raw, you can bake or grill it. Feta will soften significantly when heated, but it won’t melt into a liquid state because of its acidic nature.
The inside will get super creamy and the outside will get slightly crispy and golden brown. For best results, grill the feta in a block. If you slice it too thinly it will soften too quickly.
How to substitute: Replace halloumi in a 1:1 ratio with feta, using slightly less if you want a more mild flavor.
Other substitute options
The options above are my top picks for halloumi substitutes, but they’re not the only options. Here are some more cheeses that make good substitutes for halloumi, if you can find them. They’re more niche, and you’ll likely have to go to a specialty shop to find them which is why they’re not included on the main list.
- Kefalotyri: This is a hard, salty cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It has a strong flavor and is often used in grating, but it can also be fried or grilled, much like halloumi.
- Graviera: Graviera is one of the most popular cheeses in Greece. It’s a versatile cheese that can range in texture from semi-hard to hard. It’s sweeter than halloumi but can be sliced and grilled or fried.
- Kasseri (Greece): This semi-hard cheese is made predominantly from sheep’s milk and can be fried or grilled, though it melts more readily than halloumi.
- Scamorza (Italy): A cow’s milk cheese, similar to mozzarella. It can be found in a smoked variety and has a firmer texture, making it suitable for grilling.
Substitutes to avoid
While I was researching there were a few suggestions that I don’t recommend.
Mozzarella: Mozzarella has a really soft texture, a mild flavor, and it’s not suitable for grilling. It’s not a good swap for halloumi!
Tempeh / Seitan / Mushrooms: These swaps were suggested because halloumi is sometimes used as a meat substitute and so are these. But they’re so different from halloumi that using them instead would fundamentally change the dish.
Parmesan: Parmesan is flavorsome and robust, but it’s a hard cheese that’s primarily used as a garnish not as a main ingredient like halloumi. They’re very different.
Saganaki: This isn’t a cheese! It’s a Greek dish that often involves frying cheeses like halloumi.
Best Halloumi Substitutes + 4 To Avoid
- 1 portion paneer
- 1 portion panela
- 1 portion marinated tofu
- 1 portion Tropical Queso de Freír
- 1 portion homemade halloumi
- 1 portion provolone
- 1 portion bread cheese
- 1 portion feta
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen halloumi substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.