I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, and if there was ever a year to relax our ambitions and go easy on ourselves for the goals we missed checking off, this is it. There’s a good chance that 2021 will look a lot like 2020, which means it’s probably safest to not make any grandiose plans that involve leaving the house. While I might not be big on making resolutions I do, however, like to plan stuff. As we should be limiting our trips outside of the house, and I don’t much like leaving the house in winter anyway, I’ve been trying to plan, prepare and organize a bit of a pantry space in my apartment. I love making grocery lists as well, so there’s an extra thrill in deciding what to stock in my pantry.
For those who may be just starting out with veganism, dipping their toes in the plant-based water for the first time, learning what foods to buy, and what options and alternatives you have available to you, can be a struggle. Having ingredients at the ready is often key to staying on track. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to share the list of what I tend to stock in my own pantry.
Do not take this as an endorsement of hoarding or panic buying. This it completely unacceptable and infuriating, especially for those of us who cannot afford to buy out an entire supermarket’s worth of toilet paper all at once. I generally add one or two extra reserve items to my weekly grocery order to add to my pantry stock.
To get started with your pantry aspirations, you may want to make a small investment in a label maker. This is a good tool for keeping your pantry (and life) organized and looking aesthetically pleasing, especially for people like me who can’t write neatly. I have the Brother P-touch D400 which works great.
You’ll also need food storage containers. There’s many, many options out there, and don’t feel like you need to break the bank here. I tend to reuse old containers. Save your jars rather than recycling them. I find pasta sauce jars make especially nice food containers. You can get a set of 24 containers of various sizes for around $50 but there’s always a more expensive route. These Kaloh Kitchen Canisters from West Elm, for instance, are lovely but also $252 for a set of four.
Flour is a culinary building block. There’s an endless amount of meals that you can make with it, and it is one of humanity’s oldest, most enduring and fundamental ingredients. There is also a significant variety within the flour genus, and while we are mostly accustomed to using All Purpose Flour for day to day cooking and baking, learning how to work with and use specific flours can make a big difference in taste and texture.
What is exactly is the difference between all these types of flour? Mostly it comes down to protein content. The protein content determines how much gluten the flour forms, so as general rule, if something requires a denser structure (i.e. bread) you’ll want to use a high-protein/gluten flour. For light and airy results, you’ll want a flour with a lower protein content.
All Purpose Flour
All purpose flour is, as the name suggests, all purpose. If you only want to have one type of flour in your pantry, this is probably the best option. It’s a blend of hard and soft wheats, so it can be used as a substitute for most other flours, though best to research what the best substitution ratio is, as it’s not always 1:1.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is flour that has the bran and germ still intact. This is where the bulk of the nutrients in wheat come from. It does have a very distinct and not always pleasant taste, which can be somewhat offset by combining with all-purpose flour. Also note that whole wheat flour tends to be more absorbent that white flour, which would generally necessitate the use of more liquids.
00 Flour is considered the gold standard for pizza-making. It’s ground very finely and has a medium gluten content.
Cake and Pastry Flour are actually two slightly different types of flour, so if you’re really into cake and pastry making you may want to have both on hand. Cake Flour has a very low protein content, and pastry flour is just slightly more glutenous.
Bread Flour has a high gluten content and will you give you better yeast activity and chew factor than all-purpose flour
Wheat Gluten Flour
Assuming you’re not gluten-intolerant, Wheat Gluten Flour is the one of the darlings of vegan cooking. It’s flour that has had the starched scrubbed off it. It is an ingredient that is used in most commercial meat substitutes, and is used to make Seitan (wheat-meat). It also makes an excellent binder for things like veggie burgers. A must have!
Semolina Flour is a high gluten content flour, making it super elastic and ideal for making pasta.
Gluten Free Options
I don’t have a lot of experience with using gluten free flours, but like regular flours, each has an ideal function. I usually have Tapioca and Chickpea Flour on hand.
Legumes are one of the essential nutritional elements of a vegan diet. They are an excellent source of protein, fibre and are a versatile ingredient. There are 400 types of beans, though many of them might be less familiar to certain parts of the world. The list below shows a few of the kinds that I usually keep on hand, but you may find that there are other varieties that you prefer. Buying dried beans will be more cost efficient, and there’s no doubt that you will get a richer flavour from them, but they are certainly not as quick to prepare as canned beans, and could take several hours to prepare with the soaking process. Both will keep in your pantry for a fair amount of time.
While rice is obvious one, and probably one of, if not THE most commonly food items in cupboard across the world, there is such a thing as too much rice. Vegan diets often veer into rice-heavy territory – or at least mine does – so it’s good to be familiar with a good variety of grains to keep things fresh. There are also 40 000 varieties of rice alone, so there’s certainly no reason to get stuck on brown or white rice.
I don’t really eat white rice, as it doesn’t have much nutritional value, and brown rice is just as delicious.
If you’re looking to whip up some risotto, arborio rice is the one to use.
With its beautiful scent and buttery flavour, Jasmine rice is a popular rice choice.
Basmati, like Jasmine, has a rich aromatic profile, but with more of a nutty flavour.
Cornmeal is used, among other things, to make polenta.
Quinoa is a super healthy grain with about twice the protein and more fiber than rice. It’s can used in much the same way as rice, and quinoa salads make a nutritious and filling lunch.
