Recipe writer Juliet Sear has been eating a vegan diet for a number of years. Here, she shares the tips she's learnt along the way and her favourite vegan substitutes – from dairy-free spreads to mock meats.
Thinking of going vegan for 2019, or including more vegan options to your repertoire? Switching to a vegan diet can be daunting, but to ease the transition, here are some accessible substitutes.
Versatile and surprisingly cheap, jackfruit is a non-processed ingredient that you’ll often find in cans, meaning you can stock up in the cupboard. Having been widespread in Asia for decades, it’s now soaring in popularity over here, with pulled pork the most common, go-to recipe for this substitute, as it mimics the shredded texture so accurately. It makes a great replacement for chicken, perhaps in a stir-fry, but can also be prepared to resemble tuna. Lately, I’ve tried some really creative and delicious dishes; jackfruit tacos, gyros, and even crab cakes.
Try these jackfruit pulled pork tacos.
The water from a can of chickpeas is a superb substitute for egg white. It can used to make meringues, mousses and lots of bakes like macarons, sponges and brownies. Add chickpea water to dairy-free buttercream and you’ll get a much lighter frosting. I even mix it with icing sugar and lemon juice to make a vegan royal icing.
It can even be a central ingredient in dairy free batter and sauces like mayonnaise. You may find it useful in cocktails, too – a vegan can have a whisky sour after all!
Looking for inspiration? Try these vegan aquafaba meringues.
Often called vital wheat gluten, seitan is made from wheat protein. There are loads of off-the-shelf products available, but you could also make your own. With seasonings, you can flavour a dry mix made with wheat gluten flour, then create a wet mix using alternative milk, tofu and any flavourings you like (depending on your desired outcome). Mix the two together into a dough and knead well.
If you’re craving fast food, you can fry it in chunks with seasoned batter for a fried chicken substitute. For a healthier alternative, it can be roasted, grilled or oven cooked. It’s a good substitute for duck, beef, bacon and sausage, and can be paired with most cuisines, but it seems to be most popular with Asian food, having originated in China where it’s been used as a source of protein for centuries.
Discover this spicy vegan fried seitan recipe and you won’t look back.
4. Milk substitutes
Popular non-dairy milks include oat, hazelnut, cashew, soy, almond and hemp. It’s also easy to make your own by soaking raw nuts, blending with water and straining. Alternative milks not only are great subs for drinks but also can be used in many recipes for cooking and baking.
Certain kinds work better for different recipes, so I encourage you to experiment. For example, there’s an oat barista milk that definitely works best for making classic frothy coffees. The company that produces it can’t keep up with the demand and there’ve been a few shortages, leading to people stockpiling!
I like to use soymilk in baking recipes as it can be soured with acids like apple cider vinegar and used in place of buttermilk.
Read our expert guide on how to make your own dairy-free milks.
5. Alternative cheeses
It's tricky to replicate the real deal, but alternative cheeses are really improving. Now, most supermarkets have their own ranges alongside various other brands, so there’s plenty to try. They’re made using a variety of ingredients, including coconuts, aquafaba, nuts and solidified vegetable oil. It’s best to opt for one fortified with vitamin B12 and calcium.
A number of cheese substitutes are available, from mozzarella-style to cheddar and cream cheese. Recently, there are quite a few ‘artisan’ vegan cheese brands around, too. Lastly, as a good substitute for parmesan, try using dried nutritional yeast flakes. Not only is it a great source of B12 and other B vitamins, but it has a savoury flavour that pairs well with pasta and salads.
Read our expert guide on how to make your own vegan cheese.
6. Alternative creams and yogurts
Similarly to alternative milks, there’s an array of plant-based yogurts – perfect for adding to fruits, cereals, or just having on their own as a snack. They can be used for baking and cooking, too.
Similarly to other alternative dairy-free products, they’re fortified with vitamins but also filled with probiotic bacteria – meaning vegans can get some of the same health benefits as ordinary, dairy yogurt.
I like to use coconut-based creams and yogurts in Indian and Asian curries as the flavour works well, but in some cases I go for a blander more neutral yogurt alternative, such as soy or almond, for other recipes or toppings. Again, it’s worth experimenting.
More recently, a ‘squirty’ cream has become available in plant-based form – it’s made with soy, and you can add it to puddings, bakes, desserts and drinks, like ‘freakshakes’.
7. Cheat or mock meats
In place of processed foods like chicken nuggets, burgers, fish fingers, sausages and hotdogs, there are a number of options for any fast food you might miss.
All major supermarkets have their own ranges in addition to big brands, and new, smaller start-up companies are contributing, too. My family were impressed by Iceland’s No Bull vegan mince recently – we made a rich vegan ragu with it and found it the closest we’ve tried to beef mince. The flavour it took on was good and the texture was spot on.
You may have heard of Beyond Meat; a bleeding-style plant based burger. Its hype in the US now means it’s available in Tesco and some restaurants around the UK. Beyond Sausage will be available here soon; our son tried this in the US and said it was exactly like a real sausage.
Then there’s the plant-based Impossible Burger, which is so incredibly realistic it’s almost ‘impossible’ to tell the difference. It’s not available in the UK yet, but they are planning to bring it here.
Sainsbury’s brought out their ‘shroomdogs’ last year, a mushroom-based vegan sausage that’s definitely worth a try as the texture is great. These are processed of course, but really convenient, easy to cook and protein-heavy.
8. Tofu and tempeh
Made from soybeans, tofu is a less-processed substitute for meat as it’s a complete protein. The firm variety is best for cooking in savoury dishes, and you can use the softer types for things like tofu scramble in place of egg, or add to puddings and bakes.
Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans and is firmer in texture. It’s a great substitute for protein in Asian recipes, but also really good as 'bacon' if you thinly slice and fry it. I brush it with a mix of Marmite, maple syrup and hickory smoke after frying for a few seconds each side, to give it a savoury smoky bacon flavour. Both tofu and tempeh are great vehicles for flavour, so work well in lots of dishes.
9. ‘Spreads’ and fats
There are plenty of different dairy-free butter brands out there, from supermarket’s own to many other large and small brands.
I’ve settled on Flora or Pure for baking cakes and biscuits. For spreading on toast, I recently discovered a fairly small Danish brand called Naturli, which has a lovely butter-like salty taste. At the moment, it’s only stocked in Sainsbury’s. Naturli have a good mock mince and mock burger, too.
For pastries and crisper bakes, I favour vegetable shortening (e.g. Trex, Stork, Cookeen) – a solid vegetable fat with lower moisture content, which is perfect for pastry. Experiment to find your favourites.
10. Whole egg substitutes
Powdered egg substitutes used to be found in more specific health stores, but a recent rise in popularity means you can easily track them down in supermarkets now, too. Some obvious uses include bakes and breakfast meals.
I prefer to make and use a more simple flax egg for my baking recipes by mixing hot water with flax meal. Chia seeds also work well as an egg substitute. I’ve mentioned above about chickpea water (aquafaba), but that’s used as more of an egg white substitute.
It’s amazing to think that only a few years ago, vegans were limited to a few options or a small section of obscure products in supermarkets. Ever-expanding vegan trends and the number of people trying out the lifestyle are driving the rise of new and exciting substitutes, so it’s worth exploring what’s available to find the best products for you.