16 Staple Ingredients Vegan Cooks Need To Have

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Starting a new plant-based journey can be an admittedly scary process. Although many of the ingredients used in omnivorous cooking have a place in plant-based cooking, such as spices and seasonings, starting to cook more plant-based food may require purchasing some unconventional ingredients for your home kitchen. Where do you purchase so many novel vegan ingredients for your newfound way to cook, especially if your local grocery store is heavy on meat and potatoes?

We've included shelf-stable ingredients on our list to help build your plant-based pantry, rather than the more common fresh vegetables and tofu mindset people might have when they think of cooking while vegan. Curating several shelf-stable ingredients that you always have on hand will help you more easily make a diet-appropriate meal when the mood strikes. With these additions to your pantry, you will find that eating vegan can be much more exciting (and of course, more flavorful) than you could ever imagine. 

Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that grows on the molasses plant, so it's part of the fungi family. The flavor is distinctly cheesy — although, it does not taste anything like your favorite gouda or cheddar. full of nutrients like vitamin B-12, protein, fiber, and iron. You can add the flaky powder to a host of plant-based foods including tofu, pasta, soups, or sauces. One of the most profound uses of nutritional yeast is to combine the savory flakes with raw cashews to create a vegan cashew cheese recipe. You can also add a flavor boost to popcorn with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

You can purchase bags of nutritional yeast from health food stores (often in bulk) or online retailers like Amazon. Our favorite brand is Anthony's for its flavor and relative affordability, but you can also purchase other brands like Bragg's. With most novel ingredients, you should first consider purchasing small containers before investing in a few pounds of flakes.

Black salt

You might recognize black salt by its other name: kala namak. The texture of black salt is reminiscent of the pink salt you would keep next to your stove, but the flavor is much more sulfurous. Black salt is most used in vegan recipes that call for egg or a deep umami flavor. Black salt has a much lower sodium makeup than table salt, so you won't have the same salty flavor as other salt products. You have several brand options for purchasing black salt and can purchase containers ranging from a few ounces to a few pounds on Amazon.

Black salt tastes particularly profound in vegan dishes like tofu scrambles, chickpea omelets, or vegan quiche. You can also use black salt in non-vegan dishes for an added umami flair. Fried peanuts and fried legumes are two popular street foods that use black salt for flavor, per Fine Dining Lovers. The salt also tastes great with classic Indian spices like coriander seeds, mango powder, and turmeric.

Raw cashews

Raw cashews are a key ingredient for creamy vegan sauces. It is important to use raw cashews rather than toasted, salted cashews that you would find in the snack mix aisle. Raw cashews have a light, mild, and buttery taste that does not distract from the flavor of the other sauce ingredients.

You'll first need to soak the cashews to ensure the nuts are soft enough to blend. The power and speed of your blender will impact how long you'll need to soak the cashews. After the cashews are pureed into a thick sauce, you can add different seasoning and flavors to best suit the sauce. Some of our favorite seasonings for sauce include nutritional yeast, liquid aminos, and Italian herbs.

Thrive Cuisine notes that raw cashews have a significantly shorter shelf life than roasted cashews, so you should really only consider buying the amount of raw cashews you plan on using for a recipe. If you purchase cashews in bulk, place the cashews in a freezer-safe bag, then place the nuts in your freezer for when you need the cashews.

Liquid aminos

Liquid aminos have a similar umami taste as soy sauce, but there are some important differences between the two ingredients. Liquid aminos, unlike soy sauce, are made from combining soybeans with an acidic chemical solution. The acid breaks down the soy proteins and frees the amino acids. Afterwards, water and baking soda are added to the compound to neutralize the mix and gives the compound its distinct salty taste. Unlike soy sauce, liquid aminos are naturally gluten-free and free of the sodium benzoate preservative commonly found in soy sauce. Liquid aminos also contain significantly less sodium than soy sauce.

You can purchase liquid aminos in the spice and seasoning aisle at most major grocery stores. Bragg is a common brand for liquid aminos, but be aware, you may pay up to three times more for liquid aminos as traditional soy sauce. Liquid aminos are versatile in many vegan recipes. You'll get a depth of flavor as an addition to spring rolls, in a vegan creamy sauce, or as a stir fry sauce.

Miso paste

Miso is a versatile ingredient in anyone's pantry, but the paste is especially important for many plant-based recipes. One of our favorite ways to use white miso is for a vegan miso ramen recipe. The white miso, which is also known as shiro, lighter due to less aging, sweeter, and more mild than yellow or brown miso paste. In your vegan ramen, the miso provides a mild, nutty flavor that bolsters the meatiness of chopped mushrooms, seaweed, sesame paste, and delicious noodles.

