Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Practical Cooks
If you are new to veganism, trying out different recipes or interested in extending your culinary repertoire to include more plant-based options, there are a couple of essential ingredients / staples that most meat-free recipes will call for.
It may be daunting to see so many new condiments and seasonings on the shelves at once, but each one of these ingredients performs an essential function in the meal.
Whether used to add depth of flavor, to bind the ingredients together, impart a particular umami taste, or to add essential B Vitamins, vegans worldwide are adept at combining additives to elevate the flavor profiles of a variety of vegetables.
These added flavors can really complete a dish!
Check out our list of essential store cupboard ingredients below. Most of these components are not new, like vinegar, spices, and salts but there may be some on our list you’ve not cooked with yet.
Learn what these new ingredients are, how they are made and how they can be incorporated into a fresh and healthy vegan diet.
Variety is the spice of life and variety in diet is key to keep your mind and body at its best. Try, test and taste each one and we guarantee it won’t be long before these ingredients become store cupboard staples in your kitchen!
1. Agar Agar
Agar agar, also known as Kanten, is a white flaked or powdered substance used as a thickener and stabiliser.
Once dissolved in water and simmered, the liquid thickens up to a gelatinous jelly which is used in the production of jams, preserves and even ice cream.
Obtained from boiling a red algae seaweed, the thickener has been used in Asian desserts since its invention in 1658 in Japan.
As legend has it, an innkeeper discarded some surplus seaweed soup and later noticed it had gelled after a night of freezing temperatures.
Agar agar is also used as a solid medium for growing microbes in laboratory settings, remember those sticky round plates in science class? Agar agar is useful to replace gelatine in a vegans diet and is often flavored, cubed ad served as an after dinner sweet.
This versatile jelly is so good they named it twice!
2. Aqua Faba
The starchy, cloudy liquid in a tin of beans, chickpeas or lentils is also known as Aqua Faba, and is about to become your favorite new ingredient!
First of all – don’t pour this liquid away! Instead, catch it, cook with it and you’ll be amazed at how useful it is. From easy homemade mayonnaise to fluffy meringues, melt in the mouth mousse and light wholesome pancakes, aqua faba excels when used in place of egg white.
Simply froth the brine up with a handheld blender for a whipped cream topping. Delicious, easy, AND you are saving on food waste, what is better than that!
Arrowroot is a starch obtained from the roots of a tropical plant called Maranta. Used as a thickener, the white powder is versatile and naturally gluten free.
Some believe it to be a healthier alternative to cornflour as it reacts in the same manner as it contains more fiber and has a neutral, non-floury taste. The grain-less starch is easy to digest and is loaded with potassium, iron, and B Vitamins.
Also, it is useful when seeking to crisp up baked goods like fries and roasts. This multi-purpose store cupboard ingredient is even known to absorb oils on the scalp and improve the appearance of your hair between washes! How helpful is that!
Nuts are a wonderful snack for a vegan, full of protein, vitamins, folates, and fiber. But other than the usual peanut butter cookies, savory nut sauce or pesto, nuts are not often seen as a cooked ingredient. Vegan kitchens use the cashew as a base for a delicious sauce.
When soaked in boiling water, cashews soften up and blend into a smooth and creamy sauce for a plant-based pasta alfredo, topping for a casserole or a cashew curry. Although high in fats, cashews are also high in essential protein, B vitamins, magnesium, and iron.
A versatile and tasty addition to the vegan store cupboard, cashews can be a critical component in cookies, vegan cheese, stir fry, or even a homemade cashew cocoa spread!
Also known as the garbanzo bean, a tin of chickpeas makes a great addition to a curry, stew, or vegan casserole. Peas are a fantastic source of protein, potassium, vitamins and are high in dietary fiber which is great for the gut and bowel.
Try adding them to soup, serving as mash or blend with tahini and a little oil for a rich tasty hummus. They are even delicious roasted as a snack, flavored with spices or coated in chocolate!
