I have received many emails from subscribers asking about unfamiliar ingredients and where to find some of these staples that are used in my recipes. Honestly most of the ingredients I use are available at your typical mainstream grocery store, but if you can’t find them where you live, here are some photos and online links to help. I have also included a few plant based substitutes for many popular food items that you may be looking for. If an item does not have a link, it is likely a refrigerated item or not available (yet!) on Amazon. There are stores online that ship refrigerated items and most of the items that are not listed on Amazon can be found at either Vegan Essentials, based in the U.S. or Vegan Supply, based in Canada. I prefer to do most of my online shopping through Amazon because of their free shipping option. I hope this list helps! Keep those emails coming for any items I may have missed.
Agave Nectar is commonly used as a sweetener in plant based cooking, and is often used as an alternative to honey. The nectar comes from the same plant used to make Tequila and is known by the locals as ‘honey water’. It is often used in baking or for binding due to it’s general stickiness and viscosity.
I use this often. It’s an ingredient in most cakes/ cupcakes and is also found in a lot of sauces. I don’t buy only organic products but with apple cider vinegar, I definitely do. Apples are amongst the most heavily sprayed produce and if I can help it, I don’t want a concentrated dose of pesticides/fungicides in my food. For a quick reference to the produce with the most/least pesticide residue, I like the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists that are updated each year.
This is available in our mainstream grocery store and may be in yours too. It’s an alternative to Earth Balance if you want a more traditional taste. I don’t use this for baking but I do prefer this to Earth Balance in my mashed potatoes:)
Candy Surf Sweets
Much of the familiar, grocery store available candy contains gelatine, carmine or shellac. So where do you find Vegan candy? There are many candies that are accidentally vegan, like Swedish Fish, Skittles or Twizzlers but when I’m buying a bunch for goody bags or for the ‘Halloween Switch Witch’, I buy online from Amazon, Vegan Essentials or The Natural Candy Store which has a great vegan selection. Surf Sweets has many vegan options.
Chao Cheese is THE game changer for those wanting to eat a plant based diet and still have access to a great tasting grilled cheese sandwich. I remember when Field Roast announced the ‘debut’ of these three bold flavors of Chao Slices. They were marketed as great melted or straight out of the package but I was a bit skeptical. There was a lot of chatter and the reviews seemed to be unanimously good. This stuff was apparently great! Only available in the States (to begin with), I thought I’d grab some on my next trip down and holy moly, was I pleasantly surprised! The slices are coconut based and seasoned with a fermented Vietnamese ‘Chao’ tofu. The Creamy Original reminded me of the Havarti slices we used to use in our melted sandwiches. And the Tomato Cayenne? It is spicy and flavourful and makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches, particularly in the Spicy Cayenne Grilled Cheese Sandwiches on this site. Chao is now also available in Canada. (I realize I sound like a paid spokesperson, but I’m not! I’m just a huge fan!) I can’t wait!
These are great in smoothies for a quick nutrient, mineral and Omega-3 boost. They also make the best blueberry jam (Recipe coming soon!), are great in muffins, puddings and sprinkled on porridge.
A small bottle with a big, spicy, fiery kick. We use this in stir fries, rice dishes, pasta sauces, pretty much anything that we’re not feeding to the kids:)
Prior to being vegan I absolutely detested dark chocolate. Thankfully that DID change once I tried some of the delicious dark chocolate bars available in most everyday grocery stores. Obviously the organic, dark chocolate is a better choice from a health perspective, but when I’m craving a milk-like chocolate bar, these are my go-to bars. Go Max Go makes a great selection of dairy free milk chocolate bars that mimic some of our childhood favourites. The one pictured above is the only chocolate bar I ever need. I asked our local store to bring them in and they did. Yours might too!
These chocolate chips are dairy and soy free and perfect in cookies. They are widely available in most grocery stores.
