You may have chosen to start eating a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons.
Maybe you saw a documentary that changed your mind about the way animals are treated in industrial settings.
Maybe you know someone who is vegan and admired the health benefits they derived from this way of living.
Maybe you were raised vegan and can’t imagine eating any other way.
Whatever brought you to a vegan diet, there are bound to be foods that you occasionally long for, either from your pre-vegan days or just because they look or smell so good to you.
For expectant mothers in particular, food cravings are often a big part of the experience of pregnancy, and your cravings may not be strictly vegan.
However, it is a great time to be vegan because there are so many excellent vegan options at your local grocery store or available to you online. In fact, there is virtually no food that you can imagine that a creative vegan chef has not discovered a substitute for.
You don’t have to give up anything to eat a healthy, happy vegan diet, and you have so much to gain in renewed health and vitality.
VEGAN MEAT SUBSTITUTES
Here are some of the best vegan meat substitutes you can use in place of animal ingredients.
Sometimes called “wheat meat,” seitan is derived from the gluten in wheat and is a popular meat substitute due to its texture, which is exceptionally close to that of many meats. It is used as the base for a number of commercial faux meat preparations like Tofurkey.
Because it is wheat gluten based, it is not an option for those vegans who are also sensitive to or allergic to gluten or for those suffering from celiac disease. However, there are commercially available gluten substitutes which can allow you to enjoy seitan’s texture and culinary versatility without the gluten.
For the rest of us, however, seitan offers an alternative to meat that is impressively close to the real thing in many preparations.
Because its flavor is fairly bland, seitan can stand in for meat in many dishes which are heavily flavored or sauced. This makes it a great option for Asian cooking, and it is often used in that cuisine as a meat substitute. In addition, seitan holds up well to grilling and other high-heat preparations.
Soy-based tofu is probably the best known meat substitute, in part because it was one of the first widely available sources of plant-based protein.
Tofu comes in a variety of textures from soft tofu which is sometimes used for its creamy, velvety texture, to firm or extra-firm tofu which holds up better under heat. Because of its wide variability in texture, it is a popular choice for many preparations.
Because it is exceedingly bland, tofu takes on the character of whatever flavors it is paired with, thus it is essential to either include a variety of herbs and spices in the preparation of tofu or a sauce in the dish. Tofu can be used in cold preparations like a salad, or in hot preparations like a stir fry.
Although it is derived from soy as well, tempeh has a very different flavor and somewhat different uses from tofu. Tempeh is fermented tofu, and has an earthy flavor, often compared to either nuts or mushrooms.
The fermentation process and the resulting increase in bioavailability means tempeh offers twice the protein power of tofu, making it a great addition to any plant-based diet.
Tempeh can be prepared in a variety of ways and is appropriate for baking, frying, grilling, and other options. One interesting application is blackened tempeh, using cajun spices, so if you are missing cajun or creole cuisine, tempeh might be a good option for a vegan version.
Mushrooms are an exceptionally good source of the chewy and substantial texture many people miss in their vegan diet. While chopped or sliced mushrooms are often added to sauces, salads, and other dishes to give them a bit more body, mushrooms also make a great meat substitute in other preparations.
Mushrooms can be used well as a filler when added to other ingredients in order to create vegetarian “meatballs” or patties.
In addition, a portabello mushroom can be marinated and grilled for an excellent burger substitute that’s almost as satisfying as the real thing. Meaty portabellos are also popular in Italian dishes like lasagna, providing the texture and heft of meat.
Although it is a fruit, the jackfruit creates an oddly compelling meat substitute. Because of its texture, it mimics the expected form of pulled chicken or pork, making it an excellent substitute in a variety of dishes.
Jackfruit can make a convincing barbecue, but is also very popular in Indian and Mexican dishes where chopped meat is often featured. And like other meat substitutes, its bland flavor takes on the intense flavor of the sauces and spices that are the stars in those cuisines.
One caveat about jackfruit which has been of some concern for vegan food writers is the lack of protein it contains. Since many meat substitutes are also protein substitutes, do not confuse jackfruit with a more protein-intensive option like tempeh or legumes. It’s benefit as a meat substitute is primarily culinary and textural, not nutritional.
BEANS OR LENTILS
Forming the protein basis of many traditionally plant-based diets around the world and across cultures, beans and lentils provide excellent nutrition and are an integral part of most vegan diets. In addition, they are a great meat substitute and can be used in a variety of preparations and cuisines.
Many of the best burger substitutes involve black beans or other legumes. In addition, lentils can make a chili or curry so convincing that even the most devoted omnivore would not object. In addition, the ubiquity and popularity of falaffels prove that even beloved “meatballs” are improved when beans are their base.
Eggplant is a popular substitute for meat in a variety of dishes, especially those with an Italian flavor profile. Whether used in veggie lasagnas or breaded and fried for an eggplant parmesan, eggplant’s chewy texture lends itself well to a variety of applications.
Eggplant especially benefits from long, low and slow roasting, which allows it to break down its fibers and soften considerably.
Like jackfruit, eggplant as a meat substitute should not be confused with eggplant as a protein substitute.
