Whether you’re new to veganism or just beginning to get into cooking at home, there may be some ingredients you come across that you’ve never heard of. That’s okay! Here’s a quick guide explaining some of these new foods so that you can start experimenting in the kitchen.
When you first delved into vegan cooking, this was probably one of the first curveballs. What is Nutritional Yeast (called “nooch” by many)? Well, it’s a deactivated yeast, so you can use the flakes as a topping or in recipes! It has a nutty, cheesy flavor and makes a great topping for popcorn or pasta. You can also melt it into delicious vegan cheese sauces. Another good thing about nooch is that it is often fortified with the important vitamin B12!
Okay, so it isn’t really an ingredient, but B12 is a vitamin that you maybe have never thought about before.. B12 is crucial for arterial and brain health, and a deficiency can cause fatigue and weakness. While we can easily get most (if not all) of our necessary vitamins from a plant-based diet, B12 is a bacteria that grows in soil, water, and the guts of animals. So if you’d rather not eat stomachs, go with your gut and choose from plant-based foods fortified with B12 (like nutritional yeast, tofu, and non-dairy milks), or you could take a B12 supplement.
Dulse, which is similar to seaweed, is an ocean alga with an interesting, savory flavor. Dulse is somewhat fishy in flavoring and very salty, so you’ll likely see it in a lot of seafood-inspired recipes. It’s also a great source of iron and calcium!
Tempeh is basically a delicious, savory patty of fermented soybeans. It makes a great meat replacement, especially for crispy, salty bacon. It is easy to season on your own but you can also buy it premade! More good news: it packs in a TON of protein at 31 grams per cup.
Chia Seeds & Flaxseed
Both of these seeds are great to incorporate into a plant-based diet. They’re healthy sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, they function as antioxidants, and they’re a source of dietary fiber. Plus, they’re useful! Both of these seeds can be mixed with water (about 1 tbsp chia seeds or ground flax to 3 tbsp water) to create a gelatinous mixture that makes a perfect egg substitute. This can be used in baking or as a binder for veggie burgers or vegan crab cakes. Yum!
If soy-based meat replacements aren’t your style, seitan offers a dense, meaty alternative. It’s a very simple food made up of vital wheat gluten and water. Once combined it becomes chewy and meat-like, and it really absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it in. Try it in place of beef or pork, like in TryVeg.com’s Barbecue Seitan Sandwiches. You can buy it pre-made, but it’s easy and very budget-friendly to make yourself!
Aqua-what? Cleverly (and aptly) named, aquafaba is basically just Latin for “bean water,” and that’s exactly what it is. The juice from the can or cooking liquid of chickpeas or other white beans is actually an amazing egg replacer. You can use it whisked with sugar for meringue or mousse, or go savory and make your own vegan mayo!
This is a fine, starchy flour made from cassava root. While not super common in baking (though it is a good gluten-free option), tapioca has an important use in vegan cooking: it binds ingredients to make an amazing, gooey, stretchy vegan cheese.
This ingredient is popular for its texture–when cooked, it’s meaty and shreds just like pulled chicken or pork. An added bonus is that it doesn’t have an aggressive flavor so it takes on the taste of whatever delicious vegan sauce you choose to cook it in. Beware, though: a whole fresh jackfruit can weigh up to 100lbs! Luckily, you can buy it canned. Get it canned in brine to use in your TryVeg.com jackfruit tacos.
Stuart McDonald is a Creative Writer at Compassion Over Killing (COK), a national non-profit animal protection organization based in Washington, DC. She is passionate about making an ethical lifestyle easy and accessible for all and collaborating across social movements to create a kinder world. She writes about everything vegan: from plant-based eating to activism to legislation. Read her work on TryVeg.com and COK.net.