If you’re already vegan or vegetarian, you’ll know being stocked up on your favourite trusty vegan ingredients makes life much easier (and more delicious).
However, if you’re new to the game it can be a bit daunting to know what to cook and what add to your shopping list.
Plus, it’s all the more confusing when supermarket aisles are bursting with branded vegan products, which are often expensive and highly processed.
Likewise, you’ll find yourself in a similar quandary if you’re simply trying to eat more veg and cut down on meat, like a growing number of the population.
In fact, as well as a rise in the number of vegans and veggies, a 2021 report found 16% of Irish people stick to a ‘flexitarian’ diet. This sounds pretty extreme, but it’s simply a health focused plant-leaning food lifestyle that occasionally includes meat or fish.
Whatever you want to call it, eating less meat and dairy doesn’t mean that you need to go down the route of highly processed vegan replacements.
Instead, with a couple of whole-food vegan ingredients you can make affordable, healthy and delicious meals in a jiffy. Read on for our guide to what vital vegan cooking essentials you need to stock your kitchen with.
Dive into the world of grains and pulses, investigate tofu and tempeh, experiment with chia seeds or get involved with miso paste. These ingredients will add protein, texture, and flavour to whatever you’re cooking – we promise you won’t miss cheese!
10 Essential Vegan Ingredients: Vegan Cooking Staples To Stock Up On
Any self respecting vegan is never without a stash of nuts in their bag. However, nuts are much more than a healthy, tasty snack. Nuts are also extremely versatile as vegan ingredients for both cooking and baking.
For example, you can toss toasted almonds into salads, turn pine nuts into pesto, or use them to make nut milk or butter. Cashews are also great for making vegan desserts, creamy sauces and even vegan ‘cheese’.
Of course, they’re also pretty exceptional for your health too.
2. Vegan Milk
Milk is a staple ingredient for cooking, so it makes sense to sub in a plant based alternative. From oat and almond, to the more obscure cashew and hemp, each variety has its own strengths. While oat is great in coffee, for example, you might also stock up on coconut for smoothies and curries.
To help you choose among the many non-dairy ‘mylks’ available, we’ve created a guide to the best vegan milk alternatives (*link*). It includes all the need to know facts on taste, nutrition, and (for all you coffee lovers) foaming ability.
3. Beans & Lentils
Dried or canned, beans and lentils are endlessly versatile as vegan ingredients for all types of meals, plus they are nutritional powerhouses too. If you’ve a tin of one or some of the many varieties in your pantry you open yourself up to a world of culinary possibilities.
Beans and lentils add heartiness and depth to pretty much any dish, from salads and soups to pasta and pilafs. You can make endless varieties of hummus using any bean too. What’s more, you use leftover bean juice as an egg replacer. Try whipping up chickpea water (aquafaba) into meringue if you don’t believe us!
4. Tofu or Tempeh
Tofu and the lesser known tempeh are both made from soy beans and brilliant sources of vegan protein. Eaten plain they are pretty bland, however, they are sponges for flavour. Keep a block of either in your fridge or freezer, ready to marinade and season how you wish, then bake or fry, add to curries, stir fries, sandwiches and salads.
You can even crumble and cook tofu or tempeh like mince meat. It’s a delicious addition to any salad or buddha bowl, and can be used as an alternative to taco meat. And while extra firm tofu is best for baking and drying, vacuum-packed silken tofu can also be used to blend into dressings and puddings.
Get to know your grains and you’ll add a whole other layer to your cooking. Using a variety of grains boosts nutrition, texture, flavour, and makes vegan cooking more interesting.
There’s a vast array to explore and choose from. Keep your pantry stocked with the likes of brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, spelt, farro, millet, and bulgur. Add to soups, salads and strews, or simply serve on the side of a dish. Many can be blitz in a food processor into flours for baking too.
6. Dried Herbs & Spices
Make friends with your spice rack and you’ll never have a bland meal every again. A dash here and there can instantly bring ingredients to life, transform the flavour profile of a dish, and transport you to a different part of the world. Try cumin and paprika in hearty Moroccan themed stews, or turmeric and coriander for Indian-inspired curries.
And it’s not only savoury dishes that can benefit from a little spice. Cinnamon, vanilla, and cardamom are among the spices you can use to enliven your baking. Even a touch of freshly cracked black pepper elevates the natural flavour of fresh strawberries.
7. Nutritional Yeast
Although you may have never heard of nutritional yeast, its one of the vegan ingredients that deserves the most praise. It looks and sounds a little funky, but once you try it you won’t ever want to be without it.
Nutritional yeast, affectionately known as nooch or hippy dust, is deactivated brewer’s yeast. These yellow flakes have a yeasty, almost cheesy, flavour that adds oomph to basically any savoury dish. Try it sprinkled into soups, stews and sauces, or on avo toast, potatoes and popcorn.
What’s more, nutritional yeast is often found fortified with vitamin B12, a vitamin vegan diets are often lacking in.
8. Miso Paste
Miso paste is a versatile Japanese seasoning made from fermented soy beans. It’s loaded with the fifth taste, umami (think deep savouriness), and a little of this can go a long way to boosting flavour. Miso is also a great source of antioxidants, dietary fibre and protein.
You’ll find lots of varieties; dark, light, brown rice, white – each has a different depth of flavour. Use it to make miso soup, as dressings for salad, glazes for vegetables and tofu. And you haven’t lived until you’ve tried miso roast potatoes.
9. Chia or Flax Seeds
Chia and flax seeds are both exceptionally high in fibre, omega-3s, proteins, and heart healthy fats. In fact, they’ve so much fibre that they tend to become sticky when mixed with water. This helps slow down your digestion and increase feelings of fullness. What’s more, this trait has culinary benefits. When combined with a little bit of water, fax or chia seeds also work as an egg substitute in baking.
There are endless other ways you can incorporate them in cooking and baking too. Try simply stirring into porridge, mixed into smoothies, and baked into breads and muffins.
Just like peanut butter is made from blended peanuts, tahini is a ‘butter’ made from blended sesame seeds. It has a mid, subtle flavour and is rich in minerals, protein, vitamin E, and B vitamins.
Hailing from the Middle East, it’s traditionally used in hummus, sauces and with falafel. However, tahini is endlessly adaptable. Try on fresh fruit for a snack, spread on bread just like butter, use in baking, or blend into sauces for a creamy finish. Try mixing with miso paste, lemon juice and garlic, and drizzled over steamed vegetables, tofu, or tempeh.
Anything else I need to add to my basket?
For sure, a plant based diet can be a wholly nutritious one, but even the best planned vegan diet can fall short of meeting certain nutrient requirements.
To help you ensure you’re ticking all the boxes, we’ve put together a guide to the top recommended vegan supplements (*link*). If you’re committed to eating a plant based diet these might be worth adding to your shopping list.
A final note, when making any major change to your diet it’s always wise to first speak to your doctor, who can offer tailored advice about which vegan supplements you might need to consider.