Eggplant has very little real nutritional value, and is more often prized for its texture than for any other nutritional contribution to a dish or a meal.
However, slow roasted eggplant in combination with a more protein rich element, like beans, makes both even better.
Another vegetable which is often used in veggie-based Italian foods is zucchini. Perhaps because it is so readily available, and in part because it tends to maintain its form more than its mushier squash cousins, zucchini is often used to add body and heft to traditionally meat based dishes.
Zucchini, like beans and other legumes, can be used effectively to create a burger-like patty.
Interestingly, aside from its use as a meat substitute, the popularity of spiral slicers have given zucchini another job as zoodles or zucchini noodles. These can make a fun addition to the vegan diet, offering even more veggie goodness in traditional pasta dishes.
VEGAN DAIRY PRODUCT SUBSTITUTES
There are many vegan diary substitutes and here you can find one of them.
VEGAN MILK SUBSTITUTES
Vegan dairy lovers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to plant-based milk alternatives. Soy milk, nut milks, and coconut milks abound and are widely available in the grocery aisles as well as in restaurants and coffee shops.
Plant-based milks are available in fattier and lower fat varieties, in half and halfs and other iterations for almost any taste or use.
Of these options soy milk is generally favored by nutritionists due to the higher saturated fat content of coconut milk and the lower protein content of nut milks. As for calcium, these substitutes generally fortify their milk with added calcium in order to give it a similar nutritional profile to dairy milk.
One thing that may give vegans pause is the addition of sugar, carrageenan, and other ingredients to improve texture and taste in milk substitutes. If part of your diet includes an avoidance of added sugars or highly processed foods, you might want to limit your intake of alternative dairy.
VEGAN YOGURT SUBSTITUTES
Soy milk yogurt is the most popular yogurt substitute since it closely mimics the taste and texture of dairy yogurt. In addition, it is easily made at home using soy milk and probiotics, so even in areas where there is not a large selection of vegan products, many vegans choose to make their own vegan yogurt.
For those who avoid soy due to the processing involved in its production, other yogurt substitutes include those made with rice milk, coconut milk, and arrowroot. While each has its adherents, most people find that either taste, texture, or both is compromised with these preparations.
Coconut yogurt is probably the closest to traditional yogurt and, like soy yogurt, can be homemade.
Coconut yogurt is probably the closest to traditional yogurt and, like soy yogurt, can be homemade.
VEGAN CHEESE SUBSTITUTES
“But I couldn’t live without cheese!” This is the refrain of many a reluctant omnivore, who would like to be vegan but can’t imagine their life without cheese.
It would seem that the production of a truly great vegan cheese would result in instant worldwide veganism.
There are many options for vegan cheese, although some supposedly vegan cheeses use non-vegan processes and ingredients that compromise their acceptance by strict vegans.
Many others do not provide the texture or taste that one expects in a cheese substitute.
As with many things, time and experimentation to find the product that suits your individual preference is time well spent.
Commercially Prepared Vegan Cheese
Many store-bought vegan cheeses are severely lacking in either texture or flavor. Daiya is probably the most popular brand of commercially available vegan cheese. It comes in a variety of styles and preparations, including both shredded and sliced varieties, and is a fairly good substitute for most people.
Homemade Vegan Cheese
Homemade vegan cheese is an increasingly viable option for the vegan who wants better results than commercial preparations currently offer. A fairly passable cashew based cheese is easy enough for even the least chef-like among us, and some vegan cookbooks are entirely devoted to artisan-level vegan cheesecraft.
Foods like crumbled soft tofu, avocado, or nutritional yeast offer the flavor profile and creamy textures of cheese without actually being cheese or artificial cheese substitutes. These are often popular in recipes and give the impression of cheese rather than the flavor of cheese, with more nutrition than store-bought and less labor than homemade.
VEGAN BUTTER SUBSTITUTES
There are many margarines that are made from vegetable oils that are commonly considered vegan. However, care should be exercised as some of them still contain small amounts of casein, whey, lactose or other dairy byproducts.
Rather than processed faux butter, try whole food alternatives to butter. Olive oil, herbs, and spices make a terrific topping for bread or toast. Coconut oil has the consistency of butter and works well in many cooking preparations where butter would otherwise be used.
Nut butters are popular, of course. And onion butter–onions sliced thinly and cooked over very low heat for hours until they are completely soft and have released all of their natural sugars-makes a delectable, golden buttery substitute.
VEGAN CHOCOLATE SUBSTITUTES
For vegans, the problem with chocolate is not in the cacao but in the dairy products added to create most chocolate preparations. Think of your average milk chocolate bar with caramel and you will see how chocolate in general got a reputation as non-vegan.
However, with the rising popularity of dark chocolate, many commercially available chocolate bars are “accidentally” vegan, containing no whey, casein, or other milk or milk-derived elements.
Dark chocolate from Green and Black, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and many other vendors contain no dairy whatsoever and are acceptable for vegan consumption. Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup is also vegan. Check the labels to ensure your favorite chocolate product is vegan, then enjoy.
VEGAN ICE CREAM SUBSTITUTES
You need something for refreshment? Here are ice cream vegan substitutes!