Outside of Asian-inspired, plant-based cooking, you can also use miso to add more flavor to mashed potatoes. The smoothness of the miso paste offers a similar texture as butter but with an extra salty boost. You can also switch out the salt in a homemade pesto recipe for white miso that won't overpower the herby notes in the basil. The key to adding miso to your pesto is to start gradually — the saltiness of too much miso can make the pesto overpowering.


Canned jackfruit is a good ingredient to have in your pantry for an easy dinner night. Jackfruit is a common vegan ingredient substitute for shredded meat, such as pulled pork, because of its stringy texture and robustness in a savory barbecue sauce. The fruit is also high in vitamins A and C.

If you want to purchase a whole jackfruit for your culinary expeditions, you may struggle to figure out exactly how to cut the massive fruit into tiny, edible chunks. Luckily, you can purchase individual cans of jackfruit on Amazon and pre-made options are more popular at local grocery stores. In fact, fresh jackfruit might be too sweet and aromatic to be used for recipes like a jackfruit BBQ sandwich. When you open the can, drain and dry the fruit before breaking it into tiny, shred-able pieces for your recipe. You'll also want to discard the seeds and casings before you are ready to cook.

High-protein pasta

If you're making a pasta dish as a plant-based eater, you'll want to get all the protein in that you can. Luckily, there are a multitude of protein-rich pasta options on the market for vegans. Quinoa pasta is one of the most common alternatives with a texture similar to that of a wheat pasta — if it is cooked correctly, of course. Many lentil or grain-based pasta types have a shorter cooking time than wheat-based pastas, so you'll want to keep an eye on the time when making these pasta alternatives at home.

Other options besides quinoa pasta include chickpea pasta from Banza or red lentil pasta from Barilla. If you want to stick with a wheat-based pasta, we recommend trying Barilla's Protein+ line, which come in all different shapes including elbow macaroni, spaghetti, and penne. The Protein+ pasta is a hybridized line that maximizes protein with the help of lentils, chickpeas, and peas.

Textured vegetable protein

Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is a shelf-stable, dried vegan protein made from soy. One quarter-cup of rehydrated vegetable protein is a mere 90 calories with 13 grams of protein. Plus, textured vegetable protein will last in your cupboard for up to 20 years, if stored correctly. TVP is more shelf-stable than other refrigerated proteins like tofu or tempeh, making it a good choice to have in your pantry when you need a quick dinner option.

Textured vegetable protein is the perfect high-protein addition for vegan chili or DIY meatless meatballs at home. The flavor of this protein is nearly indistinguishable, so you can rehydrate the pellets with broth rather than water for a more flavorful taste. Some folks enjoy mixing taco seasoning with water to rehydrate textured vegetable protein. The mix can then be added to your favorite taco night recipe with homemade guacamole and salsa for a protein-rich and easy vegan dinner option.


Aquafaba has been recognized as one of the most versatile foods a vegan can use in the kitchen. Aquafaba, or chickpea liquid, is derived from pouring out the liquid from a can of these legumes. You should never get rid of the liquid from canned beans and from chickpeas because of the starchy quality. Add canned bean liquid (regardless if it is from a chickpea or not) to thicken soups and stews. You can also add aquafaba to replace eggs in recipes. Whipping the aquafaba, similar to how you would whip egg whites, provides structure, air, and depth to your most fragile of baked goods.

You can also use aquafaba to make a vegan mayonnaise by combining the juice with cashews, mustard powder, apple cider vinegar, and oil. The result is a flavorful spread you can use on everything from sandwiches to meatless burgers. Plus, you won't have to spend the money on more expensive vegan condiments ever again.

Agave or maple syrup

Agave is a sweet syrup derived from the agave plant. The syrup is between one-and-a-half times more sweet than table sugar, which has been disputed as vegan due to white sugar's connection to bone char as a processing method. Although the syrupy nature of agave makes the solution blend seamlessly into your morning coffee, you should avoid adding too much of the sweetener to your coffee all-at-once — at least, until you get used to the saccharine taste. 

Another alternative sweetener to have on hand is maple syrup. Although this syrup might appear shelf-stable, opened bottles of the product can last as little as six months. If you refrigerate your maple syrup in a glass or tin container for optimal shelf-life, it could last up to a year. You can add maple syrup or agave to replace table sugar in most recipes. According to King Arthur Baking Company, you may have to adjust the ratio of liquids in the recipe to account for the liquidity of these alternative sweeteners.

