6 Vegan Ingredient Substitutions for Delicious Plant-Based Cooking

January is Veganuary … a perfect way to kick off the year with a plant-fueled reset for your body. Whether vegan-curious or a veteran of plant-based eating, ZENB is encouraging an increase in your plant-based intake as a great way to super charge 2023. Our Veganuary blog series has gathered tips, trips, and insights from experts who are focused on plant-based lifestyles.

If you’re participating in Veganuary, we salute you! In our book, eating more plants is never a bad call. However, if you grew up eating a lot of meat and dairy, or learned to cook with butter, eggs, and cream as foundational ingredients, you might have to reset your mindset a bit in the kitchen.

Luckily, there are a lot of fully vegan recipes out there to explore (check out some of our favorite ZENB vegan recipes here!). But, what to do with dishes that you love that aren’t vegan? Instead of bidding those a fond adieu, there are often ways to swap and substitute certain ingredients to transform conventional recipes into vegan ones.

With a touch of creativity and a smartly stocked pantry, you can pull off some ingredient switcharoos that can help integrate plant-based cooking into your daily routine! Here are six to try:

1. Nutritional Yeast for Parmesan Cheese

For many of us, a shower of Parmesan cheese is always the last step in plating up a dish of ZENB Pasta. This salty aged cheese provides a mega-dose of umami flavor; instead of eliminating that step to avoid the dairy, try nutritional yeast!

Nutritional yeast is a strain of deactivated powdered yeast that — as you might guess — is packed with nutritional benefits. These small, yellow flakes are an incredibly good source of protein and the B vitamins. Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, savory character that is pretty close to the flavor of Parmesan. Plus, it’s low in calories, sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free and vegan.

Look for nutritional yeast in the bulk section of a natural food store or in the “organic” or “natural” aisle of a well-stocked supermarket. Try it on pasta, popcorn, and toast!

Note: Nutritional yeast is deactivated and cannot substitute for active dry or instant yeast that is used in baking.

2. Plant-Based Pasta for Egg Pasta

A lot of noodles, especially fresh pasta and some Asian noodles, are made with eggs in the dough. One of the easiest vegan swaps is to use plant-based pasta instead! ZENB Pasta, which comes in a variety of shapes, is not only 100% vegan, but it’s also made one ingredient, 100% whole yellow peas, so it’s gluten-free, as well.

3. Green Lentils for Ground Meat

Go to the freezer section of any grocery store and you’ll find a number of processed mock meats that can substitute ground beef or turkey. Though these are indeed meat-free, they can also contain a lot of sodium and are not necessarily gluten-free.

One alternative that is super-nutrient-dense is lentils. They’re rich in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially iron, copper, manganese and thiamine. As these powerful legumes cook, they absorb the flavors of whatever liquid they’re in, and soften to a nice texture. Green and brown lentils work best as a ground meat substitute in saucy dishes with bold flavors, like Pasta Bolognese, burritos, and sloppy joes.

4. Avocado Oil for Butter or Ghee

We’ll bet you have a bottle or two of olive oil in the cupboard that are your go-tos for salad dressings and sauces. But its floral, spicy flavor means it’s not really the best stand-in for butter. If you’re looking to emulate the rich, round taste of butter, avocado oil is where it’s at.

Made from the pulp of avocados, this culinary oil has a beautiful green-gold color, and a mild, grassy, nutty flavor that’s like butter’s first cousin. Avocado oil also has a high smoke point, meaning you can sear veggies or plant-based protein in it, capturing that highly savory flavor of butter. It’s also great for confit! Avocado oil is also abundant in health benefits; it’s high in oleic acid (a healthy fat), vitamin E, monounsaturated fat, and lutein, a type of vitamin that’s found in yellow, orange, and red plants.

5. Jackfruit for Pulled Pork

Jackfruit is a fruit that’s in the same botanical family as figs, mulberries, and breadfruit. Typically grown in tropical climates, it looks like scaly dinosaur eggs on the outside, with yellow, stringy flesh that is usually sold peeled and packaged (although you can find the whole fruit in some produce markets). It’s very high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Unripened jackfruit doesn’t have a strong flavor, but it’s very absorbent, and takes on an eerily pulled pork-esque texture and flavor when stir-fried or simmered with BBQ sauce. Try it topped with vinegar-based slaw on a sandwich, or simmered in salsa tucked into tortillas with a dollop of guacamole.

6. Tofu for Scrambled Eggs

If you wake up with a hankering for scrambled eggs, try a tofu scramble as a hearty, protein-packed way to start the day. The key is to use firm or extra-firm tofu and to spice it very generously with a combination of turmeric, garlic and onion powders, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika and black salt (which has an egg-y, sulfurous aroma).

Crumble the tofu in a bowl, toss it with the seasonings and cook it over medium-high heat, moving it around with a spatula like you would scrambled eggs. Always taste it and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. You can also add any vegetables you like, such as onions, peppers, and broccoli.

For more plant-based inspo, check out the ZENB blog, our epic recipe collection, and our social media pages, including Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. 

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