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Vegan Staples: How to Stock Your Pantry with Vegan Essentials (with a Free Bonus Vegan Shopping List)
It’s January 2nd and I’m sure a good number of us are thinking about how we can make this year better than the last. My New Year’s resolutions routinely include dry January, a promise to become more organized and a goal of reading more classic books.
For many people though, ringing in the New Year brings a desire to adopt a healthier diet. Often, diet plans include eating fewer animal products by giving veganism a try, hence Veganuary. While adopting a vegan diet may seem daunting, it’s actually very manageable — especially if you have the right ingredients.
In this blog post, I’ll walk you through my list of vegan staples, helping you to identify the vegan essentials that are helpful to have on hand for successful vegan cooking. I’ll include tips on how to shop for, store and cook ingredients from your vegan pantry. And, of course, send you on your way with my own curated Vegan Shopping List (a free download)!
Let’s get started!
What is a Vegan Diet?
If you’re totally new to this, it might be helpful to start with a short definition of a vegan diet. A vegan diet excludes all animal-products, including meat, dairy and animal by-products like honey. Instead, a vegan diet is heavier in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts & seeds and plant-based oils (like olive oil and avocado oil).
How to Adopt a Vegan Diet – Perfection Not Required
Adopting a vegan diet doesn’t have to be overwhelming – at least as far as I am concerned. That’s because I don’t strive for perfection. If asked, I’d say that I’ve been eating vegan for several years now. That doesn’t mean I get it right 100% of the time though. I do my best, but between family and travel I shift to vegetarian – an occasional exception that I am okay with. Case-in-point, my favorite saying is: Don’t Make Perfect the Enemy of Good.
So, whether you’re considering full-time vegan, Meatless Mondays, vegan-lite or you’re just vegan-curious, you’re in the right place. And the best way to get started on any of these? Get your kitchen stocked with vegan essentials.
What Are Vegan Staples?
Over the years I’ve learned to keep certain ingredients on hand in my kitchen. I call these my Vegan Staples. I’ve broken this list of vegan essentials into separate categories and highlighted some information that I think will be helpful when you’re customizing your own vegan shopping list.
How I Define a Vegan Pantry
When you think of a pantry, you’re likely thinking of a dark cabinet or closet to keep things like sugar, flour and other baking ingredients. When I think of my vegan pantry, it’s a much broader definition. My vegan pantry includes that dark cabinet for storing flours and sugars, but it also includes my freezer and my refrigerator.
My vegan pantry is comprised of ingredients that have a longer life than perishable items like fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. It also includes ingredients that are shelf-stable when sealed, but which need to be stored in the refrigerator after being opened, like vegan mayonnaise, tamari and sriracha sauce.
In addition, certain ingredients like flours and nuts store better in the freezer or refrigerator. Nuts and flours will eventually go rancid but keeping them in the refrigerator or freezing them can greatly extend their useful life. In other words, just because it’s in the refrigerator doesn’t mean it’s not on my vegan staples list.
Categories of Vegan Staples
As I mentioned above, I’ve broken this list of vegan essentials down into categories. This helps me to keep it organized as well as making sure that I have the ingredients I need whether I’m making breakfast, baking cookies or serving up an adventurous ethnic dinner.
These categories include:
- Dried Legumes
- Dairy Substitutes
- Canned Goods
- Herbs & Spices
- Freezer-Friendly Fruits & Vegetables
- Oils, Vinegars and Other Bottled Staples
- Nuts & Seeds, and
If you’re interested in learning more about any of these categories or individual ingredients, be sure to check out the Vegu-cation section on my blog. Throughout this section, you’ll find deep dives into a variety of vegan-friendly ingredients as well as some cooking techniques to bring out the best in your vegan cooking!
Load Up on Legumes: The Cornerstone of Vegan Essentials
Legumes are one of the primary ingredients in my vegan pantry. If you’re not familiar with them, legumes are a part of a broad category of plant seeds that include beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, chickpeas and peanuts. I use legumes regularly and because they’re canned or dried it’s easy to keep them on hand for quick-and-easy vegan meals.
If you’re interested in learning more about legumes, including finding some legume-focused recipes, be sure to check out my Vegu-cation post: What Are Legumes?
Go Big on Grains: Stock Up on these Vegan Essentials
Grains make up a lot of my vegan shopping list. Of course, I don’t need to replenish them each week, but I keep them on my vegan shopping list so that I am reminded to get them if I need them. My grain list includes general ingredients like pasta, flours, rice and breads as well as specific grains like quinoa, farro and barley.
Never tried barley? It’s one of my favorites! See how I use it in this Vegan Beef Stew recipe.