Chickpeas are a speedy and versatile vegan friendly ingredient and extremely shelf stable which means you’ll rarely find yourself with an expired tin in your cupboard. Don’t forget to save the aqua faba for a creamy homemade mayo!
Corn starch, (not cornflour), is a popular starch used to thicken many dishes like soups and sauces. Obtained by separating the germ from the endosperm of the corn kernel in a process known as wet milling, the resulting white powder is useful as an egg replacement and as a coating to create a crispier texture.
It works great when fluffing up pancakes or omelettes, and to thicken sauces and pie fillings.
Corn starch has many other uses, not just in the kitchen. Its properties are used by the paper and textile industries, in the medical field, and for starching laundry. Great for keeping those collars stiff!
7. Garam Masala
If you are new to veganism, your spice rack might be heaving under the weight of so many new powders and it may take a while to understand which components you use the most in your day-to-day cooking routine.
Pre-mixed spice blends are a perfect solution if space is limited and spices plentiful!
Garam masala, which literally means ‘hot spices,’ is a blend of everyday spices toasted together to bring out the flavour and the rich aroma. Gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan, Garam Masala is a versatile blend to have on hand. Guaranteed to spice up any meal!
8. Gram Flour
Flour ground from chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) is called gram or, in India where it is widely used, besan. Like the chickpeas themselves, its chock full of protein, gluten free and is so versatile it can even be used as an egg substitute.
You’ll find gram flour in most health food stores, it is high in fiber, low in fat and boasts a low glycaemic index making it suitable for diabetics. Gram flour tastes great in pancakes, fritters, or tortillas. Use in place of refined wheat flour for a healthier, more flavorful meal!
Gums are substances used in cooking and baking to bind, thicken and emulsify. They are also used in dressings to prevent separation and improve the ‘mouth feel’ of ice creams and desserts.
Popular gums include xanthan, guar, and Arabic gum, which have widely different properties and are used in differing ways.
Using gums shouldn’t intimidate a new chef though! You will soon get used to the amounts of each and the viscosity required by your recipe. Use gums to bake gluten free bread, as a fat replacement in vegan yogurts and creams, and to bind together the ingredients of a vegan meat substitute.
Gums are essential for texture when recreating vegan cheeses too. A little gum goes a long way!
10. Himalayan Black Salt
Also known as Kala Namak, black salt is a powerful addition to your spice rack. Used extensively in South Asian cuisine to flavor all kinds of dishes, black salt is one of those ingredients that you’ll wonder how you did without.
The deep sulfurous smell and eggy taste of black salt means replicating egg dishes like boiled egg sandwiches is easy – and the results believable!
Kala Namak is a key ingredient in the popular spice blend Chaat masala, and is used in many Indian snacks including chutneys, salads and even to flavor fruit.
Don’t be fooled by the name, black salt appears a dusky pink to violet hue. A pinch of Kala Namak goes an exceptionally long way so be sure to measure up when you add it to your meal.
Kuzu is a form of starch derived from the root of a climbing vine, the Kudzu root, which is a member of the pea family and quite an invasive species.
It is a Japanese staple, having been used for over XX years and is considered one of the 50 fundamental medicinal herbs. In the kitchen, it acts as any starch would, thickening and texturizing soups, sauces, and stews.
Tofu is complimented by kuzu, increasing the smooth creaminess of the dish, and elevating the taste. Kuzu is available from most health food stores and is sold in packages similar to potato starch.
It is naturally gluten free and with a neutral flavor, kuzu can be used in baking, pasta making and much more!
Don’t be dissuaded by the fact that the word lecithin is Greek for egg yolk. The popular additive is derived from many plant-based sources too, like soy bean, rapeseed, and sunflower.
It is a yellow powder that is commonly used as a natural emulsifier, to smooth and stabilize emulsions, and which acts as a preservative to increase the shelf life of food products. This dietary supplement is known to lower cholesterol, ease tiredness and is an excellent antioxidant.
