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The Ultimate Guide to Vegan & Vegetarian Ingredient Replacements

Once upon a time, going plant-based meant bidding farewell to a lot of really good stuff — ice cream, cheesy pizzas, burgers... And butter? Forget about it. But thanks to the growing popularity of plant-based products, you can say goodbye to food FOMO— instead of any actual foods. These days, almost every animal ingredient has a vegan or vegetarian counterpart you can substitute it with. If you’re new to plant-based eating (or looking to start), lactose-intolerant, or just health-conscious and looking to cut back on a few animal products, read on for a list of substitutes that will make your plant-based cooking and eating a breeze.

Milk

This is probably one of the easiest dairy products to sub, as there’s a gamut of options for non-dairy alternatives: soy, hemp, almond, coconut, oat, and rice milk are the most common. If you’re looking for high protein, soy is your best bet. Flavorwise, oat milk has a great, earthy flavor. It’s a great addition to coffee but is also mild enough for a bowl of cereal. Rice milk also has a similarly mild taste but is a bit naturally sweeter.

Yogurt

 Like milk, there’s a ton of corresponding dairy-free options made from coconut milk, almond milk, and oat milk. Most alternatives come with a hefty serving of probiotics and vitamins and minerals, so you aren’t missing out on the nutrients of real yogurt.

Cheese

Another food with a ton of alternative options. You’ll find a number of brands that sell it in a variety of forms: shreds, blocks, slices, and even spreadable cream cheeses. Daiya is popular for their shredded cheeses; for slices, Violife is a tasty option — I know non-vegans that choose Violife slices over real cheese — their parmesan and smoked provolone are dead ringers for the real thing.

Eggs

What you replace eggs with will depend largely on what you’re cooking. If you’re making scrambled eggs, using crumbled tofu will give you a similar texture and act as a good neutral base to add peppers, onions, tomatoes, etc., for more flavor. Just crumble your block of firm tofu into pieces and season with your favorite spices! 

To substitute whole eggs in a recipe, flax seeds or chia seeds mixed with water are a good alternative that mimics the texture of eggs. In baked goods, applesauce, cornstarch, pureed banana, and even pureed soft tofu can work! It may take a bit of experimenting to find the substitute that works best for you.

If you need an egg-white only substitute, you might be surprised to learn that the water from a can of chickpeas — called aquafaba — can be used to make meringues, mousses, and other baked treats like macarons and brownies. To make a vegan frosting, add chickpea water to dairy-free buttercream, and voila!

Meat

There’s a huge variety of alternatives you can use for meat. Tofu, soy protein, seitan, and tempeh are the most common, and you’ll find them in sausage, patty, and even bacon form in stores. Tons of brands out there have mastered the meat texture and even the smoky flavor in some cases. Just be sure to read the labels and have a discerning eye — while a lot of meat replacements sound good for you because they’re plant-based, the saturated fat and caloric content is sometimes a lot higher than eating regular meat.

Fruits and vegetables, surprisingly enough, can give you the taste of meat as well — Jackfruit has a meat-like texture that’s similar to pulled pork — it has a neutral taste so it soaks up flavor well when cooked. Cremini and portobello mushrooms are also really flavorful and filling subs for meat.

Butter

There are a lot of dairy-free butters out there, and nut butters are also an option if you’re looking for something spreadable. If you want that specific salty, butter-like taste, olive-oil butter by Earth Balance is a great find — “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” has a vegan version, too. 

Chicken Stock

Veggie broth or vegetable bouillon cubes. Veggie broths tend to lack the depth of meat broths though, so roast them beforehand for a more flavorful punch.

Mayonnaise

A lot of people are surprised to find out that regular mayonnaise is made out from egg yolks. Sir Kensington’s makes a vegetarian dupe that comes very highly rated — and there are lots of homemade vegan recipes out there using aquafaba, sunflower oil, soymilk, or silken tofu.

Honey

Maple syrup and agave nectar are good alternatives to honey, and both are plant-based. Maple syrup (the real kind) is an anti-inflammatory, while agave nectar is lower in carbs and calories than honey, but still a tasty and effective sweetener.

Sugar

 Many vegans avoid sugar because it’s filtered via animal bone char. However, certified USDA organic sugar cannot be filtered through bone char, so you can avoid it that way — the label should say “unrefined.” Alternatively, any type of beet or coconut sugar is also vegan-friendly.

Ice Cream

Don’t skip dessert — oat milk ice cream is a delicious sub, and to be honest, you may find it even creamier and delicious than regular ice cream. Big brands like Magnum even have a dairy-free bar made from vanilla-flavored pea protein for the ice cream, covered in chocolate made with coconut oil. For fruity options, sorbets are always a safe bet as they’re made with only water and fruit puree.

Chocolate

Dark chocolate lovers, rejoice! Dark chocolate is dairy-free — it’s milk chocolate and white chocolate that use cow’s milk, but there are alternatives made with rice, coconut, and almond milk.

Whether you’re grocery shopping for a dupe or making your own at home, it’s clear you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to replacing animal products in your meals. Once you start thinking outside the box and seeing plants, nuts, and seeds as more than just the side dish, you won’t be missing meat or dairy products any time soon.

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