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Stocking the Vegan Kitchen

Part of the joy of vegan cooking is allowing the varied flavors of vegetables, grains, beans, and other ingredients to shine, unobscured by heavy animal proteins. That said, vegan cooking sometimes gets a bad rap for being boring: We're here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. Having a properly stocked vegan pantry will provide your cooking with all the dimension it needs. Utilizing the following ingredients is what sets our vegan cooking apart, for dishes that are bold-tasting and complex—and never boring.

Proteins

No meat, no problem. Not only can you get your fill of protein while eating vegan, ingredients like tofu, tempeh, and chickpeas are so versatile, they can be used in as many ways as meat can. Here's some information about those and more vegan sources of protein.

Winning Products

Tofu

Tofu is a blank slate. You can choose the firmness and the flavor profile, which is why it takes to a wide variety of preparations, from stir-frying to sauteing to roasting to scrambling. We use firm tofu most often in our recipes, and our favorite is Nasoya Firm Tofu.

 

Tempeh

Tempeh isn’t as mainstream as tofu is, but we love it just as much. It holds its shape when cooked, so it’s a good meat substitute for many dishes from sandwiches to stir-fries. Learn more about it here.

 

The Best Chickpeas Goya Chick Peas/Garbanzos

Plain, these “plump” chickpeas were “nutty” and, with 360 milligrams of sodium per serving, tasted “nicely seasoned.” We especially liked their texture, which was “firm with just enough give.”

 

Seitan

Seitan, made from wheat gluten, is another common vegan protein source. While we love it coated, fried, and draped in sauce, it’s that same quality that typically makes us turn away from it.

 

Nuts

Sure, nuts make a great snack, but their use isn't limited to between meals. We use them to lend richness, substance, and crunch to recipes. With their abundant healthful fats, proteins, and other nutrients, nuts are an essential part of a vegan diet. But nuts in whole form are just half the story: Soaked or cooked and blended, they can transform into a rich dairy-free cream sauce and even can be made into vegan cheese. Ground, they give dishes like vegan chili great flavor and body throughout.

 

Seeds

Seeds like sesame seeds and sunflower seeds in addition to chia, flax, and hemp, though more diminutive, are packed with flavor and protein.

 

Pantry Staples

Pantry staples like vegan mayonnaise and coconut milk are important to keep on hand in a vegan kitchen.

Winning Products

The Best Vegan Mayonnaise Hampton Creek Just Mayo, Original

Tasters proclaimed that they “wouldn’t know this was vegan” and happily stated that it was “exactly what I expect from mayo.” And we liked it just as much as Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise when tasted side by side!

 

The Best Coconut Milk Aroy-D Coconut Milk

Our winner impressed us throughout testing with a texture that was “velvety” and “luxurious” but not too thick. It boasted “balanced,” “clean” flavor that tasted strongly of coconut but didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients in the pudding or soup.

 

The Best Vegetarian Broth Orrington Farms Vegan Chicken Flavored Broth Base & Seasoning

This broth made risotto that was “very flavorful.” In soup, it lent “great savory depth.” Another bonus: It’s cheap and easy to store.

 

The Best Almond Butter Jif Creamy Almond Butter

Tasters loved this almond butter’s homogeneous, “supercreamy,” “velvety,” “peanut butter–like” texture.

 

Bragg Liquid Aminos

Liquid aminos is a product that is made from 16 amino acids derived from soybeans. It makes a great vegan stand-in for fish sauce, giving our Asian recipes the same meaty, savory, fermented flavor of traditional fish sauce.

 

The Best Capers Reese Non Pareil Capers

Capers and olives bring the same thing to the party: piquant brininess. In vegan Caesar salad recipes, capers mimic the flavor the anchovies classically provide. In other recipes, they add brightness and pleasant saltiness without cheese or cured meats.

 

The Best Soy Sauce Kikkoman Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is an essential ingredient in vegan cooking; this salty liquid is made from fermented soybeans and wheat, barley, or rice, and it's rich in glutamates, taste bud stimulators that give food the meaty, savory flavor known as umami. Although it is traditionally an Asian ingredient, we use it in all types of dishes to add depth.

 

Dried Mushrooms

Dried mushrooms offer the same umami flavor as fresh mushrooms in a concentrated package, giving recipes a major dose of meatiness. When buying dried mushrooms, always inspect them closely. They should be either tan or brown, not black. Avoid dried mushrooms with small holes, or those with excess dust and grit. Nicely flavored dried mushrooms will have an earthy, not musty or stale, aroma.

