Vegan Basics 101
Ever read a vegan recipe and been like well this looks tasty, but what the frig are all these weird ingredients? Before giving up and moving on to a simpler dinner option, well then this guide is for you!
Vegan Basics 101 is a handy guide to those tricky mysterious vegan ingredients! What they are, where you can find them, and whether they are really worth wasting your hard earned cash on.
Nutritional yeast/ Nooch - Nutritional yeast, also known as nooch, at over £3 can seem like an expensive ingredient but I promise you it is worth the money and the never ending appreciation it gets off vegans. Cheese is one of those things people swear they can not exist without and because of this main stream supermarkets have switched on to the rising demand for vegan cheese. But it's pricey! At about £2.50 a block, and the blocks are not normal cheese block size, it is something I buy as a treat. Also as it's a highly processed coconut oil it probably has little to no nutritional value. Nutritional yeast on the other hand is sold in a huge tub! And is very nutritionally dense. It contains B12, a nutrition which can be lacking in vegan diets. This is because B12 is produced by a bacteria in soil, when animals eat plants they ingest some soil, as the majority of us now eat processed and washed vegetables from supermarkets we don't get our B12 from plants. And so most people get it from meat. However many vegan milks are supplemented with B12 and nutritonal yeast is a power house for it. It is also nutritionally dense in a number of other vitamins. Nutritonal yeast, with it's cheesey nutty flavour, can be used on like everything as well, sprinkled over pasta, in beans to jazz up a simple brekkie of beans on toast, on potatoes and pizzas, in cheese sauces and you can even craft your own cheeses! Find my favourite homemade vegan cheese recipe here.
tamiri/coconut aminos - Both of this ingredients are basically just soy sauce. Tamiri is gluten free soy sauce, if you're not worried about gluten, then use soy sauce, it's cheaper! Coconut aminos is a product that has taken off among health food blogs, it's a healthy version of soy sauce. It contains only organic coconut tree sap and organic sea salt. While the soy sauce we buy in supermarkets often contains a lot of chemical ingredients, but as long as you're not rinsing every meal in it, I'm reckon it's not too bad (I have no evidence to back this up at all, this is just what I expect). However from what I can find online it tends to be quite expensive. So if you're not too bothered about ultimate health or you're on a budget go for soy. And maybe invest in some coconut aminos once you've got vegan food down!
miso paste - miso paste is a paste made from fermented soy beans, rice, salt and koji (a fungus) from Japan. It has a deep smoky, salty flavour. It is very useful in Asian cooking, marinades, dressings and can be added to vegan cheese creations to give it a smoky flavour. Click here to see my vegan Camembert recipe which uses miso. A 300g jar is around £3 and can last in the fridge for around 6 months once opened. However I don't use it on a daily basis, I would recommend waiting to buy it until a recipe you are following requires it, and then once you have it try playing around with it more.
agave syrup/nectar - agave is a cactus like plant native to Mexico and South America. The sap is harvested and used as a natural sugar alternative. I often use agave in baking as I'm diabetic and it contains less glucose than processed white sugar. There are other alternatives too, like maple, date and fruit syrup all of which can be found in most supermarkets these days. If you aren't worried about your sugar consumption then it is cheaper to use classic sugar. Agave also makes a great substitute for honey, so any recipe requiring honey is easily veganised with this simple swap.
Seitan - Seitan is wheat gluten, the main protein in wheat, and originates from Asia. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten. It is often used as a meat substitute. Seitan is definitely not an essential vegan product, (I have never actually made it or cooked it. Obviously it's not gluten free so won't make an appearance on this blog, although I have eaten it at restaurants). It is however very tasty and if you fancy having an experiment with it then definitely give it a try. But if you're just starting out on your vegan journey don't sweat the seitan!
Tofu - Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made by coagulating soy milk and the resulting curds are pressed into blocks. It also originates from Asia. You can buy tofu in most supermarkets and at about £2 a block it is reasonably priced. It often requires pressing before use, as it comes in water. You do this by wrapping the block in kitchen towel and placing between two chopping boards. On top of the top chopping board place heavy objects such as pans or books and leave for at least half an hour. It can also be frozen to give it a firmer texture. There are three main types of tofu, silken, firm and extra firm. Silken tofu has a texture not dissimilar from scrambled eggs and is often used in sweet recipes. While firm and extra firm have a firmer texture and are often used as meat substitutes. Tofu has a bland taste on it's own but marinades well and when cooked right is super tasty. Click here for my favourite way to cook tofu.
