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    Categories: Healthy Eating TipsHealthy Kitchen

Vegan Substitutions Guide

If you’re new to plant-based cooking, you may be looking for a guide to vegan substitutions to swap into favorite non-vegan recipes. Thankfully, there are plenty of products vegans can use in place of animal ingredients that will make vegan cooking a breeze. Let’s cover how to replace animal ingredients with vegan ingredients. 

Milk. It’s so easy to substitute for dairy milk in a recipe. You can use soymilk, rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, or nut milk measure for measure. Most supermarkets carry at least a couple of varieties. It’s that easy! If you’re a bit more ambitious you can make your own nondairy milk; there are lots of recipes online, or see ours for homemade almond milk or hemp milk.

Cheese. It’s so easy to find all kinds of vegan cheeses these days, and wow, have these come a long way. You can get slices, blocks, shreds, slices, and more.

In place of cottage or ricotta cheese, you can use crumbled tofu, soaked raw nuts, or a combo. And though it won’t be quite as creamy or meltable as the real thing, it will be very good indeed. See the formula in Italian Eggplant Casserole with Cashew-Tofu Ricotta. You may need to spice it up with herbs and add some salt to make it work in your recipe. Vegan “Parmesan” is super easy to make and better than what’s on the market.

Pizza? No problem. Daiya mozzarella shreds work incredibly well. Cream cheese on your bagel? Daiya has you covered there, too. There are other brands but these are VegKitchen’s favorites.

Be sure to read the label as some vegetarian cheeses contain casein, which is not vegan. If you can find a great vegan cheese that you like, use it in your recipes in the same manner that you would use dairy cheese.

Now, whether you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, you no longer have to give up your favorite cheese-y foods. Or cheese itself! You’ll find these links useful if you’re a cheese lover who wants to reform:

Eggs. A great substitute for scrambled eggs is tofu scramble. You can either use a recipe from a cookbook or simply buy a box of Tofu Scrambler in the store that you then mix with crumbled tofu and heat in a frying pan. Kids generally like tofu scramble, especially kids who have been vegan their entire lives. You can spice it up with tomatoes, peppers, onions, or even potatoes and vegan bacon bits.

In baked goods, good substitutions for eggs include applesauce, pureed soft tofu, Ener-G egg replacer, a flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax seeds plus 3 tablespoons water or other liquid, blended), or mashed bananas. You’ll have to experiment with your recipe to see what works best for you.

In dishes where eggs are usually used for binding (such as meatloaf) you can use oat or soy flour, rolled oats, cooked oatmeal, bread crumbs, instant potato flakes, nut butters, tomato paste, or cornstarch.

Chickpea flour makes amazing omelets, and aquafaba is useful for making recipes that originally call for egg whites, like mousse and meringue. See useful links for these and more:

Beef or chicken stock. Replace beef or chicken stock with vegetable broth. Or use vegetable bouillon cubes.

Butter. There are vegan butters on the market that work well in substituting for butter. Be sure to read the labels because not all margarines are vegan. And sometimes mainstream margarines have questionable ingredients and hydrogenated fats.

You may also want to consider using oils like sunflower or olive instead of vegan butter. If you’d like to go with the major brands, make sure that the palm oil used is Fair Trade, otherwise it’s an environmental hazard. And remember that the jury is still out on coconut oil!

Yogurt. Several companies make vegan yogurts that will substitute well in your recipes — soy, coconut, almond — more varieties are coming on the market each year. You can find them in fruit flavors and also plain for cooking and baking.

Raw or nearly raw beet borscht; photo by Hannah Kaminsky

Sour Cream. Try plain nondairy yogurt, especially if used in making dips. There are also a few commercially available vegan sour creams on the market. Or, you can make your own Vegan Sour Cream using silken tofu. Delicious on all kinds of tortilla specialties and on cold soups like the Borscht shown above.

Photo: Serious Eats

Mayonnaise. There are a few vegan mayonnaise products on the market. You can use vegan mayonnaise exactly the way you’d use non-vegan mayonnaise. Aquafaba can be used to make a great homemade vegan mayo (shown above from Serious Eats) as well.

Gelatin. If you need to substitute for gelatin in a recipe, use agar flakes or powder. It will thicken as it’s heated. Also, there are a couple of companies that make a vegan fruit gelatin product that you should be able to find at your local health food market.

Honey. There are many liquid sweeteners on the market that you can use in your recipes instead of honey. However, they all vary in consistency and sweetness, making substitution a guessing game, at least initially. You may have to experiment with ratios until you figure out what works best in your recipes.

In general, however, maple syrup and agave nectar can be substituted measure for measure in recipes. Other sweeteners that are less sweet than honey include agave syrup, corn syrup, malt syrup, light and dark molasses, and brown rice syrup. Frozen fruit-juice concentrates, sorghum syrup, and concentrated fruit syrups range from being half as sweet to just as sweet as honey.

Sugar. Many vegans do not eat sugar since some brands are refined using bone char from animals. Others object to using sugar simply because it’s often full of pesticides, and sugar plantation workers aren’t always treated very well.

If you want to replace crystalline sugar in a recipe, here are some alternatives: beet sugar, fructose, natural organic sugar, unbleached cane sugar, turbinado sugar, date sugar, maple crystals, and granulated FruitSource. Some of these sugars dissolve better than others, so again, you’ll have to experiment. As in other cases, using organic and fair trade products is the optimal choice.

Chocolate. Many people say they couldn’t be vegan if it would mean giving up chocolate, but luckily they don’t have to! There are many non-dairy vegan chocolate chips, cocoa powders, and chocolate bars. These are most easily found in the natural foods aisle of your supermarket, and of course, in natural foods stores. Once again, fair trade and organic are best.

Meat. If you want your foods to have a similar taste and texture to meat, you’re in luck, because never before have so many companies been making vegan meat substitutes.

Among the products on the market now that will substitute for meat are: veggie deli slices (bologna, ham, turkey, and other flavors), veggie burgers, veggie meatballs, veggie sausage links and patties, veggie bacon, veggie ground “beef,” soy chicken patties and nuggets, veggie meatloaf and Salisbury steak, veggie jerky, and whole “turkeys” for Thanksgiving or other holidays.

Check your vegan cookbooks for recipes for foods like “neatloaf,” nut roasts, lentil-walnut patés, and other old favorites that traditionally contained animal flesh.

Ice Cream. Along with the proliferation of meat analogues, it’s so easy to find vegan ice cream. This industry has grown tremendously. There are vegan ice creams based on soy, rice, nut, and coconut milks, and they’re all delicious. Some are high in fat and some are fat-free.

Some are fruity like sorbet, while others are sinfully decadent like butter pecan, peanut butter zig-zag, or peanut caramel. You can also buy vegan ice cream sandwiches, mud pies, and ice cream bars. I’ve made some great shakes, floats, and malts using vegan ice cream products. Your kids will love them too!

Orignal aritcle ontributed by Erin Pavlina; updated by VegKitchen

  • For lots more features on healthy lifestyle, please explore VegKitchen’s Healthy Vegan Kitchen page.
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