Vegan Substitutes

Finding substitutes for animal products is perhaps the trickiest part of vegan cooking, both for a new conscious eater, and for someone who’s been doing this a while. But it can also be a lot of fun to upend some long-held traditions on cooking and baking by using cruelty-free products and getting results that are just as good and usually healthier than their animal-infested versions.Here is a list of vegan substitutes that always work for me. I’ve tried to group them by the animal product they replace. I will add to this list as I experiment with new substitutes, but meanwhile rest assured that I’ve tried and tested them for years now in my vegan kitchen. They work!If you don’t find something here and have a question about what to substitute in a particular recipe, feel free to write at myveganworld@gmail.com.

1 EGG
(To replace more than one, just multiply)
1 tbsp of ground flax meal + 3 tbsp of water
I use this most often for baked bread-cakes, like my Banana Nut Bread and Zucchini Bread, and in cookies and muffins.

1/4 cup tofu
(I usually blend my tofu so it is smooth before using it. If you add it as is to a recipe, you might never be able to break the lumps. Tofu works especially well in quiches and pancakes and pastas. It is also a great replacement in scrambled eggs).

1/2 banana
(I usually don’t use banana unless I want the recipe to be banana-flavored, as in my Banana Cake.)

1/4 cup applesauce
(Applesauce also makes a baked good really moist, so it allows you to cut down on fat in the recipe. It works great in my Carrot Cake.)

Commercial powder substitutes like EnerG
(I don’t use these a lot, but they are handy at times, especially in lighter cookies, like Amaretti. Read package instructions for measures.)

**

1 CUP MILK

(With all the alternatives available, there is really no excuse to use dairy milk. I love soymilk with cereal and in cakes and muffins etc, and I use almond milk instead of milk in many Indian sweets)

1 cup Soymilk

1 cup Rice Milk

1 cup Almond Milk

1 cup Hemp Milk

1 cup Hazelnut Milk

**
1 CUP YOGURT(Yogurt substitutes work great in raitas and other Indian foods like biryanis which call for yogurt Commercial soy yogurts are also available in the United States and other parts of the world.)

1 cup silken tofu blended with 2 tbsp lemon juice + 1/4 tsp salt (use more or less lemon juice if you don’t want your yogurt to be too acidic.)
Commercial soy yogurts available around the United States. Look in the regular refrigerator aisle alongside regular yogurt.

**
1 CUP BUTTERMILK
(Buttermilk substitutes can be used in any recipe that calls for it, including cupcakes, pancakes, and southern-style biscuits)

1 cup soymilk or almond milk + 1 tsp vinegar (I use any I have on hand, from plain vinegar to balsamic to apple cider. Mix and set aside for a couple of minutes to curdle.)

**

1 TBSP BUTTER
(Butter substitutes, like milk and yogurt substitutes, replace all the cholesterol with healthy fats that are better for you. Of course, vegan fats also contain the same number of calories as animal fats, so don’t overdo the use of fats of any kind.)

1 tbsp vegan margarine or “butter” (Earth Balance is the one I most use)

1 tbsp flavorless oil

1 tbsp vegetable shortening (vanaspati in India)
**

1 TBSP CHEESE

1 tbsp nutritional yeast
(This is most commonly used in pestos, pastas etc. as a cheese substitute and it adds a wonderfully cheesy flavor. It has all the yumminess of cheese minus the bad fats, and, cherry on the icing, it is packed with healthy B vitamins.)

1 tsp miso
(I am a die-hard fan of this Japanese seasoning and use it all the time instead of salt and in place of cheese in pestos and soups. I even add it to quiches, sauces, etc. Always add miso at the end of cooking, since heating miso can kill the wonderful enzymes it has that regulate your digestion).

**
OTHER DAIRY PRODUCTS

There are commercial brands of vegan cream cheese and vegan sour cream (like Tofutti) that taste and act like the originals.  But there also are nifty ways you can create your own “cheesy” flavors without buying overprocessed, over-the-shelf foods. 

