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vegan glossary

New to vegan foods?

Here’s a collection of what I’m pretty sure were unfamiliar foodstuffs when I first started eating vegan. Did I not cover it here? Email me (VegtasticVoyage @ gmail . com) and I’ll add it!

Agar agar: Derived from algae, this replaces gelatin (made from animals) to thicken or solidify liquids. Jello-type desserts, pie fillings, and whipped cream often call for this. BEWARE: This is available in powder and flake form, and the measurements are not equal. Use around 1/3 as much powder as flake, or your lemon squares will turn into a lemon gummy cube on crust.

Agave nectar: While there are a couple full-on honey substitutes out there, good ol’ agave will do just fine in tea or on biscuits. The darker the agave, the more full-bodied flavor it will have. You might also be able to find it in different flavors. If you’re using agave in the place of sugar in a recipe, mind your other liquids.

Apple cider vinegar: On the shelf with the other vinegars, this has a mild, tart flavor that you probably won’t notice if you’re using it in baking. It acts with the baking soda/powder to make some of the fluffiest baked goods you’ve tasted, vegan or not. Also, a teaspoon of ACV in a cup of soymilk creates a thick, buttermilk-like consistency. Use it as a base for onion rings!

Earth Balance: This is the most popular vegan margarine out there. It’s available in tubs and sticks, and they are all different. What I usually refer to in recipes is the original tubs. The sticks are very greasy, more like shortening, and the whipped has more water and air (puzzling that it’s more expensive). The controversy over palm oil has many of us looking for an alternative, but for now, this is the standard.

Egg replacer. Ener-G egg replacer works fine in some recipes (according to direction), but you can also use ground flax seed in water, mashed banana, or silken tofu. This is one of those personal preference things that you’ll just experiment with.

Nondairy milks: Many of these are fortified (just like dairy milk), so they can be highly nutritious. If you don’t like one variety, try another. Even among soymilks, you’ll taste and feel a difference across brands. Try almond, rice, hemp, soy, coconut, oat, and potato. Also useful are soy and coconut coffee creamers, for in coffee, but also in scones.

Nutritional yeast: Also referred to as nooch. I don’t want to tell you what it is because it sounds gross, and it’s so delicious and nutritious. This is a fungus that dries yellow and is available in flake and powder. It has a tangy, cheesy flavor and is super high in Vitamin B12, a tough one to find in a vegan diet (without supplements). Try this on pasta, popcorn, toast, kale, potatoes…anything that’s not sweet.

Seitan: Used to be known as “wheat meat,” this protein is made with gluten flour and spices to stand as a sort of meat substitute, given that it has a very toothsome texture. Can be used in everything from taco filling and stews to chicken-like nuggets and sausages. Some commercial varieties are so great you’ll forget that you can make a basic seitan easily and cheaply at home.

Tempeh: pressed, fermented soy beans. Available in blocks (usually in the refrigerated section, sometimes freezer), this nutty-tasting protein can be sliced, crumbled, or chunked. Great on the grill, in tacos, or in a sandwich. Steam/flash-marinate before further cooking for a more tender texture.

Tofu: soy bean curd. The thing to remember about tofu is that it comes in a wide variety of consistencies, from almost-liquid silken (perfect for blended desserts) to extra-firm (brown and serve on a sandwich). Can be fried, baked, smoked, or eaten as-is. Highly adaptable using marinades. First-timers might want to try a tofu scramble or breaded & baked.

TVP: Texturized vegetable protein. This is shelf-stable, dehydrated granules/chunks/bits of processed soy. TVP granules are fine for taco filling or chili. I use Soy Curls more often given their size and texture. These are all to be rehydrated with hot water—usually broth or other seasoned liquid, so the TVP pieces can soak up all that flavor. They can then be cooked further in whatever recipe you’re using.


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