Going vegan does even more than save the animals – it puts you in touch with your own diet. Since going vegan I’ve learned a lot about nutrition, and developed a whole list of essential vegan ingredients to keep my food nutritious and my time in the kitchen as easy as possible.
Before, my essentials were things like cheese, milk, and bread. Not particularly exciting, now I think about it! And possibly not the healthiest things to eat on the regular, either. Since gaining an understanding of what foods give me which nutrients, I’ve become much more focused on eating food for the benefits that it gives me, rather than just because it tastes good. Thankfully, I love everything within the list below which makes it even better! Check out my eight essentials – ingredients that I completely recommend if you’re vegan (or even if you’re not).
Peanut butter has always been an essential of mine. I used to eat it just because I liked it, but now I also eat it regularly for the health benefits that it brings. Bear in mind that I’m talking about my homemade peanut butter recipe here – I wouldn’t say that the shop-bought version is quite so healthy!
Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein for vitamins, plus iron, potassium, and zinc. It’s also full of selenium, a nutrient that I didn’t even know existed until I made the change. Which is concerning really, considering how important it is for us.
What I also love about peanut butter is how versatile it is – I have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks! It’s classic on toast or in a sandwich (especially with banana) but also works beautifully in Asian lunches and dinners. Plus, it’s perfect for protein-filled snacks and, with its high calorie and healthy fat amount, goes a long way in keeping you full.
I didn’t actually eat mushrooms much before going vegan, however now they’re a real staple. They’re a good source of protein, making them a great meat substitute if paired with other vegan sources like peas and oats. They contain all sorts of vitamins and nutrients, too. They even absorb vitamin D from the sun, which is great for SAD sufferers like myself!
I’ve found that mushrooms make an excellent mince substitute when chopped up and cooked with oats and onions. I use this for spaghetti bolognese, chilli con carne, fajitas, and more. They are wonderful in stir-fries plus I love them on toast with avocado, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of coconut milk.
Nutritional Yeast Flakes
I’d honestly never heard of these until going vegan! Nutritional yeast flakes are a powdery, yellow ingredient, and one of the main essential vegan ingredients among the vegan community. They have a cheesy element to them so can be used in vegan versions of dishes like macaroni cheese, or sprinkled on top of beans on toast or spaghetti bolognese.
The excellent thing about nutritional yeast flakes is that they’re often fortified with vitamin B12, making it really easy to hit your daily requirement if you have them to hand. Even meat-eaters are often deficient in B12 so it’s important to eat foods that are fortified with it.
People ask me if I miss milk chocolate as a vegan and, whilst I do, it’s not a big deal. Because I have dark chocolate! It’s one of my favourite types of chocolate, plus it has a range of health benefits.
Despite being a treat, dark chocolate is a good source of antioxidants and has been shown to improve heart health and boost your skin. It’s linked to improving both mood and cognition, plus it can help with irregular cholesterol levels. It’s also beneficial during migraine attacks so I always have a few squares if I feel one coming on.
Hummus has always been a dip to me, and nothing more. Something to go with your veggie sticks or toasted pitta. It’s so much more than that, and I can’t believe it took me so long to realise that!
Hummus is a big source of protein and healthy fats for me, and I love that it’s so versatile. It’s relatively easy to find different flavours in supermarkets but it’s also simple to make, so you can really do whatever you want with it. I’ve discovered that it’s lovely on toast, spread in wraps, and even works as a baked potato topping! There are so many other ways to use it as well, and it’s a must-have for picnics and healthy buffets.
Canned Coconut Milk
Canned coconut milk is a beautiful thing. I used to eat this every now and then in curries, but I consume it a lot more now as it’s an excellent cream/milk substitute that’s also relatively cheap and packed with vitamins and minerals.
I now use it a lot to cook rice in – replace some of the water with coconut milk and you get rice that’s so creamy and fluffy. You can also use it in vegan macaroni cheese, and it works well in many baking recipes. One good thing about coconut milk is that it’s freezable – I freeze mine in ice cube trays and then you don’t end up wasting most of a can if a recipe only calls for a small amount.
Oh, maple syrup… My vegan best friend. With honey now out of the question, a lot of recipes become quite difficult. Until you have maple syrup! It’s not as healthy as the other ingredients in this list but it’s a massive staple of mine. I put it in pretty much everything!
Aside from being a good pancake topper, maple syrup is so good for vegan baking. It’s perfect for sweetening curries and salad dressings, and it also works well in smoothies. It has a slightly different taste to honey but I love it – it’s rich and decadent. Make sure to get proper imported grade A syrup though – none of that squeezy bottle”sauce”!
“Accidentally Vegan” Bread Products
A lot of people don’t realise but many bread products in supermarkets are “accidentally vegan”. No intention to be vegan but they are, so we can stuff our faces with them. (This may be why it’s so easy to put on weight when you make the switch). And, even though some of them are finished products, I still think they count as essential vegan ingredients as they are used within many different vegan meals.
There aren’t actually many bread products that I’ve had to give up – I still eat bread, rolls, pizza, pitta bread, crackers, and crumpets. Lots of pastries are also vegan, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many Banburys and Danish buns in my life! Always check the label before you buy though, as the vegan status of a product will depend entirely on the brand or shop that it’s bought from.
What are your essential vegan ingredients that you couldn’t live without? Share below! Don’t forget to like, pin, and share if you enjoyed this post. You can read some of my other foodie articles here: