Yesterday I found Panko Breadcrumbs in the supermarket! This was exciting stuff for me. I come across lots of recipes that use them (thank you Isa Chandra Moskowitz!) and have never had any idea what they were or where to get them, and I’d given up looking. This time, I wasn’t even looking for them but they practically jumped off the shelf and hit me in the face.
This reminded me of all the ingredients I’d never used before I went vegan – and how much time I spent trying to figure out what they were, and then find them.
To help new and confused (particularly Australian) vegans, I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of the ingredients that stumped me.
So, if you don’t know your nooch from your Bragg’s, and have no idea where to start in finding besan flour or vital wheat gluten, this is the list for you!
Unfamiliar ingredients in vegan recipes
I’d been vegetarian for a long time first, so I was already very familiar with ingredients like TVP (I knew I didn’t like it), tempeh, tofu, quinoa, and all kinds of legumes. This list only includes the ones I came across when I went vegan.
The biggest problem we seem to have in Australia, is that a lot of the recipes we see are from other countries (usually the United States) where they sometimes use different names for the ingredients than we do.
BY THE WAY: I don’t claim to know all about them, but I know enough to help you get by – and I’m more than happy to be corrected on any of this – so, if you have another take on any of this, don’t hesitate to speak up. 🙂
Nutritional yeast (Savoury yeast flakes)
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the first item to REALLY stump me was nutritional yeast also sometimes called ‘nooch’ on blogs and comments. Every vegan cookbook and blog seemed to rave about it, but I couldn’t seem to find the stuff anywhere.
In Australia, I’ve seen it sold as nutrional yeast occasionally, but more often it seems to be called savoury yeast flakes. Don’t confuse it with Brewer’s yeast, or the other powdery yeasts. This one comes as flakes.
Where to find it: You can buy it in specialty vegan shops, in some organic/health food-type shops, and occasionally I’ve seen it in specialty supermarkets in the health foods section.
Besan flour or chickpea flour or gram flour…or a whole lot of other names
OK, my confusion over besan flour dates back to before I went vegan, but it was the same kind of problem. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and often it’s known by a different name.
Recipes will sometimes ask for chickpea flour or gram flour but they’re just alternative names for besan flour*. (See the note below for more on this – it gets a bit more complicated!)
And even more complicated again: Veganopoulous has used ‘garfava’ flour (a mixture of garbanzo bean and chickpea flours) by Bob’s Red Mill in her gluten-free flour mix. (See her comment below).
Where to find it: You can generally buy it in organic/health food-type shops or in specialist supermarkets. I got this bag from the nut stall at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. Thanks to Cindy and Helen for reminding me that besan flour is also available in Asian and Indian grocery shops.
Vital wheat gluten
This was the most recent one to stump me. Lots of American recipes call for vital wheat gluten. I searched everywhere, and nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.
Finally, I came across a comment on a discussion board that mentioned that in Australia it’s known as gluten flour.
From what I can tell, the confusion comes about because in some other countries, ‘gluten flour’ is the name for what we call ‘high gluten flour’, which is our name for white flour with extra gluten (which is not what you want for this).
Where to find it: Once I had a name I still had to track it down, which wasn’t so easy either. I finally found a bag in a local organic shop.
Then, even when I’d found it, I still wasn’t totally sure I had the right product! I tried it out and compared my results to Bryanna Clark Grogan’s pictures and description, and I’m fairly sure that I’m onto the right thing with this. The finished product is very bouncy, solid and sliceable, just as it’s supposed to be.
Thanks to Cindy from Where’s the beef? for this extra tip:
Vital wheat gluten/gluten flour continues to cause some confusion for me because they don’t always work as a perfect one-for-one substitute. For example, Terry Hope Romero’s seitan recipes in Viva Vegan come out much too mushy if you do a direct substitution – you need to reduce the liquid as well as making the gluten-flour-for-vital-wheat sub.
When I first came across coconut oil in a raw dessert recipe, I assumed it was just another type of oil. I thought I could substitute any other kind of cooking oil – maybe canola or olive! Haha, how wrong was I?
Then I thought it was just copha – yuk – so I didn’t want to try it anyway.
One day, I was wandering around a local organic shop, and noticed some intriguing jars of half-solid/half-liquid coconut oil. I invested in a fairly expensive jar of the stuff, and discovered how clever and delicious it is, helping raw treats keep their shape at room temperature, and giving them a delicious coconutty taste.
Where to find it: Now I see it everywhere – even in regular supermarkets. Maybe it was there all the time and I just hadn’t noticed it.
Read the Choice article ‘Is coconut oil healthy?‘. (I don’t really care whether it is or not. 🙂 )
I wasn’t actually searching for Ancho chillies when I came across them in the supermarket, but I had seen them in some recipes. Once I’d tasted them, I was a convert. They allow you to get a really tasty chilli flavour, without all the heat. You can always add extra hot chillies if you want the extra bang.
