By Lindsey Gallagher
Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.
Welcome back! This week it’s time to explore some (but certainly not all) plant-based staples to fill your fridge and pantry with for a successful journey as a plant-based eater! Let’s jump right in!
GRAINS & PASTA
- Rice – All rice (brown, white, basmati, arborio, etc.) in its basic form is vegan!
- Farro – An ancient grain of three wheat species that has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is a great source of fiber, iron, protein, and magnesium.
- Quinoa – Technically, a seed, but classified as a whole-grain, quinoa is unique from many plant-based foods in that it is a complete protein (i.e., it contains all the essential amino acids). Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain! It is also full of antioxidants and a great source of folate, iron, thiamine, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Even better, because it’s so tiny, quinoa is incredibly versatile (you can easily add it to smoothies, desserts, salads, soups, etc.)!
- Bulgar wheat – Another ancient whole grain, bulgur is light and nutty, sort of like couscous. A great source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, and iron.
- Pasta – Most store-bought pastas are already vegan (Barilla, De Cecco, store brands, etc.). However, if you’re looking for a more nutritionally dense pasta, there are plenty of plant-based options! This includes Banza, a chickpea-based pasta full of protein, or Explore Cuisine’s Edamame pasta, also high in protein. There are also lentil and pea pastas that offer more protein than conventional pasta. Try out some different ones to figure out which variety you most enjoy!
- Soba noodles – These Japanese noodles, typically made from buckwheat, flour, salt, and water, are vegan! These make a great base in many meals!
- Rice noodles – These noodles, made from rice and water, are also vegan and great for Asian cuisine.
- Oats – To me, there is no better breakfast than a bowl of oats. A little bit of oatmeal goes a long way, and there are so many ways to change the flavor with add-ons. If you don’t like oatmeal, you can add oats to so many other things, like baked goods, and they always enhance the flavor! Oats are a great source of fiber and beneficial to heart health as well!
- Bread – Bread is something you will want to always check the label on because different kinds and brands of bread vary in ingredients. Some breads that are commonly vegan are sourdough, pita, Ezekiel, ciabatta, and baguettes. If you haven’t ever tried it, Ezekiel Bread is delicious because it’s packed with whole grains that give it a rich, hearty flavor (always found in the freezer aisle).
An aside on honey: Since we’re talking about bread, which often includes honey, we’ll talk about honey. Honey is one of the most contentious foods when it comes to a plant-based diet. It’s generally accepted that honey is not plant-based because it is an animal product. However, some vegans do consume honey. Every person will have to make this choice on their own. From my perspective, it is a very small thing to fuss over. I used to not consume honey on my vegan diet, but as I’ve come to embrace more flexibility, I don’t mind having things that are sweetened with honey here and there. As you make your own choice, just be aware that quite a lot of bread, snacks, and desserts are sweetened with honey, and it can be difficult to accommodate this all the time.
- Cereal – fortified cereals are great for plant-based eaters because they contain some of the vitamins and minerals that are harder to come by in plant-based products. Cheerios (my favorite), for instance, are fortified with Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, and Vitamin B12, to name just some. Use labels at the grocery store to find fortified cereal you’ll like!
Flour, like grains (and because it comes from grains), is vegan, so you have many options here! You can turn almost any grain into flour, and if you have a blender, you can even do this from home. Some of your options include:
- Whole wheat flour
- White flour
- Oat flour
- Almond flour
- Rye flour
- Buckwheat flour
- Semolina flour
- Gluten-free flour
- Rice flour
- Corn flour
- Chickpea flour (works great for veggie burgers)
BEANS & LEGUMES
Like grains and flour, all beans and legumes, in their natural form, are vegan! Beans and legumes will also be an important source of protein on a plant-based diet! Since these are a major protein source for plant-based eaters, I’ll include the protein content of each one (per a half-cup serving), which I pulled directly from the packages on these items in my pantry. Do note that there are many other nutritional and health benefits besides the protein content, though.
- Black Beans – 8g
- Kidney Beans – 7g
- Great Northern Beans – 6g
- Cannellini Beans – 7g
- Lima Beans- 6g
- Pinto Beans – 6g
- Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas) – 6g
- Peas – 3g
- Lentils – 7g
- Peanuts – 8g per 1 oz, Peanut butter – 7g per 2 tbsp
- Edamame – 6.5g
OTHER PROTEIN SOURCES
Minimally processed protein sources:
- Tofu – This soy-based protein is one of the most versatile plant-based foods. It will absorb any flavor! 3 ounces of firm tofu has 7 grams of protein!