Aqua faba - Ok this sounds like the most mystery ingredient ever but it's basically just the water from a tin of chickpeas (or the water from any legumes or beans). It can be whipped and used instead of eggs in baking, mayonnaise and meringues. Chickpeas are my preferred source as the water has little flavour or taste. As a vegan you will probably use loads of chickpeas, legumes and beans so you will probably already have this ingredient to hand without even realising it! Once separated from your chickpeas the water can be stored in your fridge for a couple of days. Click here for one of my aqua faba based recipes.
Quinoa - Quinoa is a grain from South America. It is very popular among health foodies and vegans because it is high in protein, dietary fibre, and minerals. It is also gluten free. It is a tasty little grain and can be found in most supermarkets. It makes a interesting change from rice and keeps for a long time, so may well be something you choose to stock your pantry with.
Gram flour - Gram flour is also known as chickpea flour. It is a gluten free flour often used in Indian cuisine. It is perfect for making vegetable bhajis, as well as thickening soups and sauces. You can also use it to make imitation vegan omelettes. It is a cheap gluten free flour which is often sold in large quantities. Find it in the foreign foods section of most supermarkets. Click here for my vegan veg omelette recipe.
Kimchi/ Sauerkraut - These are both fermented cabbage products. Kimchi orignates from Korea while Sauerkraut originates in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland and Germany. Health foodies are increasingly pushing the benefits of fermented foods, as they promote the growth of good gut bacteria. So both these traditional dishes are gaining popularity. You can purchase both in jars (check the ingredients as a lot of commercial kimchi has fish sauce in) however if you fancy having an experiment and saving some money, try making your own kimchi or sauerkraut. .
Liquid smoke - Liquid smoke is generally made by concentrating the smoke from wood. It is good for vegans as you can add a smokey meaty flavour to vegetables or meat substitutes. However it is expensive. I brought it as a treat to myself and use it sparingly as I want it to last. It's also hard to come buy, I found it at Borough Market but you can find it online. I think you can also achieve a similar flavour using a number of spices, have a look at my Shiitake bacon here to see how I used liquid smoke and an alternative to it too.
Jackfruit - The jackfruit plant originated in southwest India. And then, it spread to other parts of India, southeast Asia, the East Indies, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It's a great meat or fish replacement, as the fruit flesh is flakey and soft. You can find it in Asian supermarkets, and some large supermarkets. It's most often sold in cans in water or brine. It's a cheap ingredient too, I have found it in asia supermarkets for about 70p a can, while in Sainsbury's it's £1.20. As it comes in a can in the UK, it will last for a long time, so you can pick it up when you see it and store it until you need it. Alternatively you can just buy it if a recipe you are using calls for it. It's not something I use super frequently but is definitely handy to have around. You can see how I used it in fish-less tacos here.
Tempeh - Temeph is tofu's less known cousin.Like tofu, tempeh is made from soya beans. But whereas tofu is made from an extract of the ground-up beans, tempeh uses the beans whole, compressed together and fermented to form a block. You can find it in asian supermarkets or you can make your own (you can find a recipe to make your own here). It's another great meat substitute. It can be made into burgers, bacon or added to stir frys. I personally haven't cooked with tempeh, it's not too easy to get hold of, although I would like to try and make my own. I have eaten it out a fair few times, and I've always enjoyed it's chewy, nutty texture.
Nori -Nori is sheets of seaweed, traditionally used in Japanese cooking. It can be eaten alone as a snack, or used in cooking. It works well in vegan cooking to add a taste of the sea to fish imitation dishes, but is also great for making sushi rolls. It's available in large supermarkets and asian supermarkets. It tends to be fairly cheap, around £1.50 a pack from supermarkets, cheaper in asain stores, and can be stored for a long time. You also receive many sheets in a pack. It's not essential but if you have a recipe that calls for nori get some and then see what other ways you can use it in your cooking. You can find my recipes with nori here, here, and here.
