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Vegan Alternatives: The Ultimate Dairy and Meat-Free List

Do vegans have to stop making foods that require animal products? No way! Here are the best vegan food alternatives you can use to swap out ingredients and enjoy all of your old and new favorites. 

Many people are adopting a vegan diet, and a growing number of recipes are now entirely plant-based, making vegan cooking easier than it's ever been. While we can use vegan recipes often, there are times when we might not want to use a vegan recipe. 

What can't vegans eat? Anything made from animal products or involving the exploitation of animals.

Food chemistry is essential - when these recipes call for dairy, eggs, meat, or other non-vegan ingredients, omitting the ingredient can mess with the final dish's texture and flavor. 

Luckily, there are vegan substitutes that can get the job done just as well as the animal-based products they're replacing. 

Learn about the best vegan dairy alternatives for milk, cheese, and butter, plant-based meat alternatives, and vegan alternatives to eggs that you can use to enjoy a new version of some of your favorite meals.

Vegan Butter Alternatives

Vegan Butter Products

There are plenty of vegan butter brands on the market that are quite popular among the vegan crowd. Many have an oil base, groundnuts for richness, and coconut oil to set, but each brand's ingredient list varies. 

If you're using a margarine-based spread, beware when baking, as the higher water content can make the recipes too thin. 

You can also make your homemade vegan substitute for butter at home using a few simple ingredients.

This is your best bet for butter that isn't going to be used for baking, as unlike the other alternatives on this list, you can spread vegan butter on vegan biscuits, toast, or muffins. 

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oils, like canola, soybean, or corn, are all cheap and readily-available dairy substitutes but are best for one specific use.

Since oil is liquid and regular butter is solid, you can use this oil in place of softened or melted butter in your favorite baking recipes. If the butter is meant to be in a stable, room-temperature form, use the next option instead.

Virgin Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil is a vegan's savior, but everyone should include this heart-healthy superfood as a part of their diet. It solidifies at around 75°F, so those who live in seasonal climates will have oil that is sometimes solid and sometimes liquid.

Its firmer texture is a better alternative for solid butter in recipes, as it won't thin out the recipe. If it's hot and your coconut oil has melted, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes. 

Melt your virgin coconut oil for a few seconds in the microwave to substitute it for melted butter.

Vegan Cheese Alternatives

Soy and Nut-Based Cheese Products

Cheddar, swiss, blue - you can find a vegan cheese substitute for just about any variety of cheese in several different formats, including shredded, sliced, and traditional cheese blocks. 

Vegan cheese products are typically made of soy curds or nuts; there are plenty of options available to suit any need. Some brands' meltability can leave something missing, but there are quite a few brands on the market that melt decently, so experiment and find a few favorite go-to's.

Tofu Cheese

You can make some soft cheese substitutes at home using tofu as a base.

What is tofu? It's a block of pressed soybean curds with a high water content, which lends well to making soft cheese, like ricotta and cottage cheese. The recipes are straightforward and delicious in vegan lasagna and plenty of other dishes that require fresh ricotta cheese.

Cashew Cheese 

This is hands-down one of the ultimate best vegan discoveries - cashew cream and cheese, made from blending soaked cashews with other ingredients to create a dynamite cheese sauce. 

Use it on nachos, pasta, veggies, or anywhere else you'd like to add a cheesy texture. 

Nutritional Yeast

Parmesan can enhance any dish or take an otherwise dull dish up a few notches with its salty, cheesy flavor. 

The best vegan alternative for parmesan cheese is nutritional yeast, yellow flakes that don't require refrigeration. Even better, as its name suggests, nutritional yeast is, well, nutritious. It's full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants - put it on everything!

Vegan Meat Alternatives

Soy-Based: Tofu, Tempeh, & Mock Meat Products

Tofu

Tofu is the ultimate vegan meat substitute in cooking - you can bake, grill, or pan-fry this handy protein, which takes on the flavor of the sauces and spices you cook with it. It's one of the highest protein vegetarian options, making it a trendy choice.