- Tempeh – This soy-based complete protein is more dense than tofu and holds a nuttier taste. It also has a great protein content, with 18 grams from a 3-ounce serving.
- Seitan – This is a plant-based protein made of vital wheat gluten that is great for mimicking the texture of chicken. Only two ounces of seitan has 18 grams of protein!
Protein sources that are more processed:
There are a number of companies that make mock meats with a flavor and texture that closely resemble animal-based meat. Many of these products are delicious and I would certainly recommend checking them out, but it’s also important to keep in mind that these are often ultra-processed and may not be the smartest choice health-wise as your main protein source. Of course, any protein is better than none, so there’s no need to completely avoid these. Just keep moderation in mind!
- Gardein makes a variety of plant-based meats (and even some soups!), all of which are vegan. They have everything from chicken tenders and chicken nuggets to turkey cutlets to wings to meatballs to sausages to burgers to ground beef to fish filets to complete plant-based meals to chicken noodle soup. Another benefit is that many of these products also have a solid amount of protein. The ultimate plant-based burger, for example, has 20 grams of protein. I haven’t tried all of their products but I certainly love the seven grain crispy tenders, which have 10 grams of protein for 3 pieces.
- MorningStar Farms, like Gardein, makes a variety of plant-based alternatives to animal-based meat products. They have burgers, breakfast sausage and sandwiches, chik’n and waffles, hot dogs, corn dogs, pizza bites, and chorizo crumbles, to name a few of their products. I should also let you know that not all of MorningStar’s products are completely vegan, many are only vegetarian, so do check the label to make sure the product aligns with your diet. My personal favorite of their products are the Original Chik Patties and Chik’n Nuggets.
- Field Roast is a plant-based company making meats and cheese (Chao Creamery). Some of their “meat” products include sausages, appetizers like BBQ bites, hot dogs, various flavors of deli slices, pepperoni, and even roasts! In terms of cheese, they have shreds, slices, and blocks in a variety of flavors from creamy original to Mexican style blend to tomato cayenne to smoky original. My favorite of their products (though I will admit I haven’t tried the cheeses) are the Italian Garlic & Fennel and Apple & Sage Sausages. These are both so flavorful and, being made from vital wheat gluten, have a lot of protein (1 sausage has 25 grams)! My partner who isn’t vegan often prefers these sausages to animal-based ones!
- Impossible Foods is a company you’ve probably heard of as they tend to be the more widely known, and it’s usually Impossible Food products that fast-food and chain restaurants turn to when adding plant-based items to their menu. Like the other companies, they have a variety of products from burgers to sausage to pork to premade meals. I’ve only ever had the Impossible burger, something that I would not repeat, because it actually tasted far too much like animal-meat and freaked me out. But if you’re a plant-based eater missing your meat, Impossible’s products are incredibly similar in flavor (and especially texture) to animal-meat.
- Beyond Meat, similar to Impossible Foods, has plant-based products that are extremely similar to animal-meat. Beyond Meat has most of the same products that all the others have like sausages, burgers, and chicken products, but they also have some unique ones like steak and jerky (in three flavors).
- Soy milk – This is a nice milk alternative because it has a comparable protein content to dairy milk. In terms of protein content this is the best plant-based milk. 1 cup of soy milk has 7 grams of protein (for reference, 1 cup of whole cow milk has 8 grams of protein).
- Oat milk – This is another option as a milk substitute, but it doesn’t have quite as much protein as soy milk (only 3 grams in 1 cup). If you are hoping to get protein from your milk, I’d recommend soy milk. But oat milk is still delicious!
- There’s also almond and cashew milk. I’ve never had either of these because of my nut allergy, but they are still viable options for those without nut allergies! Almond milk has only 1 gram of protein in a cup. I should also remind you that almonds have one of the highest water footprints, so if you’re plant-based for environmental reasons you might want to avoid almond milk. Cashew milk is also low in protein with less than 1 gram of protein per cup.
NUT & SEEDS
- Chia seeds – Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a flowering plant native to Mexico. These little seeds are nutritionally packed—they’re not a superfood for nothing! Just 2.5 tablespoons of chia seeds has 5 grams of protein. They are also one of the best plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are exceptionally versatile, too. You can add them to just about any recipe, like baked goods or oatmeal. When combined with milk, you can create chia pudding. And if you combine one tablespoon of chia seeds with two tablespoons of water and let it sit for a few minutes, the seeds will absorb the water making a great egg substitute or binder for baking.
- Hemp seeds – Another superfood, hemp seeds have 9.5 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons (they are also a complete protein). Like chia seeds, they contain omega-3 fatty acids along with a number of other minerals and vitamins.
