11 Ways to Cheat Veganism.

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Photo: Hern Berferd

Deciding to go vegan can be a pretty tough transition, but with these crafty pointers, your animal-loving self can cheat the ism.

Choosing to bow out from the gastronomic, animal-eating world is never an easy decision. Whether it is for spirituality, saving the animals—and their teats—or just experiencing something new, getting used to eating like a vegan can be a challenging task.

As any cook knows, making a meal without things like butter, eggs, cream and other kitchen essentials is torture. Add a lack of umami to the equation (the savory flavor often provided by meat) and even a seasoned chef would throw in the towel.

To ease the pains of an animal-free diet, I have gathered together some of my favorite vegan-friendly cure-alls for the health conscious culinaire. These eleven items will make your life easier, your meals tastier, and your non-vegan guests happier while keeping your conscience crystal clear.

If you’re thinking about becoming a vegan, stock your kitchen with these items.

1. Almond Milk. I drink at least a couple glasses of this slightly sweet dairy alternative daily. The consistency of (refrigerated) almond milk is much like the feel of regular milk but without the added hormones and vaccinations. It carries a barely noticeable nutty flavor and is worth every drop of left over cereal goodness. It can be used as a substitute for shakes, smoothies, and batters as well as a béchamel base.

2. Butter-less Butter. As a former French-trained chef, butter was my Holy Grail. I had to find a replacement. There are many non-dairy butter alternatives out there, but I prefer to stay away from soy spreads. Coconut butters, pea protein spreads, and various oil spreads are wonderful substitutes that provide authentic flavor without the negative claims surrounding soy.

Photo: Matt Wallace

3. Vegan Cream. Equally important as butter, cream certainly holds its place in my culinary arsenal. Dairy-free creamers come in soy, almond, coconut and hemp varieties. They carry a bit of sweetness, but work perfectly in any recipe. To find a exact substitute for dairy creamers, look for the word “unsweetened”.

Photo: Matt Wallace

4. Veganaise. I don’t suggest eating this stuff by itself, but it works miracles in dressing up salads and  sandwiches. For the experimental chef, this fake-mayo can create all sorts of cold-mixed condiments used to spice up any dish. One of my favorites is a tangy wasabi lemon ginger combo that I basically put on everything.

5. Vegan Cheese. One of the most painful sacrifices I have ever made was giving up cheese. I was a connoisseur. So naturally, it took me a while to find an acceptable replacement. But my prayers were answered the day I found Daiya.  And although it only comes in 3 flavors, it behaves like, tastes like, and melts like cheese. It is made from tapioca root, but includes other oils and arrowroot. It is soy- and hydrogenated oil-free.

Photo: Matt Wallace

6. Vegan yogurt. When I don’t have time to eat a solid breakfast, I eat yogurt. Finding non-soy based, dairy-free and edible yogurt was challenging, but after many yogurt-less months, I was introduced to Amande. This almond-milk cultured yogurt has an incredible texture with a variety of actual fruit flavors. Also an awesome smoothie addition.

Photo: VanRobin

7. Shiitake mushrooms. So it doesn’t take a genius to understand that mushrooms are inherently vegan, but it does take a chef to tell you that shiitake mushrooms will reintroduce the beloved umami flavor that has been missing since you gave up meat. Whether sautéed, boiled, or eaten raw these fantastic fungi will save you savorless meals. Season with a dash of salt to intensify the flavor.

8. Seaweed. I guess the politically correct term would be sea vegetables, but in either case, the classic dried, crunchy seaweed sold in a variety of forms will also bring not only an umami flavor, but also the essential B12 (a vitamin vegans often lack, responsible for low energy and fatigue). Toss chopped up seaweed into boiling water, in steaming rice or as garnish for salads and entrees.

Photo: ma.co

9. Tempeh. I make it my prerogative to stay away from soy. With all the bad hype and hoopla, I figure it’s best to just steer clear of the bean. But in my research, ancient cultures (Chinese and Japanese) found that soy was rendered edible and safe once it had undergone fermentation. This discovery gave rise to soy sauce, miso and tempeh. Tempeh is an excellent meat alternative that provides yielding texture that will take on whatever seasoning you use. It can even be marinated. You can also find varieties of tempeh that are grain and vegetable based.

Photo: utis

10. Seitan. Pronounced, “say-tin”, this wheat based meat alternative is well-known in the vegan community. Its firm texture and ability to take on flavor creates a high demand in vegan cookery. What separates it from tempeh is its softer, moister complexion, giving it increased gastronomic versatility. It can be used in stews, served as is, shredded, sautéed or even baked.

11. Egg replacement. After turning vegan, I realized everything has egg in it. All desserts, batters, pastries, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, croissants, cinnamon buns—basically everything that made the world go round—was suddenly off limits. My sweet tooth was devasted. That was until I found egg replacements. You can opt for Ener-G egg replacer (free of soy) or you can use natural egg replacements like applesauce, bananas, avocados, flax seeds and water, agar powder or tapioca starch. These alternatives add a unique depth in flavor and softness in texture.

Some items that didn’t quite make the cut were vegan cream cheese, vegan ice cream, agave and other sweeteners, and tofu.

If you’d like any recipes or advice feel free to post in the comments below or email me. And as always, much love.


Editor Tanya L. Markul

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Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace is a food studies grad student and Kundalini yoga teacher exploring the connections between food and consciousness. A California native recently transplanted in NYC, Matt has taken on the definition of the urban yogi. A vegan and intentional eater, his work often aims to expand the depths of our food consciousness. You can follow him here.