Commercial Vegan Ice Creams
There are many commercially available vegan ice creams on the market, ranging from soy-based to nut milk-based to coconut-based. As with yogurts, soy-based seems to enjoy the most popularity as it is most closely associated with traditional dairy ice cream in both taste and texture.
One increasingly popular substitute that many vegans employ is perhaps unexpected–banana puree. Peeled and frozen ahead of time for at least 24 hours, bananas can then be placed in a blender and pureed until smooth. Even with no flavor added, their natural sweetness is delicious on its own.
Adding other elements like berries, chocolate (vegan, of course) and other additions makes it even better. Top with some vegan Hershey’s syrup and a cherry and you’ll enjoy a vegan ice cream sundae that can’t be beaten.
Similar to fruit purees, sorbet is a great vegan alternative to ice cream. Readily available in stores and ice cream shops, it is a convenient substitute when you are on the go. The only caveat with sorbet is the high sugar content in many commercial preparations.
If you are trying to watch your sugar consumption or if you are concerned that the sugar may be sourced or processed in a non-vegan manner, stick to homemade versions or fruit purees.
OTHER VEGAN FOOD SUBSTITUTES
There are other vegan food substitutes like fish, honey and eggs substitutes as well…
VEGAN FISH SUBSTITUTES
Many recipes for fish stand-ins are available, and most employ tofu. This versatile soy-based product makes a believable substitute for shrimp, crab, and many other fish-based preparations. In addition, crumbled tofu can make an excellent cold salad to take the place of the tuna salad you may be missing.
Fish sauce is an ingredient in many Asian preparations which gives unparalleled flavor as an ingredient or dip. Miso, wakame, and other ocean plants and plant-based derivatives mock the flavors of the sea in a vegan form.
VEGAN HONEY SUBSTITUTES
Many people are surprised on first going vegan to find that honey is not a vegan food.
However, veganism is not just about avoiding the eating of flesh but also the exploitation of animals, honey is not consumed by vegans.
One popular honey substitute is agave nectar, which offers a similar texture and flavor to honey.
Other options tend to have stronger or different flavors, but are still enjoyable for most vegans.
Molasses and maple syrup are two of these naturally derived syrups which can stand in for honey, especially in baked goods or other food preparations.
Blackstrap molasses in particular has excellent food value as a source of iron, and is often eaten in small quantities on a daily basis as a supplement to ensure sufficient absorption of this important mineral.
VEGAN SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
Many vegans choose not to consume white sugar because it is difficult to determine whether it has been processed using vegan production methods. Therefore, vegans choose more natural, less processed alternatives like coconut palm sugar, date sugar, or maple sugar. In addition, plant-derived stevia is an increasingly popular alternative, widely available and with a very low glycemic index.
If texture is of little concern, vegan sweeteners like molasses and maple syrup may be perfectly acceptable alternatives. Again, however, they tend to be more highly flavored than standard sugars, which may not be desirable for some uses.
VEGAN EGG SUBSTITUTES
For many egg preparations, tofu is the go-to for vegan cooks.
A delicious faux egg salad can be made from mashed tofu. A tofu scramble is the breakfast of choice for many vegans. Those who are a bit more comfortable in the kitchen may also create delicious tofu omelets. In addition, tofu mayonnaise is easy to make at home and may be even tastier than the original.
In baked goods, especially those with a dense texture like brownies, tofu makes an excellent egg substitute. For lighter preparations, however, a baking soda and vinegar preparation may be preferable.
When combined with water in a 1:3 ratio and allowed to soak, ground flaxseeds make a serviceable substitute for eggs in baked goods.
They also provide a great nutritional boost because of the higher levels of Omega 3 they contain. And unlike flaxseed oil, which is sensitive to heat, the Omega 3 oils in ground flaxseed remain bioavailable when baked.
VEGAN GELATIN SUBSTITUTES
Many people do not think of gelatin as a non-vegan product, but traditional gelatin is prepared as a by-product of animal processing.
There are three primary vegan gelatin options-agar, carrageenan, and a product called Vegan Jel by Natural Desserts. According to most cooks, Vegan Jel is by far the superior product.
A combination of vegetable gum, adipic acid, tapioca dextrin, calcium phosphate, and potassium citrate, Vegan Jel is probably not optimal for someone eating a minimally processed vegan diet. But for those who are more concerned with the texture and vegan bonafides of the gel rather than the processing, Vegan Jel is an excellent product.
The only recipes it might not work optimally in are those with a high acidic content, which tends to break down even non-vegan gelatins.
Making the choice to eat a vegan diet is a commitment.
There is, for most people, a steep learning curve. Nowhere is this more evident than in trying to find out how to incorporate old favorites with a new, and in some cases very different, way of eating.
Part of the joy of food comes from the memories associated with special dishes or meals. When adopting a plant-based diet, there is still the desire for those favorite dishes. The good news? With some thought and experimentation, you can have vegan versions of many of your favorite dishes.
Don’t be satisfied to subsist on just those things that are easiest. Grab a great vegan cookbook and learn to make some of your family favorite meals the vegan way. You’ll be more satisfied than ever with your vegan lifestyle.