Tahini - Tahini is sesame seed paste. It is a key ingredient in hummus, and can also be used in dressings and marinades. One of my personal fave ways to use it, is to massage kale with a dressing of tahini, tamiri/soy sauce and apple cider vinegar. It's sold in large supermarkets, in sainsbury's it's £2.00 for a 180g jar, which isn't exactly cheap. However if you are able to shop around, particularly looking in turkish food shops, you will find it much cheaper. Once open the jar will keep in the fridge for at least a month (I've definitely kept jars for longer than this.) so you can use it again and again. If you like to do a lot of vegan cooking, and/or your the kinda person who wants to make their own hummus from scratch I would recommend buying some. If you are a keep it simple kinda person you maybe wasting your money.
Sriracha - Sriracha is a type of hot sauce. It is used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. It can be found in the foreign food section of most large supermarkets, and in Asian supermarkets. They also make a Sriracha mayo which is vegan, so it's very popular in the vegan community. It is by far my favourite type of hot sauce. You can find it in Sainsbury's for £2.60 for 480ml, which is a large bottle that should last a long time. It's worth buying if you love chilli, and are on the hunt for a hot sauce. It also works super well in marinades, such as here in my best ever tofu.
Tamirind -The tamarind tree produces pod-like fruit that contains an edible pulp used in cuisines around the world. It grows across Africa to South Asia, northern Australia, and throughout Oceania, Southeast Asia, Taiwan and China. It is traditionally used in dishes such as pad Thai, and in Western cuisines is found in Worcestershire and HP sauce. You can find the pods themselves, or buy it in a pre-made paste. If you need to use it in cooking I would recommend the paste as it will save you time, and waste if you are unlikely to use the ingredient regularly. The paste most commonly found in the UK uses the young fruit so has a sour taste. As tamarind ripens it becomes sweeter. I don't use tamarind regularly in my cooking, so I wouldn't really recommend buying it, however it is nice to add to curries, and stir fries if you have it available.
Bulgur wheat - Bulgur wheat is a cereal based food, made from cracked parboiled wheat. It is the main ingredient in tabouleh, and is traditionally used in middle eastern cooking. It can be found in large supermarkets and Turkish food shops. It is a handy store cupboard ingredient if you like to switch up your grains.
Flax/lindseeds - flaxseeds and linseeds are the same thing. You can buy them milled or whole. one tablespoon of Milled flaxseeds can be mixed with 3 tablespoons of water to create flax eggs. The milled flaxseeds absorb the water and create an egg like gooey texture which can be used as an egg replacement in baking. FLaxseeds can also be used in smoothies, granola, and to bulk things out such as burgers or meatless balls. They are incredibly healthy, containing high levels of protein, dietary fibre, several b vitamins and dietary minerals. You can find them in large packs in large supermarkets and health food shops. a 425g bad in Sainsbury's is £5.50 which isn't cheap. But a little goes a long way with these seeds, and you will have that bag for a long old time. Flax seeds are very useful in vegan baking, and I'm constantly reaching for them, so if you like to bake a lot they are definitely worth the investment.
Hemp seeds/ hemp hearts - Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant. Once hulled they are often known as hemp hearts. They are incredibly dense in nutrients, including omegas 3 and 6. (something vegans can often be accused of missing in their diet because we don't eat fish.) They are incredibly tasty, they have a mild nutty flavour and are a great addition to salads or a gluten free substitute to cous cous. You can find hemp seeds in health food shops and large supermarkets. Despite all the positives to hemp it is very expensive (and apparently according to huffington post still not legal for edible consumption in Australia as of 2017), coming in at £4 for 225g at Sainsbury's. I would recommend not investing in hemp unless you really know you want to make something with it,as its a pretty pricey store cupboard ingredient. Click here for my hemp tabbouleh recipe.
Cacao - Cacao is any food product from the cacao bean that remains raw. It is basically the raw derivatives of chocolate. cacao comes in a variety of forms, most comonly cacao powder or cacao nibs. Cacao is big in the health food community, as being raw it believed to have more health benefits that cocoa. I personally love the deep bitter taste of cacao. I regularly use it in baking and as a hot drink. To make hot cacao I warm a cup of milk and add it to a large teaspoon of cacao powder and a couple of teaspoons of agave. Cacao is more expensive than it's roasted cousin cocoa, so if you are on a budget choose cocoa. I also find the powder much more versatile than the nibs, so if you are looking to splash out on one cacao product make it the powder.