Tempeh

Tempeh and tofu are both soy protein alternatives for vegan diets, but tempeh is fermented, while tofu is not. The fermentation gives tempeh a completely different, salty flavor and firm texture, making it one of our favorite vegan bacon alternatives.

Meatless Meat Products

Sometimes, you might get a craving for meat that beans or tofu won't satisfy. In those cases, there are an array of vegan alternatives to meat available at the grocery store. 

You can buy vegan beef burgers and hot dogs or vegan turkey alternatives, like Tofurkey, for a plant-based holiday dinner. You can also find a vegan chicken substitute for chicken burgers or nuggets and vegan ground beef to use in homemade tomato sauce or lasagna. 

We don't recommend making these the main protein in your diet, as they're more expensive and processed than other protein substitutes. They're great to enjoy in moderation, especially as you adjust to removing meat from your diet. 

Non-Soy-Based: Mushrooms and Beans

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are exceptionally high in protein for a vegetable and have a meaty texture that makes them a great meat substitute. Chop them small, use them in place of ground beef, or grill whole portobello caps and serve on a toasted bun as a vegetarian burger.

Beans & Lentils

Beans and lentils are high-protein and high-fiber vegan protein alternatives and can be used to beef up just about any recipe. Most vegans eat a ton of beans in their diet, and luckily there are plenty of varieties to keep this protein from becoming dull.

Vegan Milk Alternatives

Plant-Based Milk: Soy, Oat, Rice & Coconut

Plant-based milk makes great dairy replacements in recipes or to drink all on its own. These types of plant-based milk are nut allergy-friendly and are a bit thinner than cow's milk. 

Nut-Based Milk: Almond, Cashew, Hazelnut & More

Nut-based milk is super popular - almond milk is the highest-selling plant-based milk on the market. They can be used in the same way to substitute for cow's milk in recipes or to drink.

Many choose to avoid almond milk, as it's a crop that requires a massive amount of water to produce, and farmers ship in honey bees to pollinate the crops, which doesn't sit well with some vegans. If you don't want to consume almond milk, there are several other alternatives to try.

Buttermilk Substitute

When a recipe calls for buttermilk, a simple milk substitution will not work correctly. Buttermilk is acidic, so add one teaspoon of white vinegar for every cup of non-dairy milk used in your recipe.

Vegan Egg Alternatives

Flax or Chia Seeds

Two of the best vegan alternatives for eggs are flax eggs and chia eggs. Mix one tablespoon of ground flax or chia seeds with three tablespoons of water and leave to sit for 15 minutes in the fridge, creating an egg mixture. These egg replacements will be thick and gooey like a real egg and help your recipe stick together.

Aquafaba

The cloudy liquid you drain from a can of chickpeas is great for baking - it makes an excellent replacement for eggs and allows you to use every bit of the food you purchase. Win, win!

Banana

Fibrous, mashed bananas make an excellent alternative to eggs in most baked recipes; replace each egg used with one medium-sized banana.

Applesauce 

Add a few tablespoons of applesauce to replace each egg in baked goods, but consider cutting the sugar content back, as applesauce has a natural sweetness. 

Commercial Egg Replacers

These powdered products are available at every grocery store - mix with water according to the package directions and add to your favorite recipes. They're very effective and give you a more predictable result compared to some of the other options.

Final Notes: Best Vegan Substitutes for Animal-Based Products

There is no shortage of vegan substitutes for the most common animal-based foods we consume. 

To recap, here are the best alternatives for a vegan diet:

  • Instead of butter, use plant-based butter products or different types of oil;
  • Instead of cheese, use tofu cheese, cashew cheese, nutritional yeast, and vegan cheese products;
  • Instead of meat, use tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, beans, or mock meat products;
  • Instead of milk, use plant-based milk or nut-based milk;
  • And instead of eggs, use flax eggs, chia eggs, bananas, applesauce, or egg replacement products.

We hope you enjoy testing out these vegan alternatives for your next batch of baking!

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