A vegan diet is absent of any and all animal products, whether overt such as milk or eggs (and meat of course), to more hidden ingredients like whey. Most vegans, if consuming a balanced diet, have improved health and excellent nutrition. I have been vegan now for four years. I was concerned that when I gave up so many foods that I would miss eating certain things, however that is not the case whatsoever. Learning to cook vegan really well and understanding how various flavors combine, as well as what kind of substitutes can replace non-vegan staples has made my life much easier. Not only much easier, but healthier and fun too. When you are cooking vegan, you have to be creative, which makes the final results more rewarding.
There are essentially four animal products essential to cooking that take a bit of practice to replace: milk, eggs, gelatin, and butter. It’s something most people don’t think about, but by doing as little as making substitutions, you can improve your health, help the environment, and of course save animals: this is being vegan.
I will go through what vegan substitutions there are for these products, as well as how to use them and what kinds of recipies it can be transferred to.
1. Milk – This one is fairly easy with so many options for soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk out there. You could buy your own or even make it yourself, however, in this case, store-bought soy milk is the way to go. For texture, soy is thicker than rice and works best with cooking. Soy is akin to skim milk and also can work well in cereals and when making mashed potatoes. It is the most versatile of the plant-based milks, and can really be used in any cooking situation. Rice milk is very thin and has more of a water-like quality to it. It is still good, but would be better used for mixed drinks, less thick smoothies, or tea. Almond milk is fairly thick and, obviously, has a nutty flavor to it. It works well for desserts, or even chocolate flavored almond milk is good by itself.
When replacing milk for soy, rice, or almond milk in recipies, it is very easy to do, because the measurements will be the same.
As far as brands go, West Soy milk is my favorite, as they have regular, reduced fat, and vanilla, all enriched with vitamins and minerals found in cow’s milk, including more.
You can improve your health through this substitution by avoiding chemicals and growth hormones found in most cow milk, as well as reduced fat and cholesterol.
2. Eggs – Eggs are harder to replace due to their binding quality and complex protein structure, however, quite a few variations do work very well, where eggs are not missed in the slightest. After much trial and error from suggestions, as well as my own inventions, the following have risen to the top as the best substitutes for eggs:
A. Egg Replacer: You can find this in health food stores (whole foods, your local co-op, and even some major supermarkets have it in stock). It essentially is a mixture of potato starch, where when you mix it with water, it takes on the binding quality of eggs. This is best for baking in cookies, cakes, and pastries.
B. Milled Flax Seed: Not only does flax seed provide necessary Omega 3 Fatty Acids, but also Vitamin B12 (essential for proper nervous system functioning). Flax seed adds a nutty flavor to cooking, and when mixed with water, also provides a binding quality for your baking needs. Flax seed is great in pancakes, breads, breading (for eggplant or zuccini, etc.), or more savory baked items.
C. Tofu: It might sound gross to some, but it really isn’t. Tofu is made from soy, and takes on the flavor of whatever is around it. Silken tofu is the best for baking recipies (Mori-Nu is a great brand, packaged in a box in the non-refrigerated section), whereas standard firm tofu is best for making variations on scrambled eggs (White Wave: Organic/Firm is exceptional for texture and quality). Tofu absolutely is one of the most versatile foods out there (as will be shown in other substitution categories), and works great in baking that needs to be extra moist. Adding in a small amount of silken tofu maintains moisture, binds ingredients, and creates a silkier texture.
D. Pumpkin Filling: Pumpkin is healthy, flavorful, and works great in desserts and other recipies. The pumpkin filling, found in cans, can replace eggs in many places. When making muffins or a spice cake, or even pancakes, substituting a tablespoon of pumpkin filling for an egg adds extra flavor, color, and a ton of moisture.
E. Bananas: Mashed up bananas can also replace eggs in the same way that pumpkin filling does.
You can improve your health through this cooking substitution by eliminating high cholesterol and fats found in eggs, while still getting protein. Also, most of these substitutions also have a great deal of fiber, along with omega 3 fatty acids or antioxidants.
3. Gelatin – This ingredient is not even vegetarian: it is ground up animal bones, including hooves and possibly teeth. Gelatin can be used in various pies, pudding, or jello. Luckily, there are two great substitutes.
A. Vegetarian gelatin: This can be found in health food stores, or in the health food section of supermarkets. It either is already flavored to make fruity, bouncy jello or rich pudding, or is not flavored so that it provides specific texture to foods. This is easy to make, and directions and suggestions are on the box, following the fashion of classic gelatin brands.
B. Tofu: Again! Tofu, the soy derivative, is extremely versatile. Blend tofu with chocolate, pumpkin, or any ingredient of your choice, to make pudding, pie filling, or frosting. Silken tofu has the same texture as gelatin, but provides health and nutrition without using animal byproducts. For a gelatin substitute, silken tofu would be the best choice, ranging from extra soft to extra firm.
You can improve your health through this vegan cooking substitution by replacing empty calories and empty nutrition with protein, calcium, and vitamins found in tofu, and at times, the vegetarian gelatin.
4. Butter – High fat and high cholesterol is not something most people would like in their diets. Margerine also contains a great deal of unhealthy trans fats. Vegan substitutions eliminate these unhealthy factors in cooking and baking.
A. Soy Butter/Margerine: These can be easily found in most supermarkets now, in the dairy section. Substitution yields the same amounts found in original recipies. Nowadays, it is hard to tell the difference between vegetarian substitutes for butter, and animal-product-based butter.
B. Fruit Substitutes: Applesauce, mashed bananas, and pumpkin filling are the main variations for this ingredient. These work best in baking, and provide the texture of butter, as well as an oil-substitute to eliminate unhealthy fats, while not sacrificing flavor.
C. Tofu: Once again. When making frosting, for example, cream other ingredients with blended silken tofu, rather than butter for still-gooey and flavorful toppings to cakes and more.
You can improve your health through this substitution because butter contains a high amount of artery-clogging cholesterol and bad fats. The substitutes are either low in fat and calories, or fully absent of fat and provide fiber and vitamins in exchange.
These are the four major ingredients in cooking and baking that would need replacements for a vegan diet, but there are more, of course. With all the modern vegan and vegetarian fare out there, such things as soy creamer, soy yogert, and more are readily available at many supermarkets. Even buttermilk can be substituted by adding a bit of vinegar to soy milk.
You don’t have to be vegan, or even vegetarian to substitute other ingredients for traditionally unhealthy fare derived from animals and animal byproducts. These are all healthy, flavorful, and nice to the environment and animals. You can improve your health and the world around you by making small changes in your diet; here are some great ways to start!