This category of plant-based kitchen staples might be my favorite one. These are the ingredients making our recipes really pop and allowing us to enjoy flavors and tastes we've maybe never had before. When I first went vegan, I experimented with using more flavor enhancers and these were the key to me really enjoying my meals and learning to love the tastes of whole, fresh ingredients. You may be really surprised how a little soy sauce on tofu or fresh citrus juice on veggies can transform the food. As you start to expand your palettes, these ingredients may become your best friends.
I think it's also important to know that our taste buds can adapt to what we're eating. As an extreme example (that I am NOT advocating for!) if we completely cut salt out of our diet, blander foods will start to taste more pleasant over time. A plain ear of corn might start to taste heavenly.
So, even if foods may not taste cheesy/salty/fatty/meaty enough to you just yet, leaning on flavor-enhancing ingredients will help your start to develop tastes for new foods and flavors.
Missed my earlier post in the series? Check out part 1 on essential baking staples here:
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Now, on to my favorite flavor enhancers...
Garlic is one of my favorite ingredients and I always use *way* more than recipes say. It's spicy, flavorful, and likely the strongest item on this list nutritionally!
-Italian food, soups, salad dressing, Asian-inspired sauces
-Powerful anti-cancer and antibiotic properties
-Can improve cardiovascular health-- blood pressure, cholesterol
-When eaten consistently, may increase immunity
I find hot sauce can increase the flavor in so many foods without the typical additions of salt, sugar, or fat. When possible, using whole hot peppers or spicy spices (red pepper flakes, cayenne, chili powder), can provide more health benefits than a bottled sauce. Do keep an eye on sodium content in packaged hot sauce, as it may be high. Of course, feel free to skip this one if you’re not a fan of spicy foods.
-Great with beans and rice, chili, soup, pizza, tofu
-Replicating meat-based sandwiches like Nashville Hot Chicken!
-May increase immunity, kickstart metabolism, decrease inflammation, and promote heart health
Maybe my favorite staple on the list! This is a classic favorite in the vegan community. It’s an inactive flaked yeast that has a cheesy, nutty taste to it. Now found in most supermarkets, natural markets, or on Amazon.
-Making cheesy sauces
-Topping pasta, salads, popcorn
-Adding umami/savory flavor to sauces and gravies
-High in protein, fiber, B vitamins (including B12 which is necessary to supplement when omitting animal products)
-Contains potassium and iron
-Check the nutrition label before buying as not all brands contain the same nutrients. I tend to buy the Red Star or Bragg’s brands. Especially relevant if buying it in the store from bulk bins.
Better Than Bouillon, No Chicken Base
I love making soups and this broth base makes every soup taste awesome. Often found in stores and easily on Amazon.
-Cooking brown rice in broth instead of water
-Really, anywhere you already use broth!
-Sauces, like my "chicken" picatta sauce!
-High in sodium, so be mindful if you’re watching sodium intake. You can also use less base/more water than the jar recommends to reduce the sodium content.
I try to use coconut milk rarely because of its high saturated fat content.
-Curries or Asian-inspired dishes requiring a level of creaminess
-This awesome pumpkin pie
-Coconut milk and coconut in general are high in saturated fat so best to limit intake.
-Used to provide umami flavor to soups/stews, gravies, salad dressing, marinade
-High in sodium
Lemons and limes or their juices
-Brightening up sauces, making foods taste fresher
-Lemon zest can add a nice touch to baked goods
-Lemon juice + non-dairy milk can make quick buttermilk for baked goods and pancakes
-High in vitamin C to help us better absorb iron and improve wound healing and immunity
-”Chicken” salad dressing
-Little nutritional value
Chili garlic sauce
Can be found in international supermarkets or on Amazon.
-Amazing ingredient (spicy) to pop the flavor in Asian-inspired sauces
-Little nutritional value
Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, dill, parsley)
-Making any dish taste fresher and more homemade immediately!
-Basil on pasta, cilantro in Vietnamese, Indian, or Mexican dishes, dill in soups, parsley in Mediterranean dishes or salads.
-Salt-free flavoring for foods
-High antioxidant levels
-Contain vitamins A, C, K