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anonymous Sep 7, 2014 9:37pm

Vegan 'nice cream', made in nz, is outstanding vegan coconut milk based ice cream

anonymous Jan 21, 2014 12:36pm

Thank you for all of your helpful advice!!!

anonymous Jan 19, 2014 4:30pm

Sonia, there’s a restaurant in Toronto (Bello Bio) which imports Italian Vegan goods. Living in Italy you should see if you can find some if the products/brands they import. They sell a wicked rice mozzarella! http://www.bellobio.ca/vegan-food-shop-1.html

anonymous Jan 19, 2014 7:51am

Hi Matt,
I just wanted to post a huge THANK YOU!!! I've recently made the switch to veganism, if five months can be considered "recent", and I'm just now starting to truly experiment with recipes and such. Giving up meat only gave me some trouble in the very beginning but I got used to it relatively easily; lately, however, cheese cravings have been killing me! These pointers of you might have just saved my life. 🙂 I live in Italy and some of the products you've described are not available (some are not available in those brands, and some are not available altogether), but I can always look into making them myself. So really, thanks so very much for this post! 🙂


anonymous Jan 18, 2014 5:35pm

Actually “seaweed”should be sea fungi 🙂 unless your eating sea grass lol. Can you be vegan with out processed garbage?

    anonymous Jan 18, 2014 5:39pm

    Whoops I’ll correct my smart ass reply by saying sea algae not fungi ::)

anonymous May 5, 2012 11:21am

[…] […]

anonymous May 4, 2012 2:34am

[…] approach should be sharing information about healthier choices that might include vegan options. Or maybe show them how delicious vegan food is and that there are many options that taste similar to… My point is, there are many reasons why different people have chosen to ignore you. And that brings […]

anonymous Apr 19, 2012 4:07pm

Hi, I'm a few other responders who would rather use the real thing (butter or ghee for example)–I'm more a lacto-ovo guy–but I would also add to this list (pushing it past the magic "10" number) miso–fabulous for so many things in cooking–and natto, if you can stand it–a fermented soy product. On second thought, forget it–most westerners are just not going to eat it.

anonymous Apr 18, 2012 9:45pm

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Health & Wellness Homepage.

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anonymous Apr 18, 2012 9:30am

Only one more thing I'd throw in the mix personally – Nutritional yeast! 🙂

And I appreciate the toning down unfermented soy. Setting aside the arguments (I'm anti-unfermented soy myself.) Too often vegetarians/vegan dramatically overdue the soy instead of exploring the other options which make for a more balanced and varied diet.

anonymous Apr 17, 2012 1:32pm

cakes and cupcakes etc. don't need egg. you don't even need egg-replacement. the magic is apple sauce or flax seeds.

I am a vegetarian for a while and I think your list reads like something someone wrote who should find an ethical way to eat animal products. milk free cheese and yoghurt? butter free butter? (how about vegetable oil?)

I would second the half-assed knowledge on soy that John pointed out.

    anonymous Apr 17, 2012 4:58pm

    This article was written for those who might not be seasoned vegetarians. And I clearly stated using apple sauce and flax seeds and many other egg replacements. To be honest, I am a bit confused as to the aggressive nature of your comment. All this article is intended for is to help others realize their vegan goals. It is not an ethical debate nor a forum for argumentation.

anonymous Apr 17, 2012 9:23am

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Food Homepage.

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Blogger at The VeganAsana
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anonymous Apr 17, 2012 12:49am

Your "research" on soy is muddled, at best, if you think Chinese and Japanese cultures, which make heavy use of (usually unfermented) tofu, discovered soy was "rendered edible" by making tempeh, which is from Indonesia.

    anonymous Apr 17, 2012 7:55am

    traditionally these cultures knew to stay away from unfermented soy. In the Ayurvedic culture (which heavily influences other parts of Asia) soy was strictly avoided. However, this does not mean that these cultures never developed unfermented soy product (much like how we know cigarettes and Mcdonalds are unhealthy, yet still consume them). And thank you for pointing out my mistake in tempeh.

      anonymous Apr 17, 2012 6:12pm

      Actually the spread of Tofu wasn't analogous to cigarettes (!); there's evidence it spread throughout Asia through the efforts of Buddhist monks. I don't know the details about the Ayurvedic views on soy, but since tempeh is a staple of Balinese cuisine, and the vast majority of the Balinese people are Hindu, it must be a more complex picture.

      Suffice it to say, I don't think the Weston Price foundation is a reliable source on Asian foods.

        anonymous Apr 17, 2012 6:31pm

        The trackback link was used just for that, tracking back to another elephantjournal page. My source on soy is a book by author Henk Hoogenkamp titled Soy protein and formulated meat products. Although his stance is for soy, his data and sources on the history of it are solid. The debate against soy and its health benefits will rage as long as people still eat it. I choose to avoid it on GMO purposes as even in "organically" labelled there is risk of consuming GMO soy. If I were a woman, there would be other concerns that have yet to be widely accepted (but nevertheless exist). And the cigarette usage was to get your attention =) I appreciate this thoughtful dialogue you've created

anonymous Apr 16, 2012 2:33pm

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the fantastic tips…especially for the cheese substitute–I'm definitely going to check out the Daiya!
I'm going through some occasionally powerful cheese cravings myself…otherwise all good.
I've even switched to vegan makeup…!
Which, being a man, might not be your thing…–but I'm finding it pretty interesting to do the 'veganism' both on the inside and on the outside.