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 leave a comment below.
(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).
(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 Coconut Milk (I am not a big proponent of substituting coconut milk in all recipes that call for milk, with the exception of dishes that are meant to have coconut in them. This is because the strong flavor of coconut tends to overpower other flavors.)
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.)
1 cup commercial soy yogurt. Soy yogurts are available everywhere now. Look in the regular refrigerator aisle alongside regular yogurt.
1 cup cashew yogurt: Make by soaking 1/2 cup raw cashews in 3/4 cup of water for at least 30 minutes, then blending to a smooth paste with juice of 1 lemon and a pinch of salt.
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”
1 tbsp flavorless oil
1 tbsp vegetable shortening
1 tbsp coconut oil. Coconut does have a strong flavor, so think about whether that flavor would suit your recipe before you substitute)
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).
1 TBSP CREAM
1 tbsp cashew cream (blend cashews with enough water to keep blender blades running)
1 tbsp almond cream (blend blanched almonds with enough water to keep blades running)
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, yellow and green Thai curry pastes on my DIY spice mixes page. They store forever in the freezer.