**
1 TBSP GELATIN: 1 tbsp agar agar flakes or powder

**

1 TBSP HONEY: 1 tbsp maple syrup (Maple Syrup can be a great flavor-enhancer in some treats like oatmeal cookies and even nut breads.)

1 tbsp agave nectar (I love the caramelly taste of agave nectar, and it can be delicious in almost any baked good. Agave nectar also has a low glycemic index and makes a healthy sugar substitute)

**


SUGAR: Gee, you might say (especially if you’re a new vegan)– are you kidding me?
The truth is, most sugar is refined with an animal ingredient called bone char, which is made from the bones of cows. So sorry to rain on your dessert, but no, sugar is not usually a vegan product.
The good news is, there are more delicious alternatives out there. When you shop for sugar, look for turbinado sugar, which is not refined. It is also tastier, in my opinion, and it’s better for you than regular sugar.
Another great alternative is vegan cane sugar that is increasingly available here in the United States. Then there are so many unrefined sweeteners like jaggery or gur used in Indian kitchens, piloncillo in Latino cuisine, and maple syrup, of course. The last three have distinctive flavors, but they are wonderful flavors, so what’s stopping you?

CONFECTIONERS’ SUGAR OR POWDERED SUGAR: This is one I often get questions on because vegan powdered sugar is much harder to find in stores that regular vegan sugar is, and it is an essential ingredient in any avid baker’s pantry. I usually powder my own sugar in a spice grinder– adding a tablespoon of cornflour to a cupful of sugar really helps. If you have a powerful blender, that would work too. But the good news is, there are some brands of powdered sugar that are now out there, like this one, that you can order online.

1 TBSP WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE: 1 tbsp soy sauce with a smidgen of vinegar to add a slightly tangy note. Vegan versions of Worcestershire sauce are also on the market, but be sure to read labels carefully.

**

THAI CURRY PASTES: Thai curry pastes are great to have on hand for quick curries, but vegans need to watch out because most off-the-shelf products contain animal ingredients. The pastes are super-easy to make at home, and you can’t beat the flavor. Get my vegan, homemade version of the red curry paste and green curry  paste. They store forever in the freezer.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Ambica, I’ve used both but these days I buy the seeds and grind them up myself in a blender. That’s because anything with oils in it can go rancid over time so it’s safer to make the flaxmeal in smaller batches. I usually grind up enough for about a month’s use and keep it in an airtight jar in the refrigerator.

    • amy says

      Many of the nutrients in flax seeds (whole or ground) are degraded by light, so when you store them in your fridge make sure that you use an opaque container.

  2. Anonymous says

    hi vaishali your recipes are great and inspiring.i have just recently turned into vegan. I live in India I don’t get vegan butter here.how do I substitute butter?

    • says

      Butter’s usually quite easy to substitute– use margarine or oil, even in cookie and cake recipes. Is there a specific recipe you want to substitute butter in?

  3. Lisa says

    Hi Vaishali, thanks much for sharing these subs. I just recently went vegan and have been struggling to learn so many things — feels like I’m learning to cook all over again, in some ways! I appreciate your blog. All the best, Lisa

    • says

      Hi Lisa, congrats on choosing vegan. You are going to have a lot of fun discovering new foods! Happy you are finding the blog useful and always feel free to ask if you have questions. Best.

  4. Ahalya says

    Hey, am in Mumbai, India, I can’t find Earth Balance anywhere here, any leads? I’ve got Godrej’s Vanaspati, that do? Thanks much :)

    • says

      Surabhi, it would depend really on the recipe you are trying to replace it in. Cashew paste can be used in some instances. If you have a specific recipe in mind, I might have a more specific answer for you.

  5. Jay says

    Hi Vaishali,
    Thanks for this page. It definitely helps us veganize recipes! Will the vegan cakes taste better if the cake and frosting are made couple of days in advance? I have an event on Saturday but will be busy the entire morning that I will not have time to bake and decorate the cake the same day.
    Thanks,
    Jay

    • says

      Hi Jay, you can make them in advance, it really shouldn’t change the taste if you refrigerate the cake and/or the frosting for a couple of days. Let them come to room temperature before you decorate. Cheers.