Lecithin makes a perfect egg replacement and can froth and foam when blended. Full of micro-nutrients and B Vitamins, this stress fighting, memory improving ingredient deserves its space in the vegan kitchen!
Lentils are a fantastic way to replicate the meaty look and chewy texture of mince without of course, adding the meat.
The most common lentils are green, red, and brown, and as each is a different size and color, adding a lentil mix can improve almost any dish, from a Shepherd’s Pie to a soup, stew, casserole, or curry.
Lentils are also easily flavored so experiment with strong flavors like curry powder, spices, and BBQ sauce. These little legumes are a great source of fiber, folic acid, and potassium, whilst remaining low in fat and low in calories.
They are a wonderfully nutritious way to bulk up any meal in a healthy way.
Dried lentils are also easy to sprout, and just a little water can turn this shelf stable store cupboard bean into fresh salad in less than 5 days! Some lentils do require soaking before use so check the package and follow the instructions.
Love it, hate it or completely unbiased towards the deep brown savory spread? Maybe you’ll find love for the stuff when you begin to see its use and the depth of flavor it adds to so many vegan recipes.
Invented by a German scientist and made of a yeast extract, this by product of the beer brewing process has a powerful aroma and a distinctive sticky taste.
Full of B Vitamins and the all-important B12, marmite can be enjoyed spread on toast, topping a cheese sandwich, or added to a soup, stew, seitan, gravy, or slow cooked casserole. However you eat it, marmite is a nutritious additive to the vegan diet!
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans. Not to be confused with miso soup (which, by the way, is also delicious and vegan friendly), miso is a thick and flavorful paste, usually sold as either red or white.
Red miso is typically aged longer and fermented past the lighter varieties to create a deeper flavor profile and a heartier, more pungent aroma.
Use miso in miso soup, any lentil or legume dishes, with mushrooms or in a peanut dressing to supply that umami flavor most associated with Japanese food.
However, use miso sparingly as the rich flavor is known to overwhelm taste buds!
16. Nutritional Yeast
You may have noticed this on the ingredient lists of vegan meals as it is so versatile, full of micro-nutrients and very flavorsome. Nutritional yeast, also known as nooch or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is the very same yeast used to bake bread and brew beer – but in a deactivated form so it won’t ferment.
Nutritional yeast is grown on beet and sugar cane before being harvested, washed, pasteurized, dried, and packaged. The thick yellow flakes can be added to soups, stews, tofu, and sauces to give a nutty, cheesy flavor and appetizing yellow hue.
Ordinarily, nutritional yeast is fortified and contains a range of the all-important B Vitamins required by vegans to stay healthy. Use it as a sprinkle-on condiment on pizza, pasta, salad or to add another layer of flavor to a scrambled tofu breakfast.
Nutritional yeast, available in most supermarkets and health food shops, is an effortless way to bolster taste profiles and your B12 reserves!
Oatmeal is the savior of many a breakfast, vegan or not, and a staple in an Irish kitchen. Hands up if you’ve had piping hot porridge before school on a wet winters morning!
As an adult, you’ve probably tried the many easy overnight oats recipes doing the rounds and maybe you’re a dab hand at incorporating fruit, nuts, seeds, and berries with your favorite oat milk.
Perhaps you even make the milk yourself!
Wholegrain oats or groats are an incredible ingredient for a vegan, full of vitamins, low in fat while high in protein and a great source of fiber. Try oatmeal cookies, breads, and pancakes and for savory meals use oats to bulk out sausage meats or bake an oaty nut roast.
Always purchase local wholegrain oats, not only is this flaky cereal good for you, but eating local oats will reduce your food miles significantly. Win win!
Creating incredible vegan food at home begins with a quality cooking oil. In the past, vegetable, sunflower or olive oil were our go-to cooking fats, and the same could be said for a lot of traditional Irish households.
Veganism presents the opportunity to try out a range of new ingredients, including base oils. Hemp seed, flax seed, coconut and sesame oil are all readily available in health food stores, and there are a lot of smaller oil pressing companies lately supplying the market.