Dried beans and lentils

Dried beans and lentils are popular, shelf-stable, and easy-to-make foods for lunches and dinners. You can use lentils and beans for several versatile recipes ranging from red lentil soups to Cuban black beans. While you can substitute canned beans for dried beans, you should be aware that canned beans will be less flavorful because of the salty liquids the beans are immersed in. Simmering dried beans will result in a better taste and texture in the finished product. 

It is first important to do your research when looking at how to cook dried beans and lentils. Some types, including the cannellini bean, red kidney bean, and pinto bean, require soaking overnight, other types of dried beans and lentils do not require pre-soaking. For some types of beans and lentils, soaking for two to 12 hours before cooking can speed up the cooking process. For an even quicker cooking technique, you can cook bags of lentils and place the lentils in freezer-safe bags.

Whole grains

Whole grains include everything from amaranth to wild rice. Each of these grains have independent properties, flavors, and textures unique to each type. These grains can be easily stored for long periods of times and eaten whenever you are ready to cook the grain. Whole teff, for example, has a nutty, molasses undertone that pairs well with roasted squash and other autumnal vegetables. You can cook whole teff with a 3-to-1 ratio of water to grain. 

Quinoa is a more well-known grain for its bright color and chewy texture. You can substitute quinoa for long-grain white rice in a Mexican rice recipe recipe or make a sweet almond-quinoa energy bar for a pick-me-up on a busy work morning.

The exact specifications for storage of these grains is dependent on the grain type. But as a whole, you should avoid storing the grains in damp areas. Per the Whole Grains Council, grains should be stored in air-tight glass, plastic, or aluminum containers — which type you choose does not make a significant enough difference, so long as the container is air-tight to prevent moisture encroachment.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil can be an effective substitute for many fats and oils when you're cooking vegan recipes. Coconut oil has a melting point of around 76 F, meaning that it is simple to melt coconut butter down if a recipe requires it. Unlike other cooking oils, coconut oil can replace butter because of how saturated it is. This means that you can break up small oil chunks for a pie dough instead of using butter.

Refined coconut oil does not impart a particularly strong odor or taste — making it a great option for both sweet and savory applications. Organic Theory notes that coconut oil can be substituted for liquid butter or other oils with a 1-to-1 ratio. The minimal coconut taste makes this oil an excellent addition to granola, whereas the smoke point of coconut oil makes it fine for stir frys but a poor choice for deep frying. If you want to make a salad dressing, you're better off using an olive oil or an avocado oil to avoid saturated chunks from occurring.

Vegetable broth

Vegetable broth is an important, flavorful component for cooking whole grains or making vegan soups. While you can opt to make your own vegetable broth from your leftover veggie scraps and as many herbs as your heart desires, it is much more convenient to keep at least one box of vegetable broth in your pantry when you need it for a last-minute soup night. Our favorite uses for vegetable broth include a chickpea orzo soup recipe or homemade potato leek soup.

If you would rather keep a less space-consuming substitute for vegetable broth, you should instead purchase a broth concentrate like bullion cubes or a jar of Better Than Bullion vegetable broth concentrate. You can stir one teaspoon of this concentrate into 8-ounces of water to replace an 8-ounce box of vegetable broth. You can also substitute a cube of your favorite vegetable bullion for a similar, flavorful effect.

Powdered egg replacer

Powdered egg replacers are a simple, plant-based way to replace eggs in vegan baking. Our favorite powdered egg replacer brand is Bob's Red Mill gluten-free egg replacer. To replace one egg using this powder, you'll want to combine 1 tablespoon of powder with 2 tablespoons of water. It is important to mix the starch in the powder-water solution throughly to avoid chunks. Once the mixture is prepared, add it to your baked goods as needed.

It is important to note that powdered egg replacer does not replace the eggs you'd use for an omlette or scrambled eggs. Instead, the powder is made from potato starch, tapioca flour, baking soda, and psyllium husk that is able to replicate the same thickness as eggs in a batter. You also won't, however, find much success by using a powdered egg replacer for whipped meringues because of the lack of air and structure in the powder.


Tahini is a sesame paste with a similar texture to that of a very smooth, watery peanut butter. You can add tahini as a thickener for dressings and marinades, as well as a binder for cookies and sweet baked goods. We recommend trying an avocado-tahini dip for the perfect balance of umami and fat. If you're feeling sweet, try adding tahini to your vegan milkshake with dates for an unforeseen nutty taste, if you'd like a recipe for earlier in the morning.

According to Soom Foods, the best way to store tahini is in its original container in a space away from heat and moisture. Similar to peanut butter, you can place a bottle of tahini into the refrigerator for a thicker consistency. Separation is normal with tahini; you can just shake the bottle when you are ready to prepare your tahini or store it upside-down to slow the separation process.