As with all good cooking and baking, seasoning is key. This becomes especially true with plant-based and vegan cooking when having to replace or mimic animal-derived flavors to help the dish maintain its flavor integrity. It becomes increasingly important to relearn how to build a dish's flavor profile and to know exactly what flavors each ingredient brings to the original recipe. This often means stocking your pantry and spice cabinet with food items you may have never heard of or ever worked with before. Once you do, you'll realize just how unnecessary animal products are in our everyday lives. I've listed my favorite of these spices, seasonings, and supplements by taste; along with affordable options. There are even some protein recommendations at the bottom! There are many essential seasonings not listed here that I could be wrongfully assuming many of you already have. If not, be sure to get yourself the bare essentials like garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaf, black pepper, cumin, celery salt, cayenne, paprika, turmeric - the whole shebang. Here's a great organic starter spice set to get you in the game. On a budget? Your local dollar store almost always has spices available for only $1 each. With these ingredients in your plant-based pantry, you'll be creating rich and flavorful animal-free dishes in no time!
Pure Maple Syrup - a touch of maple syrup can help to flavor and sweeten practically anything. Keep in mind that when adding maple syrup, especially if subbing for another sugar, you're adding a liquid. Maple syrup is a great option to flavor mock bacon! 365 Everyday Value, Organic Pure 100% Grade A Maple Syrup
Agave - Derived from the Blue Agave plant, this natural sweetener works great as an animal-free egg wash on sweetbreads. It was once marketed as a healthier option for those dealing with blood sugar issues, but it's high levels of fructose leave that claim up for debate. Its neutral flavor makes it ideal for those avoiding refined sugar. 365 Everyday Value, Organic Raw Agave Nectar
Organic Cane Sugar/Brown Sugar - One would assume that sugar would naturally be vegan, and yes, naturally it is. However, it's common practice in the United States to bleach sugar to its signature white color. This bleaching process uses animal bone char. Florida Crystals Florida Crystals Sugar Cane Organic
Black Salt/Kala Namak - Most popularly used in South Asian cuisine for its sulfurous taste and smell. When converting an egg heavy recipe into a plant-based one, Black Salt helps round out your flavors by giving a more authentic taste. Perfect in tofu eggs, vegan hollandaise, and even a dash in baked goods. Himalayan Black Rock Salt
Sea Salt - A good sea salt will go a long way in your dishes and don't be afraid to use it. Just be mindful of the salt already present in the other ingredients your working with. It's easier to add more than to take it away.
Soy Sauce - This also belongs in the to the savory/umami category, as it lends such a strong umami flavor. Though it's typically very salty, Soy Sauce is most often specifically used for the taste it provides.
Liquid Coconut Aminos - A great soy sauce alternative for those avoiding soy. Slightly sweeter than traditional soy sauce. Bragg Coconut Aminos
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar - This multi-use vinegar is perfect for adding a cultured flavor to recipes that need to mock butter, yogurt, or any other dairy. It also gives you a healthy dose of gut-healthy enzymes! Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Lemon Juice - Always keep fresh lemons on hand. Lemons will brighten up dishes and give a sour flavor without the cultured aftertaste of Apple Cider Vinegar. It's best to use them together to achieve the results you want. I can't tell you how many lemons i go through in a week.
White Vinegar - Like the other two acids listed, white vinegar aids in dishes that originally have dairy. It's also great for making your own quick pickles! Heinz White Vinegar
Instant Chicory - Easily found in Louisiana, chicory is a popular additive in coffee. It helps to add an important depth to dishes. Being naturally caffeine-free, instant chicory is safe for those with a caffeine allergy or those avoiding caffeine due to other health reasons. It's also a great alternative for those wanting to avoid unfair trade practices. Chicory can be used in all recipes calling for instant coffee. Organic Instant Chicory Drink
Instant Coffee & Chicory - For those not worried about the added caffeine, this combination provides great depth in small amounts. Add to "beef" broth, stews, and even a little bit to cheeses! Community Instant Coffee and Chicory
Cocoa Powder - Often the secret ingredient in a good chili, Cocoa powder lends depth without being an easily identifiable flavor. 365 Everyday Value, Organic Cocoa Powder
Mustard Seed Powder - This spice adds a great sharp and tangy flavor to vegan dairy-based cheeses, sauces, and dips. 365 Everyday Value, Organic Ground Mustard Seed
Nutritional Yeast - No plant-based pantry is complete without this vital B vitamin-rich ingredient! Often used for a "cheesy" flavor, Nutritional Yeast lends more of a general savory flavor. I use this ingredient in nearly every recipe. I'm obsessed. Trader Joe's Nutritional Yeast
Smoked Paprika - One of the easiest ways to add a little smoky flavor to any dish is this delicious spice. An absolute must-have. McCormick Gourmet Organic Smoked Paprika
Kelp - Known for its high concentration of Umami, Kelp powder is excellent for adding a fishy flavor to vegan chowders, ramen, pho, and "crab" cakes. Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Kelp Granules Shaker
Dried Shiitake Mushroom - The possibles are endless with these meaty mushrooms. When dried, they can be processed into powder for stocks, broths, and stews. They can also be chopped and rehydrated for a meat substitute. Shiitake Mushroom Slices 8 oz Takii Umami Powder 3.5 oz
Tomato Paste - A bit of tomato paste in a recipe can simultaneously add umami and a sweet element to stews, soups, and gravy. Goya Foods Tomato Paste, 6 Ounce
Vegan Worcestershire - Traditional Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies or fish sauce. A vegan alternative allows you to use this sauce in all the ways you would have before. 365 Everyday Value, Organic Worcestershire Sauce, 5 fl oz
Liquid Smoke - Unlike smoked paprika, Liquid Smoke comes in a variety of different wood-smoked flavors. I enjoy using applewood smoke when making mock bacon and BBQ. Liquid Smoke, 2 pack, 4 oz
Vegetable Stock - Keep this handy for quick impromptu soups, cheeses, sauces, curries, marinades, and beans! You can also make your own by saving your vegetable scraps like carrot, celery, onion, and peppers. Vegetable stock can also be a great oil alternative when sauteing vegetables. Better Than Bouillon - Vegetable Base, 3.5 oz
White Miso - White Miso is made from fermented soy beans and white rice. It's a great ingredient to keep on hand for quick healthy soups and adding a light sweet/savory flavor to gravies, cheeses, & the like.