So, be sure to shop around for the best quality.
When choosing a seaweed additive for your store cupboard, local is best. There are many bespoke seaweed harvesting and processing companies in the US and all over the world. As they are limited by quota to how much they harvest, these businesses are truly sustainable and very much worth supporting.
Our local harvester specializes in Dulsk, also known as Dulse, and Winged Kelp. These seaweeds are cultivated on ropes in the tides before being harvested, washed, dried, and processed – usually in small, chopped strips or ground to a fine powder.
Eating seaweed has so many health benefits it is hard to list them all, suffice to say, replacing your salt cellar with seaweed salt and using sparingly, the tasty substance is low calorie, almost no fat and high in iodine, contains B12 and is an essential antioxidant which supports thyroid function.
Use it in soups, stews or wherever you normally add salt and see for yourself!
20. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is fairly common in the Irish kitchen, but not in any variety. Light, dark, and thick soy sauces may look the same, but the process is varied, and each plays a different role in Asian cuisine.
Made from fermented paste of soybeans and brine, the sharp and pungent umami flavor of soy sauce is unique and more-ish.
Cook down vegetables in a soy sauce stir fry, add it to rice or noodle dishes or use it as a dipping sauce for seitan chunks.
Experiment with flavored soy sauces like shiitake mushroom and tamarind and read about the fascinating processes that go into making this dark brown condiment which originated in China over 2,20 years ago!
Starch is a common additive in any serious kitchen. In sort, starch is made by plants during the photosynthesis process to aid them to store food.
In cooking, starch is used to absorb liquids and thicken them, and it is widely used in all kinds of recipes, as a binder, emulsifier, and fat substitute.
Our list features quite a few starches, see agar, xanthan, arrowroot, cornflour, tapioca and kuzu!
Stock is essential as a base to build a flavor from in so many vegan dishes, to cook out an onion and garlic or add liquid and depth to a soup, but so many flavors are not vegan. Once you find a great vegan stock cube (or powder), you will find the potential uses are many.
Try dehydrating cous cous or cooking quinoa with stock instead of water, add a cube to pasta water or rice. You can even incorporate a stock cube or two with some cornflour and boiling water to make a thick and tasty gravy!
Stock is also available ready made in cartons and tins for the ultimate convenience.
This could be said of vinegars of times past – who ever heard of anything but malt brown and white vinegar? And what use were they but to drown a bag of hot chips? Vinegar is a truly underappreciated condiment.
So pungent and flavorful, the versatile acidic liquids can be used in salad dressings, as a preservative in bread or as an on-the-table-serve-yourself addition. Apple cider vinegar, red wine, white wine, balsamic and rice vinegar all deserve a space in the cupboard due to the unique flavors they bring.
Pick up a deep and spicy apricot or sherry flavored vinegar for even more variety. And for that special occasion, look out for champagne vinegar! Yes, it’s a real thing!
24. Xanthan Gum
Like the other gums on the list, xanthan is a multi-purpose white powder. Its space aged name is derived from the species of bacteria present during fermentation.
As a thickener, xanthan is second to none. Add more xanthan gum for a thicker, more stable substance, or less for less, depending on the recipe.
Xanthan also foams and can replace egg whites and create texture in desserts. Xanthan isn’t confined to use in the kitchen. The oil industry utilizes its stabilizing properties to thicken mud and the powder is widely used in the cosmetics world to create gels.
A must-have in the vegan store cupboard!
When you stop to consider your diet a little, whether you are a resolute vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian, you invite remarkable things into your kitchen.
Varied ingredients are the building blocks to the perfectly balanced meal, and planning your daily nutrition can become a fun and interesting part of the week!
This list is really just the beginning. We will be adding to it regularly as we find and experiment with new-to-us vegan additives and supplements. The more we experiment, the better we get at cooking, and when intuition overtakes instruction, we can discard recipes and start to create our own innovative culinary works of art.
Plate up a piece of perfection!