- Flax seeds – These seeds pack a nutritional punch, too! Although not as high in protein, flax seeds contain many vitamins and minerals (particularly thiamine, copper, and manganese). They also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Like chia seeds, when combined with water, these make a great egg substitute or binder for baking. Generally, ground flax seeds are better than whole seeds because your body can more easily absorb the nutrients they provide.
- Sesame seeds – These little seeds carry a number of health benefits and they have delightful flavor. If you love sesame seeds you should try tahini, which is ground sesame seeds (as peanut butter is to peanuts). Tahini is an essential ingredient in hummus and works great in sauces!
- Nuts (Almonds and almond butter, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, etc.) – These are great sources of fat (which you need!) and they also have some protein.
- As I’ve mentioned, I am unfortunately allergic to nuts (though I can enjoy pine nuts.) However, you will find that nuts, mostly cashews, are used as a base in many vegan cheese products and recipes. According to my family, cashew cheese is delicious, so it’s worth giving a try!
No produce is off limits! Enjoy as many fruits and veggies as you want! And make sure you get in some avocado for some healthy and essential fat!
There are many brands of vegan butter and I find that almost all of them melt, spread, and taste like dairy butter. I actually think that plant-based butter tastes better than dairy butter! Personally, I love Earth Balance but I’ve recently enjoyed Country Crock Plant Butter. To learn more, here’s a review of the many vegan butters.
Where do I even begin with cheese? I could make a whole post exclusively about cheese because, well, who doesn’t love cheese! I do feel it important to note that all vegan cheeses are highly processed so don’t make them the base of your diet. Still, absolutely enjoy these because cheese is amazing and makes everything so much better. It’s so important that you actually enjoy your plant-based meals, and if cheese helps you do that, then embrace it! There are so many brands and varieties of vegan cheese, which is exciting but also a little overwhelming. After my experience tasting a number of them, I’ve found that the quality of the cheese varies greatly. In order to find ones that fit your preferences the best thing to do is really experiment and taste test yourself. To start, here’s a list of the many that I know of:
- Go Veggie
- Laughing Cow
- Chao Creamery
- Kite Hill
- Earth Grown
- Treeline Cheese
- So Delicious
**If you have a nut allergy make sure you check the label when testing cheese! Some of these are nut-based!
And here’s my favorites:
- Follow Your Heart is my absolute favorite brand to go to for vegan cheese. I am a religious buyer of this stuff. Growing up a parmesan lover, their shredded and grated parmesan have been a lifesaver. The flavor, texture, and meltability is impressive and mirrors real parmesan pretty closely. They also have mozzarella and cheddar shreds, slices in six varieties, bleu cheese, and feta cheese. Of all their cheese, I find that the parmesan is best in terms of resembling dairy cheese, but I would also highly recommend their feta crumbles.
- Daiya is my other favorite brand for vegan cheese. They also have many varieties like Follow Your Heart. I would say the flavor of their cheese is slightly below Follow Your Heart, but Daiya really stands out in its meltability (Follow Your Heart does melt just not quite as well/fast). The first time I had Daiya mozzarella shreds on a pizza I thought I had grabbed a non-vegan slice! Daiya also has a number of other vegan products (mac & cheese, pizzas, desserts, etc.) that are worth checking out!
Other dairy products
Most of the brands I listed for cheese also make other dairy-based products in plant-based form like veganaise (vegan mayo), cream cheese, salad dressings, yogurt, sour cream, and more. I haven’t tasted these products much, so I’ll leave the tasting and reviewing to you!
In terms of snacks, you will find that almost everything has a plant-based version. One of my favorite veganized snacks is Hippeas Chickpea puffs, which resemble Pirate’s Booty and Cheetos Puffs. Hippeas puffs are light and incredibly cheesy!
There are a number of snacks that are already plant-based, too. These include:
- Rice cakes, which are great for spreading hummus, peanut butter, or jam on.
- Nabisco Original Graham Crackers
- Guacamole (I did have one instance where guacamole had sour cream, but this was rather rare. In general, guacamole is a safe bet!)
- A number of chips (most original flavors are vegan), including tortilla chips, potato chips, Fritos, and Stacy’s Pita chips.
- A number of granola/protein bars. I love Lara Bars for a hearty snack, though these are not protein dense. Here’s a great review of 18 different vegan protein bars.
- Miso paste – Miso paste is made from soybeans that are fermented with salt and a koji starter. The best way to describe its flavor is very salty but wonderfully umami. The greatest benefit of miso is that the fermentation process makes it rich with probiotics that are excellent for gut health. Miso works well as a soup base, in risotto, in sauces, or in marinades.