Sunflower Lecithin - This powerful brain food is used for its fatty flavor and emulsion properties. Sunflower lecithin is rich in choline and other essential fatty acids. I typically use powdered, as the liquid can be sticky and hard to manage. NOW Supplements, Sunflower Lecithin 1 LB
Coconut Oil - Refined or unrefined, Coconut oil isn't quite the health food that it's craze would lead you to believe. However, just like most things, everything is fine in moderation and it's still better than animal fat. This oil helps to lend the rich fatty mouthfeel that we're used to with animal-based products. 365 Everyday Value, Organic Coconut Oil, 14 fl oz
Avocado Oil - With a naturally neutral taste, this heart-healthy oil is a great general base for homemade dressings, mayonnaise, and other recipes that call for oil. 100% Pure Avocado Oil 8.4 oz
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Extra virgin olive oil not only has an incredible flavor, but it's one of the best oils for your health. It's important to find a good brand that sets a high standard for their process. A high-quality extra virgin olive oil should have a fruity and robust peppery taste.
Sources of Protein
Non-GMO Tofu - This seems like a given, but tofu got a seriously bad rap with the spread of inflated information regarding soy and estrogen. Tofu is high in protein and mostly inexpensive. It's hella sustainable and can be safely eaten several times a week as a healthy alternative to meat. I always keep a couple of packages of firm tofu in the freezer for whenever I feel like having some homemade "chicken" nugs. Organic Firm Tofu
Chickpeas/Garbonzo Beans - These little babies are an inexpensive and nutritious way to get your protein. Use them to make your own hummus, veggie burgers, and toast in the oven for a healthy crunchy treat. These can be found at nearly any grocery store. You can also save the water from their can to use in nearly any recipe that calls for whipped egg whites. "Aquafaba" is its name and it whips up like a true dream.
Quinoa - This complete protein is an excellent replacement for rice and adds texture to any meatless dish. Quinoa can be found in most grocery stores with the rice and other grains. With it's rise in popularity in Western culture, it's best to use quinoa sparingly as our consumption is negatively effecting the native consumers of this pseudo-cereal.
Beans - Beans of nearly all kinds are an easy and delicious way to "beef up" your recipes. For something easy, go for the no salt added canned variety. Have extra time? Get yourself some dried beans to infuse those babies with some flavor.
TVP - Textured Vegetable Protein can be found in many mock meat products at your local grocery. When purchased as an individual ingredient, this dried soy-based protein source can absorb any flavor you wish to infuse it with. Its texture resembles ground meat and is often used to make chili, burgers, and spaghetti sauce. It's naturally gluten-free, vegan, and high in protein. Though TVP is a highly processed ingredient, it's still better for your health than the red meat it's often used to substitute. Anthony's Textured Vegetable Protein, 1.5 lbs
Lentils - These versatile legumes are an important staple of Indian cuisine. Lentils are handy in creating healthy ground meat dishes and veggie burgers. They're rich in protein, iron, and other essential nutrients. Experiment with different degrees of cooking lentils to create texture within a plant-based dish.
Nuts & Seeds
Sunflower Seeds - These highly sustainable little seeds are packed with nutrition that help fight against free radical damage. Not to mention they're super affordable. Pro tip: if you're going to be blending the sunflower seeds anyway, pick up some sun butter!
Hemp Seeds - When blended, these little dudes make the dreamiest creamiest salad dressings, cream sauces, milk, & coffee creamer. They require no soaking before mixing and are more sustainable than most. Not to mention, they are absolutely packed full of nutrients and healthy fats. Make sure to buy these shelled or "hulled". The will often be called hemp "hearts".
Flax Seeds - These are most often used to replace egg in plant-based baking. They can also be thrown into smoothies or whipped up just like aquafaba. Flax is said to aid in digestion and also contains a good amount of Omega-3. Buy these seeds ground or grind them yourself for their best usage.
Almonds - Almonds naturally sweet flavor make them a great flavor option for blending into plant-based dairy products. However, like most nuts, these guys aren't very sustainable and are water guzzlers. It takes over 1 gallon of water to grow 1 single almond. Use these sparingly along with oats or seeds.
Cashews - Cashews are a hot ticket item right now in the plant-based community. They can be blended into seriously creamy dairy alternatives. Unfortunately, the cashew trade isn't great and the caustic nature of these nuts cause issues for the folks, mainly women of color, who harvest them. Use cashews sparingly, always buy Fair Trade, and at least half with hemp seeds when possible.