10 Vegan Pantry Items to Kick-start Your Vegan Cooking Plan
Thick and creamy, light and fluffy, rich with texture — you can have it all and eat vegan. These are the essential ingredients that make vegan food delicious.
Veganism was once a fringe dietary preference, but now it’s hit the mainstream with countless blogs, cookbooks, specialty grocers, and restaurants. Whether you’re a curious flexitarian, mom of a young vegetarian, or a meat eater just trying to eat more vegetables — experimenting with plant-based cooking has never been easier. However, the sheer amount of information out there can be overwhelming. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can also get expensive. You might be tempted to scrap everything in your pantry Marie Kondo-style and dive headfirst into a long grocery list of vegetables you’ve never heard of, spices you’ve never cooked with, and every product with a giant “V” on the package — but you can take a more manageable, less expensive approach.
The list of items you need to get started making easy, delicious, stress-free vegan meals can be distilled down to the essentials. Alongside the usual pantry-friendly staples in every kitchen, there are a few key ingredients that pop up frequently in vegan recipes. These 10 items are the building blocks to a well-stocked vegan pantry.
Nutritional Yeast Nutritional yeast or “nooch,” as it is known among its most devout vegan fanbase, is the salty, umami, magical dust that turns everything it comes into contact with to cheesy deliciousness. Gluten- and dairy-free as well as rich in vitamin B-12, this powdery parmesan-like substance tastes great on top of salads, popcorn, pastas, and works wonders in pestos and cheese sauces. It’s vegan sorcery, really.
Dates Making versions of your favorite desserts without eggs, dairy, and other animal by-products is possible — and you have Medjool dates to thank for it. Since not all refined sugars are vegan (some brands process sugars with bone char), dates have become a preferred source for a plant-based, unprocessed sweetener in vegan baking. The syrupy, sticky texture of this fruit makes them the perfect plant-based binding agent for many beloved no-bake treats — think pie crusts, protein balls, chocolate bars, and caramel.
Chia Seeds While we’re on the topic of great plant-based binding agents, let’s discuss chia seeds — the glue that holds many vegan baked goods together. One large egg can be replaced by a tablespoon of chia seeds transformed into a gel. To make chia gel, all you need to do is grind your chia seeds (you can use a spice grinder), combine them with water, and voilà! This goop will make all of your vegan baking ventures a piece of cake — literally!
Chickpea Flour You may have heard about the oozy, gluten-like properties of chickpeas. This legume is gluten-free but creates by-products like aquafaba and chickpea flour that make great binding agents in savory, egg-based favorites like pancakes, frittatas, and crepes. You can find it in any Indian grocery store labelled "besan" or "gram flour."
Liquid Smoke Here is a seasoning that you’ll want to store in a cool, dark place, but still keep close by — you never know when that hankering for smoked salmon will strike! Add a splash of liquid smoke to tofu, tempeh, and other plant-based proteins to help keep the summer barbecue nostalgia alive. Just remember: A little goes a long way.
Bouillon Cubes Most bouillon is not vegan, but there are plant-based or curry boullions that can be used in vegan cooking. It's does the heavy-lifting in stews, soups, sauces but it’s great for rice pilaf, marinades, and casseroles as well.
Raw Cashews Surely you are no stranger to keeping roasted mixed nuts stocked in your pantry for some quick and (delicious!) salty snacking. Raw cashews make great snacks too, but their naturally creamy and slightly sweet qualities make this nut a game-changer for replacing dairy. When soaked overnight, and combined with water and salt in a food processor, cashews can result in some of the best dairy-free milks, yogurts, sauces, and even ice cream that you’ll ever try. Bring on the cheezy mac and fettuccine alfredo!
Coconut Milk If making a fresh batch of cashew crema on the daily isn’t an option, coconut milk is a quicker cream alternative. Arguably the MVP of the vegan pantry, coconut milk is slightly thicker than nut milks and is used widely across cuisines for both sweet and savory purposes. It’s great for curries, soups, savory sauces, frosting, and coconut whipped cream.
Jackfruit Move over, tofu! Jackfruit is the lesser known, soy-free ingredient vegans use to replace meat in a variety of dishes. Yes it’s a fruit — the largest tree-borne fruit in the world — and yes, you can buy it in a can. The outside of the fruit is a giant green spiky interior, and the insides are yellow bulbs that have a stringy consistency and a neutral to sweet flavor, depending on ripeness. These traits make jackfruit the ideal plant-based alternative for things like shredded chicken, pulled pork, barbacoa, and tacos al-pastor — just remember that there isn't a lot of protein in it. Jackfruit is mostly used for its meat-like texture, so you may want to supplement it with beans or other high-protein ingredients.
Miso Paste If you make a lot of Japanese cuisine at home, you may already have a tub of miso paste in the fridge. The umami flavor comes in handy for vegans looking to replace umami typically found in meats and cheeses. This is a great way to add a meaty flavor to marinades for plant-based proteins like tofu or tempeh, and can be used to create bold flavors in sauces, pasta, and noodle dishes.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar If a stack of fluffy pancakes in the morning is on your shortlist of things you refuse to give up as a vegan, then apple cider vinegar will be your new best friend. Apple cider vinegar activates leavening agents (baking soda or baking powder) for pancakes and other egg-free baking endeavors. For cooking (vegan and otherwise), apple cider vinegar is commonly used in Asian cuisine, can be used in place of oil for roasted vegetables, and comes in handy for homemade salad dressings and vinaigrettes to go with all of those “boring” vegan salads you’ll be packing for lunch. You’re welcome.
If you haven't tried it yet, Yummly has a filtering function that can help you weed out the meat, dairy, and eggs so you can quickly find the vegan recipes you want to make. For instance, if you're looking for a vegan pesto, you type "Pesto" in the search bubble and click on "Diets" in the filter bar. When you click on "Vegan," it returns more than 2,000 vegan pesto recipes. But if you're not sure what you want to cook yet, here are some of our favorite vegan recipes to get you started.