Where to find them: The only place I’ve seen them is at Leo’s Fine Food & Wine, but I’m sure they’re available in other places too. You can buy them as ground chillies, or the whole dehydrated chillies.
I was totally confused about what this stuff was. I kept seeing it in recipes, and heard people raving about it on their blogs. Even Doctor Oz recommended it for weight loss – I had to get some!
I have to admit, I had no idea what I was looking for (I didn’t even know it was a sauce!) until I Googled a picture. Then I realised I’d seen it in restaurants lots of times, I just didn’t know what it was called.
Where to find it: I grabbed myself a bottle from an Asian supermarket. I suspect it’s also available in regular supermarkets.
DHA – Plant Omega-3
I remember trying to find this many years ago to supplement my kids’ flaxseed oil, to get all the Omega 3s. I even went to a specialist supplement shop and they told me there was no such thing. Thank you, Experts!
Where to find it: Many years later, it’s definitely available, but I only seem to be able to buy it online – and they’re pretty damned expensive at around $1 a capsule!
Vitamin B12 supplements
I’ve been pretty careful about supplementing with B12. I’d had two vegetarian friends who didn’t consider themselves to be vegans (so hadn’t been supplementing), but due to an ickiness about eggs, along with lactose intolerance, they both developed B12 deficiency…just a few months apart…and they don’t even know each other!
Where to find it: I also buy my vitamin B12 tablets online. They’re not always easy to find in the shops – especially the ones that dissolve under the tongue, as always seem to be recommended. In fact, lately I haven’t even been able to get those online anyway. We’re using tablets that are swallowed whole at the moment. Thanks Helen, for pointing out that these B12 tablets are available at Priceline.
It’s weird to think of it now, but I wasn’t all that familiar with eating kale. In fact, I was more familiar with the pretty purple kale sold as cut flowers. For green, leafy vegetables, I was much more familiar with rainbow chard, silverbeet and spinach.
Where to find it: Pretty much everywhere, these days – even in regular supermarkets.
I grow cavalo nero (sometimes called black leaf kale)…and the caterpillars eat it. We do eat a fair bit of curly kale, but rather than growing it, I buy it from the local organic shop, farmers’ market or the Vic Market. It always seems fresher than the kale at the supermarket, probably because there is a higher turnover.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
I first came across this in a homemade cookbook one of my sisters put together for me about 20 years ago. I had no idea what it was, and in those pre-Google days, I had no idea where to look for it. She told me to substitute soy sauce, and that worked fine, so I forgot all about it.
Where to find it: Recently I saw a bottle of Bragg’s on the supermarket shelf, and I couldn’t resist buying it. I love the label. It reminds me of 1970s wholefoods hippie types.This product is called ‘All-purpose seasoning‘, but I’m guessing it’s the same product, because I’ve seen it online called ‘Bragg Liquid Aminos All-purpose seasoning‘.
It does taste pretty similar to soy sauce, but has another taste that I can’t quite put my finger on. Here are some details from their website. By the way, the website doesn’t list ‘All-purpose seasoning’ amongst their products, so it really is a mystery to me. If you know more about it, please let me know.
When I mentioned I was making this list, my son said, “Include agave – what the hell is that?”. It made me remember that, even though I’d heard of it, I’d never bought it, or thought to use it until I came upon it in vegan recipes.
Where to find it: Like coconut oil, you can now find it pretty much everywhere.
I didn’t realise until now that there are a whole lot of conflicting views about it. I know nothing about that, but I do know that it makes me feel a bit ill if I have too much. Now that I know it’s full of fructose, that would make sense, because too much fruit makes me ill too.
And finally, this brings me to where this story began – Panko breadcrumbs. Apparently they make things crunchier and lighter. I’m not sure that adding them to my tempeh meatballs was really the best way to experience the crunchiness, but they worked well. And at least now I know what they are!
Where to find them: I found these in the Asian section of my supermarket.
One more note. I’ve noticed that these ones have palm oil listed in the ingredients. So, depending on your views on palm oil, you might want to avoid it.
So there’s my own list of tricky vegan ingredients – I hope it saves a bit of time for someone else!
*A further complication – farina di ceci
Just for fun, I was looking for a recipe that included a whole lot of these ingredients – but what I found was something even more confusing! Apparently there are DIFFERENT TYPES of chickpea flour… According to Kurma Dasa, Italian chickpea flour is available from Italian grocery shops and is called farina di ceci. If you watch this video, you’ll see that it’s a finer flour than the usual chickpea flour.
Unfortunately, my local Italian supermarket is no longer Italian (sob!), so I looked for it in an organic shop this morning. No luck – they just had regular besan flour. I will track it down though, because I really want to try out this omelette!