 

Miso

We use this powerhouse Japanese ingredient to add complex, savory flavor to dressings, sauces, and dishes including broiled salmon, braised potatoes, and sautéed broccoli. Our favorite white miso is Hikari Organic White Miso.

Nutritional Yeast

This savory flaky substance is a vegan cook's best friend. Simply yeast that's grown on a mixture of beet molasses and sugarcane and heated to deactivate its leavening properties, it's often used to mimic the flavor of cheese for good reason—it has a funky, nutty, almost salty (although there's no salt in it) depth that matches cheese in its complexity. Why? Nutritional yeast is high in glutamates. We add it to dishes that are traditionally cheesy, like Vegan Cheese Sauce.

 

Chiles

Nothing spices up a dish like adding some heat. But chiles—canned, fresh, and dried—don't just make foods hot; they add nuanced layers of flavor. Jalapeños are fresh and grassy-tasting, canned chipotle chiles in adobo are smoky, and New Mexican chiles are earthy, for example. Roasting fresh chiles adds smoky char; toasting dried ones brings out their fragrant qualities.

 

The Best Crushed Tomatoes San Marzano Crushed Tomatoes

Our favorite tasted “very bright and sweet” with “full tomato flavor”—no surprise, given its high levels of sweetness and acidity.

 

The Best Yellow Mustard Annie’s Naturals Organic Yellow Mustard

Tasters praised the “good balance of heat and tang” of Annie’s, but what truly set it apart was the “richer mustard flavor.” Two factors that helped push it to the top of the chart: Mustard seed is listed second among its ingredients, and the sodium is relatively low.

 

The Best Coarse-Grain Mustard Grey Poupon Harvest Coarse Ground Mustard

This mustard boasts "a real burst of mustard flavor" with "big, round, crunchy seeds," "good heat," and just enough vinegar.

 

The Best Brown Mustard Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard

We liked Gulden’s “bright,” “classic” and familiar taste. As one taster summarized, it’s “what brown mustard should taste like.”

 

Spices

And spices give meals warmth and make it easy to create interesting international dishes with authentic flavor. Spice blends like curry powder provide complexity in one fell swoop.

Winning Products

The Best Garlic Powder Spice Islands Garlic Powder

With a “roasted, slightly deeper” garlic flavor than other brands, this came closest to “actual” garlic cloves and in both tastings was also ranked the strongest.

 

The Best Ground Cumin Simply Organic Ground Cumin

Tasters said it was “bright, with a touch of sweetness” on rice, and they picked up on pleasingly “warm notes” in carrot and chickpea salad.

 

Dukkah

Part spice mixture, part condiment, this Egyptian mixture includes herbs, spices, and nuts and can be sprinkled on roasted vegetables, dips, rice dishes, proteins, or eaten with bread and olive oil. You can either buy it or make your own.

 

The Best Curry Powder Penzeys Sweet Curry Powder

Neither too sweet nor too hot, this blend set the standard for a balanced yet complex curry powder.

 

The Best Smoked Paprika Simply Organic Smoked Paprika

Our favorite product in every tasting, this made-in-Spain smoked paprika was redolent with richer, “deeper” smoky flavor than the rest. With “the perfect balance of paprika and smokiness,” it was “bright and warm,” “sweet and rounded,” with smoke that “linger[ed]” “without being overpowering.”

 

Vinegars

Beyond vinaigrettes, we use vinegar to perk up sauces, stews, soups, and grain dishes. Different types lend distinct flavors to dishes, and we reach for several varieties to lend nuanced flavor to recipes.

Winning Products

The Best White Wine Vinegar Napa Valley Naturals Organic White Wine Vinegar

Our favorite vinegar boasted high levels of both acidity and sweetness and was made from a wine based on crisp-tasting Trebbiano grapes, all of which likely accounted for the “fruity” and “vibrant” vinaigrette it produced.

 

The Best High-End Balsamic Vinegar Cavalli Gold Seal Extra Vecchio Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale de Reggio Emilia

The 25-year aging period of this balsamic vinegar paid off. Although you won't find it in supermarkets, tasters waxed poetic about its "pomegranate," "caramel," "smoky" flavor that "coats the tongue" and tastes "amazing."

 

The Best Apple Cider Vinegar Heinz Filtered Apple Cider Vinegar

With just the right amount of acidity, this familiar vinegar was “sharp” and “punchy,” with a subtle “floral” fruitiness.

 

The Best Supermarket Balsamic Vinegar Bertolli Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Served plain, this balsamic vinegar tasted of dried fruit like figs, raisins, and prunes. Some of these nuances disappeared once it was reduced or whisked into vinaigrette, but it still tasted pleasantly sweet.