  6. Lakshmi Sharma says

    Hi Vaishali,
    Awesome site. I tried your mango salsa and quiches… Thanks for sharing..

    In vegan recipes, I would like to know if there is any flour other than wheat and maida, can be used to make bread. I tried with barley but it didnt come out well… An idea…? Please let me know…

    • says

      Hi Lakshmi, so happy you have tried the recipes. Barley by itself is not a good substitute for wheat in breads because it doesn’t have as much gluten which gives wheat its binding and rising power. You can try using flours like rye in combination with wheat or– if you want to avoid wheat altogether– try gluten-free breads like this one http://holycowvegan.net/2013/04/gluten-free-sandwich-bread.html. Be sure to follow the recipe closely. Allbest.

  7. sravs says

    HI, I didnot really get sugar part. Are you saying, all these years, we are eating ones of cows in our daily sugar? If so, can you advice easily available alternates.

    • says

      Yes, most white sugar is refined using bone char which comes often from cow bones. You can use unrefined sugar like turbinado and in the U.S. you can buy sugar specifically labeled as vegan. Jaggery, maple syrup and agave are all great sugar substitutes that involve no animals.

  8. varsha says

    hi vaishali,
    this is one of the best vegan blogs i have come across so far :-)
    can you please share how to make faux chicken at home?

  9. says

    Hi Vaishali, thanks so much for your website. My husband and I both went vegan a few months ago when he was battling some health issues. He had been vegetarian for many years so it was not as much of a jump for him (I was definitely NOT vegetarian), although I didn’t do his veggies much justice. I worked full time and found it difficult to come up with anything creative in short time. So I tended to use a lot of pre-made vegetarian items for him. After he was diagnosed with cancer, I emptied the kitchen cabinets, and the fridge & freezer of all animal products, and most of the frozen “vegetarian” entrees that I used to rely on. 99% of what I make now is fresh and I’m amazed at how easy it is to combine the different veggies, grains, beans and spices & come up with great meals. I’m not working now so I have more time to learn, and your website is a Godsend! There are so many spices used in Indian food that have medicinal benefits for him. Right now I am adding turmeric and other spices to his green drinks, but I recently woke up thinking, “why don’t you learn to actually cook Indian food??” I don’t know what the differences are throughout the different regions, but I know this is a great place to start. Your website is much easier (and more personal) than any cookbook. I’m in the process now of getting more of the basic ingredients and will try your Mushroom Biryani first. Thanks again!

    • says

      Dear Janet, thanks for your lovely message. It is so true that spices have a ton of medicinal benefits. Turmeric, of course, being the best, because it offers protection from so many diseases, including cancer. Please feel free to ask if you have questions as you go through the recipes. And here’s wishing you and your husband a very delicious journey to good health and a long life! :)

  10. geetha says

    Hi Vaishali,

    Do you make yoghurt at home?After reading your blog about Amul cheese,I am trying to be vegan.I love yoghurt and the plain soy yoghurt is too sweet for me.Have you any suggestions? Also,where can I get miso? I live in Canada.Thank you for the informative blog for a new vegan.

  11. Sangita Kalarickal says

    Hi Vaishali am dying to try one of your recipes, but it calls for pastry flour which I’m having a hard time find. Is there any substitute for pastry flour?

  12. geetha says

    Hi Vaishali,

    Is molasses also produced using bone char? I was wondering if i can replace sugar with it. Turbinado sugar is slightly expensive. Thank you for all the support.

    regards,

    geetha.

    • says

      Hi Geetha, molasses is perfectly fine– it is not refined using bone char. You can also use the Indian jaggery in some sweets. I buy my vegan cane sugar or turbinado sugar at Costco where it is available at fairly economical prices.

      • geetha says

        Hi Vaishali,

        Thanks a lot for the tips.I shall get the sugar from our Costco.I shall continue using molasses with a clear conscience.:)

        regards,

        geetha.

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