Dairy-Substitution Vegan Staples: Vegan Butter, Milk, Cream & Cheese
For many people, one of the most daunting things about going vegan is giving up things like milk, cream, butter and cheese. Thankfully, there are some really good vegan substitutions for these items. I always keep shelf-stable plant-based milk available for baking and making smoothies. Coconut milk — the full-fat, unsweetened kind you get in a can — makes a great cream alternative for soups and curries and ground or blended nuts make delicious vegan cheese substitutes.
Think that you’ll miss cheese too much? My Cashew Cream Sauce will solve that problem in no time!
When You Can’t Go Fresh, Go Canned: Shelf Stable Vegan Staples
It’s not always possible to work with fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it’s more convenient to have canned goods at your disposal. For ingredients, like tomatoes, canned goods pack more nutritional punch. As such, I always have a variety of canned tomatoes, beans, curry pastes and pasta sauces available for easy vegan meals.
Tomato paste is one of my go-to ingredients. It never fails to take a vegan recipe to the next level. See how I toast it to bring the flavor alive in my Vegan Baked Pasta Recipe!
Herbs & Spices Are Vegan Essentials Too!
I like to keep a robust selection of herbs and spices at the ready. I always have spices like chili powder, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, turmeric, and cayenne pepper on hand. Dried basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and parsley are permanent residents in my spice drawer as well. I’m also a fan of spice blends like curry powder, garam masala, fajita & taco seasonings and Italian seasoning.
Are you unfamiliar with curry? Curry recipes are a centerpiece in my vegan cooking. Learn more about cooking with curry here!
Consider Your Freezer Fair Game for Keeping Vegan Staples
When possible, I like to go fresh with my fruits and vegetables, but I also find it helpful to keep some frozen items available for quick vegan meals and snacks. For example, I always keep frozen berries around. I like to freeze bananas as well. I use them in my morning smoothies and to make vegan jams and desserts. Frozen vegetables like peas, potatoes, butternut squash and mushrooms are often less expensive than fresh vegetables and work really well in many recipes.
Frozen butternut squash is super helpful to have around! It makes dishes like my Apple Butternut Squash Soup so easy to put together!
Oils & Vinegars and Other Bottled Vegan Staples
Having a small selection of oils and vinegars is crucial to a successful vegan pantry. I always have extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil and coconut oil on hand. I keep extra virgin olive oil for its rich flavor, safflower oil for its neutral flavor and high-temp tolerance and coconut oil for baking.
As for vinegars, rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar are all useful to have around. Rice vinegar is used in almost all of my Asian cooking. Red wine vinegar is critical for flavorful sauces like chimichurri, while apple cider and balsamic vinegar make great salad dressings.
Tamari (or soy sauce), mirin, sriracha, garlic chili sauce and a variety of hot sauces are important ingredients to have available as well. I use tamari several times a week and you can’t beat the heat of sriracha sauce.
Want to know what makes vegan sushi truly exceptional? Sushi rice! See how it’s made using rice vinegar as a flavorful ingredient!
Nuts & Seeds: Vegan Staples with Health Benefits
Nuts and seeds are an important part of my vegan shopping list. They contain protein, fiber and many vitamins and minerals necessary for maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. I most often store them in the refrigerator to extend their useful life. I use nuts and seeds to make butters for baking, making vegan cheese and cream sauces as well as for healthy garnishments.
One of my all-time favorite garnishments is Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. I put them on my vegan enchiladas and sprinkle them over my salads and soups.
Stock Up on Sweets! Sweeteners that Count as Vegan Essentials
I use a variety of sweeteners in my vegan cooking and baking. Pure maple syrup is my go-to sweetener. It’s shelf-stable when purchased, but I store it in the refrigerator after I open it. Organic cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses and brown rice syrup are also great sweeteners to have in your vegan pantry.
I opt for unrefined sweeteners as much as possible, with maple syrup being my favorite. See how I used to it create these Gluten-Free Banana Bread Muffins here!
Download My Free Vegan Staples Shopping List!
Ready to get going on stocking your vegan pantry with vegan essentials? I’ve made it easy for you with this free, downloadable Vegan Staples Shopping List!
About Herbivore’s Kitchen
Herbivore’s Kitchen is a blog run by me, a plant-based home chef and aspiring food photographer. I switched my diet to a plant-based diet after learning about the health benefits of going vegan. Making this change has prompted a variety of food and holistic-lifestyle related questions that I explore through this blog. I talk about how to pick and prepare the most nutritious foods, to how to reduce waste at home, to how to live a more sustainable lifestyle while on the road.