- JUST Egg – This liquid product is an egg substitute made of mung beans that can be scrambled, made in omelets, or used for baking. Like animal eggs, it also has protein. One serving of JUST Egg has the same amount of protein as a chicken egg (6 grams)! This product does a great job of mimicking the texture of eggs. However, even though the flavor is decent, it’s certainly not the same as a chicken egg.
- Nutritional yeast – This food is sold in flakes (it resembles fish food) and has a wonderful cheesy taste. As I mentioned last week, it is an excellent source of Vitamin B12 for plant-based eaters. This can be sprinkled on almost anything or included in bakes, sauces, and much more!
- Applesauce – If you don’t have JUST Egg or chia seeds, applesauce makes a great egg alternative for baking.
As with the snacks, most animal-based desserts can be found in a plant-based version. Excitingly, more and more grocery stores, bakeries, ice cream parlors, and other treat shops are adding plant-based products to their menus! Here are some of the best widely available desserts that I’ve discovered as a vegan (the best of the best I’ve found in local and small businesses):
- Enjoy Life makes a number of plant-based snacks and desserts like cookies, brownie bites, chocolate, breakfast bars, dessert bites, and chips. Their semi-sweet chocolate chips are wonderful, closely mirroring the flavor of milk chocolate and melting like it too. I also recommend their soft-baked snickerdoodle cookies!
- Ice cream is similar to cheese in that there are so many plant-based brands and varieties. Most of the dessert section will cover ice cream because I’m writing this, and ice cream is my favorite dessert. So, sorry if you don’t like ice cream… For plant-based ice cream there are a number of bases, most commonly coconut, nuts (mostly cashews and almonds), and oats. There are also more obscure bases like soy and avocado. My personal favorite are the oat-based ice creams, as I don’t like coconut and obviously can’t have nuts. Here are my favorites:
- Oatly has chocolate, vanilla, and so many other great flavors of ice cream! I find that Oatly has the richest flavor of the plant-based ice creams I’ve tried and very closely resembles (in flavor and consistency) dairy-based ice cream. Oatly is also a big seller of oat milk, and dairy-free yogurt.
- Planet Oat also makes ice cream. I find that their ice cream is less flavorful and sometimes tastes watery. It’s not bad, just not as rich as Oatly. However, Planet Oat’s chocolate chip cookie dough is amazing; it is far superior to Oatly’s chocolate chip cookie dough.
- Tofutti Cuties, tofu-based ice cream sandwiches, are a must try. It sounds strange but these little sandwiches are phenomenal (though hard to find). I was actually introduced to these when I was a kid by my aunt who lives in Brooklyn. After my sister and I first tried them, every time we visited my aunt it became a tradition to go to the market and buy some Tofutti Cuties. Perhaps I love these because they have sentimental value, but I really do think they’re delicious!
- Other ice cream giants like Ben & Jerry’s have lots of plant-based ice creams (these are nut-based, so I can’t say anything about their quality), and recently Häagen-Dazs has stepped into the vegan game.
- Other plant-based ice creams include Nada Moo, So Delicious, jeni’s, and Favorite Day, among others.
- A small bit of sad news: I have yet to find a plant-based ice cream that comes in a size bigger than a pint! And plant-based ice cream is alarmingly expensive 🙁
- Ice cream is not the only dessert that’s plant-based, though! There are plant-based cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, cheesecakes, muffins, fudge, and anything else you could think of! In fact, most desserts are easy to make plant-based because you just have to switch cow milk for plant-based milk, dairy butter for plant-based butter, and egg with an egg replacer!
- VegNews has a whole article on cookies that are accidentally vegan. The exciting news: Oreos, Nutter Butters, some Girl Scout cookies, Fig Newtons, Biscoff cookies, and Teddy Grahams are vegan!!!
- Before you give your money to these large brands, though, be sure to check ice cream parlors, bakeries, and sweet shops local to you. Support the small businesses that are embracing plant-based options!
Whew! That was a lot of listing! I hope you are ready to try some new foods! Enjoy the tasting!
Stay tuned next week to join me in taste testing some plant-based products!
Thanks for reading!
Recipe of the Week: Chocolate Pie!
Since I’m talking about dessert, this week I will share one of my favorite vegan desserts! My partner made this for me as a surprise one day. I absolutely loved it, and we’ve made it many times since! This pie is tofu-based but you don’t taste the tofu; you just taste the chocolate! The rich and creamy chocolate filling pairs perfectly with the crust. Head on over to chocolatecoveredkatie.com to treat your tastebuds!