Because there are many people here who are not familiar with these ingredients, I have to clarify. If a recipe is calling for coconut milk, this is probably what you are looking for, not the refrigerated coconut milk beverage that’s sold as an alternative to almond or soy milk. I particularly like Thai Kitchen brand or the super thick coconut cream found at Trader Joe’s that is perfect for whipping.
Here is your butter alternative for all of your baking needs. This comes in margarine like containers and the very convenient half cup butter- like baking sticks or shortening There are lots of options including soy free.
This quirky packaging seriously needs an update. When I first saw this in my grocery store, I checked the expiry date fearing it was an unsold item from the seventies. Needless to say, it wasn’t and I now buy it regularly. This is a great egg replacer/ binder and if I’m not using a ‘flax egg’, this is what I use.
I’m generally not a huge fan of that meaty taste and texture but Field Roast sausages are really good (I highly recommend the apple sage). My husband loves the frankfurters and the deli slices make a great sandwich. The burgers often fool meat lovers and are accompanied by rave reviews. These patties are often the same ones found in popular vegan/vegetarian restaurants in their best selling veggie burgers. The ingredient lists are fantastic…well..that is if you’re buying it in the States. Canada forced this great company to change their ingredients a wee bit so I still opt to buy ours down there when I’m able. These are grain based so if you’re gluten free, these are not for you.
We always buy these whole and grind them up ourselves as needed in a small spice grinder. They should be refrigerated to prevent them from going rancid. I mix a bit in our oatmeal, add them to smoothies and use them frequently in baking.
Here’s all the fried, battered, crispy chicken, fish, crab, pork and beef vegan meats that are super helpful for those transitioning to a plant based diet and for those who like to have some quick meals on hand in the freezer. I’m a huge fan of the black bean burgers. Most of their products are soy based and they do have a few gluten free options. They are definitely tasty.
I love the nutritional punch of lentils and they are excellent in many things including soups, lentil loaves and cooked into a stuffing mix for Portobellos and/or other veggies. There’s no pre-soaking and they cook in about 20-25 minutes.
I absolutely love red lentils. They are very different from brown lentils in that they don’t retain their shape once cooked. They are my personal favourite for soups and stews and they also cook up in about 20-25 minutes.
Yes, this stuff is expensive but it’s worth it. All recipes that call for maple syrup are referring to the real stuff and not the synthetic maple flavoured syrups commonly found in grocery stores.
Dandies are absolutely delicious, so much so that I cannot keep them uneaten in our house. These are our marshmallows of choice for rice crispy squares and s’mores around the campfire.
Mayonnaise, Just Mayo
I’m a huge fan of this company and look forward to seeing what they come out with next. This mayo is great for sandwiches, mayo based sauces, anything you’d normally use mayo with. There are other plant based mayonnaises (Vegenaise is one) but this is my favourite. Hampton Creek is the company behind this product and we can expect much more including cookies, pancakes, and even scrambled plant based eggs. It is sold everywhere in the States and is just entering the Canadian market now (try Costco).
This is magical stuff that adds incredible flavour to soups, sauces, gravies, dressings, you name it. You will find it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store and if not, it is pretty much always found in health food stores. There are different kinds/ colours so make sure you get the one your recipe is calling for. I generally use white or ‘shiro’ miso.
Nutritional yeast is commonly used in plant based cooking. It has a strong umami flavour that is often described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy. It is often used in cooking in place of cheese such as in mashed potatoes, soups, pasta and in scrambled tofu. Another popular use is as a topping for popcorn. It is sometimes referred to as “nooch”. It is high in protein and vitamins and is often fortified with B12. Nutritional yeast is not the yeast used in baking bread nor is it brewer’s yeast so don’t buy the wrong stuff! It is a must in my pantry:)
This is our favourite peanut butter as it uses real ingredients and is not filled with a bunch of chemical crap. Yes, you have to stir it when you open it but it’s not a big deal. My kids devour this stuff and I use it in many recipes.
I prefer to make my own pesto in the summer and freeze it but when I want something quick, this is what I use. We have a local grocer who stocks this. Maybe yours does too or you can ask them to bring it in. I know my mom has ordered this by the case through her local grocery store who do not carry it on their shelves.
