3 Powerhouse Ingredients for Vegan Cooking

These ingredients bring verve—and flavor—to vegan cooking. 

Published Jan. 3, 2023.

Are you a full-fledged carnivore? Vegan? Something in between?

However you prefer to fuel your body, you’ll find no judgment from us; our job here at Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen is to help you become a better cook so that you maximize the pleasure and efficiency of cooking and eating whatever it is you like to subsist on. 

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But many of us are turning to plant-based eating for at least some of our meals. And if you learned to cook with butter, dairy, meat, and eggs, it can be a challenge to build flavor in vegan dishes, especially if you want protein-rich meals. 

These three ingredients can really help. 


A fermented soybean paste prevalent in Japanese cuisine (versions are enjoyed in many parts of Asia), miso adds a burst of salty, complex, umami flavor to recipes. It’s handy to keep around for making miso soup (if you want to keep it vegan, use vegetable broth instead of the traditional dashi, which contains fish). But soup is just the start. Try adding a tablespoon to vegetable pastas, other soups and stews, and marinades for tofu or mushrooms. It’s also fantastic thinned into a glaze for broiled or grilled eggplant, squash (summer and winter), and sweet potatoes.

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White Miso Paste

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The two most common types of miso are white and red; white is a bit milder in flavor, and thus the most versatile.

Miso plays a vital role in our recipes for Vegetarian “Beef” Broth, Pear Crisp with Miso and Almonds, and Miso Honey-Butter Corn (where you’d obviously use vegan butter to make it vegan). 


Hikari Organic White Miso

This toffee-colored miso combines intense “umami” with “tropical,” “sweet,” and “subtly tart” flavors. We especially liked it in glazed salmon; all the flavors were in “perfect balance.” Its sodium level falls in the middle of our lineup, so tasters found it full-flavored but not overwhelmingly salty.

Nutritional Yeast

“Nooch” is inactive yeast that’s sold as flakes or granules. Because it has a salty, nutty, cheesy taste, it is often used as a substitute for hard cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino. Like miso, nutritional yeast also contains a lot of glutamates, and, thus, umami. 

Plant-based eaters find nutritional yeast especially valuable because it contains vitamin B12, which carnivores get through eating meat. Use “nooch” in place of Parmesan in our recipe for Perfect Pesto, or sprinkle it over pastas, soups, or salad. It is fantastic on popcorn (but you need a little melted butter or olive oil to help it stick). 

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Aside from tasting great out of the bag as a snack, cashews add crunch and depth to countless stir-fries and salads. But in vegan cooking, cashews are often toasted, ground, and soaked in water or broth before being blended into a sauce that is remarkably creamy and rich-tasting. 

Try cashews (and miso, and nutritional yeast) in our company recipe for Cashew e Pepe e Funghi, a mushroomy vegan pasta inspired by the classic Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe. Or deploy cashews (and nutritional yeast) in our recipe for Vegan Creamy Cashew Mac and Cheese

Once you make these recipes a few times and understand how the miso, nutritional yeast, and cashews function in them, you can start to improvise on your own dishes using these three powerhouse vegan ingredients. 

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