Going Vegan? 10 Food Swaps Every New Vegan Needs to Know

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

Changing your diet isn’t easy – that’s why so many people struggle to do it! Simply deciding to make a change isn’t enough, especially when you’re trying to go vegan. Start a search today to learn food swaps that’ll enhance your vegan journey.

In order to stick to a vegan diet, you have to be aware of what you can and cannot eat. More importantly, however, you need to know if there are vegan-friendly alternatives to your favorite foods. If you’re trying to go vegan, read on!

1. Non-Dairy Milk

Here’s some great news for anyone who’s going vegan: non-dairy milk is actually becoming as easy to find at your local grocery store as cow’s milk.

There are so many non-dairy milk options available in stores today. Some of the longest-running non-dairy options are soy milk, coconut milk, and rice milk, but there are also newer options like hemp milk, flax milk, and oat milk that contain less fat and more fiber. All of these non-dairy milks taste pretty mild, and although they’re made with different ingredients, many don’t actually taste much different from cow’s milk.

Depending on what you use milk for, you may want to keep a few different types on hand.  Coconut milk is great for baking because it has a richer flavor, but tends to separate when it’s used in coffee. Almond milk is a great all-around non-dairy milk, with a nice mild flavor that’s great for drinking plain.

2. Cashew Cheese

One of the biggest struggles in going vegan is giving up cheese. Until recently, there simply weren’t any alternatives to cheese – meaning anyone who enjoys cheese was doomed to struggle.

Fortunately, if you miss the taste and texture of a really great cheese, you’re in luck. And you don’t have to satisfy your cravings with inedible non-dairy cheeses anymore. Cashew cheese is a great vegan replacement, and although it may take a little bit of work to make, it actually lasts for ages. Like regular cheese, cashew cheese can be grated, sliced, or spread – and in fact, there aren’t many dairy cheeses that can do all of that!

You can make your own cashew cheese at home if you can’t find it in stores. Basic recipes call for a cup of cashews blended with tahini, carrot, nutritional yeast, and flavorings until smooth. Then, it’s chilled for a few hours, before it can be used and sliced just like regular cheese.

3. Flax Egg

This vegan food swap sounds kind of weird, but it’s actually a tasty alternative. Flax eggs allow vegans to bake easily and without any struggles.

You don’t have to give up baking just because you’re choosing to follow a vegan diet. There are plenty of ways to make baking recipes vegan, but the hardest ingredient to replace is egg. Eggs are in almost every recipe.

One of the best egg replacements out there is a flax egg, which is simply one tablespoon of ground flax seeds mixed with three tablespoons of water. Let this mixture sit for a few minutes until the flax has absorbed the water and become thick and viscous. Then, use it in place of any eggs a recipe requires.

4. Margarine or Vegan Butter

There are tons of ways you can replace the dairy butter in your diet once you go vegan. Store-bought margarine is often the first thing people grab once they cut butter out of their diet – but it’s important to know that some margarine isn’t vegan.

If margarine isn’t available, you can opt for sunflower, palm, or olive oil. These oils make good replacements for butter in some recipes, especially ones that use butter for frying, but they don’t taste great spread on toast.

If you’re looking for a great vegan butter that spreads just like real butter, look for a vegan butter recipe is easy to whip up at home. Vegan butter typically only contains healthy ingredients like ground almonds, nutritional yeast, and coconut oil.

5. Aquafaba

If you’ve never heard of aquafaba, you’re not alone. It’s likely something you’ve seen before, but didn’t realize just how useful it can be. Aquafaba is the official name for the liquid that’s left over after cooking chickpeas, and it’s a staple in every vegan’s kitchen.

Once you’ve drained the chickpeas from your aquafaba, the liquid left behind can be used in a variety of recipes as a binding agent (because it’s so viscous) or whipped up separately to make something that looks almost identical to whipped egg whites. You can even use your whipped aquafaba to make vegan meringues, macaroons, or other confections that require beaten egg whites!

6. Agar

Once you switch to a vegan diet, you’ll start to realize just how many foods contain gelatin as a stabilizing agent. It’s common in most gummy candies, marshmallows, and even some brands of roasted and flavored nuts.

Gelatin is often used Jell-O and desserts like panna cotta and rice krispie treats. There are a number of different substitutes for gelatin that you can find, but one of the easiest to use is agar. Agar can be found in bars, flakes, sheets, and powder forms. It’s made from algae starch, but don’t worry – it doesn’t taste or smell like seaweed, and it works just like traditional gelatin.

7. Agave Nectar

Many vegans avoid honey, which they believe is often farmed in an unhealthy and abusive way. Although humans have been working with bees and gathering honey for over a millennia, these recent abusive practices are leading many vegans choose other natural sweeteners, like agave nectar or brown rice syrup.

Agave nectar is one of the most popular, as it’s available in raw form. This makes it perfect for people who are following a raw-food diet too. A two-thirds cup of agave nectar is equal to one cup of regular white sugar. You can use it while baking, in recipes that call for white sugar, or even as a sweetener in drinks.

8. Seitan

One of the most difficult ingredients to replicate in terms of taste and texture is meat. If you’re used to digging into a burger, steak, or bacon sandwich on a regular basis, removing it from your diet entirely will be difficult.

However, today there are more meat replacement options than ever before – including seitan, which is made from wheat gluten. Unlike tofu, which has a smooth texture, seitan can be cooked until it’s chewy and stringy, just like the tendons in meat. It’s been used in Chinese cuisine since the sixth century.

Most fake meat on the market today, including brands like Gardein and Tofurkey, use seitan as their base. Plus, it’s really affordable, and easy to prepare.

9. Jackfruit

You may have seen jackfruit at your local Asian grocery store. It’s a large, bulbous fruit that’s often cut up into chunks before it’s sold. While yellow, ripe jackfruit is sweet and delicious; when unripe, green jackfruit is often sold in cans as a meat substitute.

Jackfruit has a stringy, chewy texture that reminds people of pulled meat, and it can be seasoned and cooked with different flavorings to create an all-vegan meat alternative. Once you get it out of the can, you can slice it up, and pan-fry it until it absorbs the seasoning and becomes soft and heated throughout. Then, wrap the cooked jackfruit up in a tortilla or throw it in a bun, and voila: you’ve created a 100 percent vegan pulled “meat” meal.

10. Olive and Miso Shake

Sometimes, vegan recipes do their utmost to imitate the exact look of the non-vegan dish they’re trying to recreate. However, it takes a really great chef to come up with a recipe that looks nothing like the original ingredient or dish, but tastes uncannily similar.

The olive and miso shake was dreamed up by inventive chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and it’s intended as a vegan replacement for Parmesan cheese – an essential finishing ingredient that adds a touch of aged, cheesy funk to dishes like Caesar salad, pasta, and even pizza. The olive and miso shake is made with dehydrated olives, white miso paste, lemon zest, and rosemary. Once it’s mixed together and processed into powder, can add a really lovely finishing touch to all your vegan dishes.

Jordana Weiss