The first time I tried someone else’s quinoa salad at a potluck, I thought that this was definitely not something I was going to ever love. Well, I was wrong. I just needed a tastier recipe. This is so nutritious and filling and is great to have on hand in the fridge as an add on to lunch. I actually prefer quinoa to rice with the Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl recipe featured under ‘Mains’. Delicious!
I found these when in the States recently and brought a few different kinds home to try. Delicious and I love to add some fresh veggies to my bowl. They are now also in Canada.
I find it so interesting that these are so popular with kids. All the kiddos in my sons class seem to bring these as snacks and my super picky four year old has just discovered that he loves them as well. Works for me!
These are super nutritious and I love to add them to our Asian salads and stir fries. You should be able to find these in your local grocery store.
This shelf stable organic shortening is what I use for my icing recipes. It’s non hydrogenated and has an ingredient list that although far from healthy, looks nothing like that of Crisco’s.
These are a delicious alternative to wheat based pastas and they are good in both hot and cold dishes. They are a traditional noodle used in Japanese cuisine made from buckwheat.
Spelt flour is an ancient grain that is a healthy plant based protein source great for making bread, muffins, cookies etc. It has a slightly nutty flavour and is very high in vitamins and minerals with less gluten than regular wheat flour.
This stuff seemed to appear out of nowhere and it’s pretty hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t feature this condiment predominantly on their tables (ok, maybe it’s just the type of restaurants we frequent:) It adds a nice fiery kick to rice, pasta, curry dishes etc.. I know a few people who seem to add this to absolutely everything they eat.
This is a little more my speed. Adds a bit of heat with a touch of sweetness and jazzes up many of my rice dishes/ stir fries. You might want to check that fish is not an ingredient in your brand of choice.
Of course this is a staple in most hummus recipes and also makes a great addition to chocolate chip cookies, granola bars and other baked goods. We use this in many savoury type recipes as it adds great flavour and nutrition.
Tamari is made from fermented soybeans like soy sauce is. It generally contains less wheat (gluten free is readily available) and is darker in colour with a distinctly different flavour. It is a Japanese product that is richer in flavour and usually less salty.
is the pure concentrate from the fruit of the Tamarind tree. When the tamarind fruit is ripe it can be made into a paste by blending with a combination of water and sugar / spices. This is very flavourful and I use it in the Spiced Chickpea, Mango Chutney and Cauliflower Curry Paninis featured in ‘Sandwiches/ Paninis’.
I love this stuff because it’s shelf stable and does not need to be refrigerated. Don’t mix up regular and Silken tofu as they are used very differently. Silken is smooth and much softer and is often used in dressings and desserts. I use it most often to make the Caeser Salad featured under ‘Salads and Sides’ and to make the Silken Chocolate Pudding for my kids featured under ‘Sweets’.
These can be found dried or fresh but I prefer to buy the fresh noodles that are refrigerated near the produce aisle. They are great in noodle soups, stir fries or cold salads. I use these in the Shanghai Cold Noodle Salad under ‘Salads/ Sides’.
For some odd reason, our grocery store does not carry whole wheat pastry flour and yet I seem to have no problem finding it when I’m shopping in the States. I prefer to use whole wheat pastry flour in my baking when I need something a bit lighter and less dense than you’d get with a regular grind.
This may be a little harder for you to find and I buy mine from a specialty store. This adds great flavour and is a must for the Shepherd’s Pie recipe found under ‘Mains’.
There are a couple of brands of yogurt worthy of mention. Daiya Greek Style yogurt is fantastic. It’s thick, creamy and delicious. Unfortunately it’s not yet available in Canada but this alone is worth a quick trip across the border for me.
Yoso makes both almond and coconut based yogurts and is available in Canada. We like the coconut based option as it has great texture and taste. These are the only two yogurts that I recommend. I haven’t been a big fan of the others that I have tried.
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