Farro is a vastly nutritionally superior grain and also lacks the heaviness of brown rice. For that reason it’s generally served when a lighter, more elegant grain is needed.
Millet is one of the more uncommon grains in North American – or at least you don’t see it often in supermarkets – but it has gained some popularity, usually in flour form, as a gluten free option. It’s also one of the sweeter grains, and has sometimes been compared to corn in its flavour.
Bulgur is light, nutty and chewy. It also can be used to make great burgers.
This is a big one. Oats are not just for oatmeal. They play a big role in vegan baking as well. If you’re really ambitious you can make your own oat milk with them.
I saved one of the best for last. Though not as nutritionally rich as other grains, couscous is one of my favourites. Its mild, somewhat neutral taste makes it an excellent flavour sponge in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Sure, fresh is always best, and I’m not going to say that you won’t notice a difference in taste – a lot of the times you probably won’t – but the functionality and durability of canned goods makes them an integral part of any kitchen and there’s no reason for anyone to look their nose down on them. I left beans and lentils off this list because they are already included in another category, but I almost always use canned versions. Don’t torture yourself with that arduous process unless you genuinely believe the results will be worth it.
Jackfruit is a common ingredient in vegan cuisine. Prized for its chewy meaty texture and flavour absorption, as well as how it’s sweetness blends well with spicy, it is often used as a substitute for pulled pork.
Never underestimate this flavour superstar – it can jazz up a lot of dishes instantly.
While dicing tomatoes is hardly an arduous process, fresh tomatoes only last about a week. Canned tomatoes, diced, whole, crushed etc., will last up to a year.
Cans and cans and cans of coconut milk is an accurate description of my typical cupboard contents. It’s a common ingredient in many plant-based dishes, including desserts, so stock up!
Another ingredient that has many uses in the vegan kitchen.
If I don’t feel like cooking, pasta is often what I fall back on so it’s good to keep a couple of cans of tomato sauce on hand.
Canned Artichoke Hearts
Fresh artichokes are great, but again last less than a week even when refrigerated.
While doing some research for this article I found this comprehensive list of pasta shapes from Serious Eats and there were quite a few I’ve haven’t tried or even heard of (Spaghettoni what?!) With so many options, personal pasta choice can vary a lot, but here are my favourites.
Let’s just assume for simplicity that those things that are commonly referred to as a nut are a nut and not go into the whole drupes/nuts debate. Nuts are far more than just nuts in vegan cooking, they’re used to make dips, sauces, desserts, and more and they also make a filling, protein rich snack.
When softened and blended, Cashews produce an incredibly creamy texture and make a nice base for vegan cheeses and sour cream.
Used to make pesto. They tend to be super expensive, so your probably not going to want to buy in bulk.
Sunflower are an inexpensive alternative to nuts when making cheese and cream substitutes
A good topper for salads, pastas, and more.
A great snack just on their own, but also can be used whenever you want to have an added crunch in any dish.
Flax seeds are a common egg substitute in vegan cuisine. When submerged in water, flax seeds produce a binding substance that’s very similar to egg whites.
Chia seeds are super absorbent. When they soak up liquid, they take on a soft and smooth jelly like texture making them an ideal ingredient in puddings.
Sesame seeds are wonderful in pretty much everything but pair particularly well with all things bread.
Poppy seed bagels – need I say more?
While vegetable oil has become the general standard in home cooking, there are many others types of oils and each has distinct qualities and drawbacks. Oils are also generally broken down into two flavour categories – those that retain a flavour and those that are neutral flavoured. Another characteristic of oil to pay attention to is its smoking point. This is the temperature at which the oil starts to break down and smoke, potentially releasing harmful and unstable chemical components.
The health benefits of coconut oil have been hotly contested for several years now, but there’s no denying that its rich flavour and full fat profile makes it an ideal alternative to butter. It’s also one of the most shelf stable oils, but does have a relatively low smoking point (around 350 degrees), so it’s best used for low to mid-range temperature cooking.
Peanut Oil is a popular choice for frying because of its high smoking point (450 degrees), but it also has a very potent flavour. Peanut Oil has some risk associated with it because it oxidizes easily and it has been linked to some health issues. The rapid oxidization means it will go rancid faster than other oils so it’s best not to let it linger in your cupboard unused for too long.
Vegetable Oil is a blend of several refined oils, the source of which sometimes remains a mystery (could be canola, could be soybean, could be palm, could be all three plus some more thrown in for good measure). It is a neutral oil with a high smoking point (400-450 degrees).
Avocado Oil has an extraordinarily high smoking point (520 degrees) so it makes a great all-around shelf stable cooking oil. It’s considered, by some at least, to be one of their more heart healthy oils. There seems to be some variance in opinions on whether it is a neutral oil – I would tend to say it has a subtle nutty flavour.
Sesame oil is one of the more flavour rich oils, and because of that it is often used with more specificity than other oils. Its smoke point is around 410 degrees.
This is the oil I use for most of my everyday cooking, and it is thought to be one of the healthier oils. One thing to note though is the difference between extra virgin olive oil and regular olive oil – extra virgin has a lower smoke point (325-375 versus 410 for regular) and it may be less likely to hold its rich flavour at high heat.
Canola is the neutralist of neutral oils, but it does have a very high smoke point (400 degrees), which is why it’s so often used for deep frying.
Cheap and heat-loving, with a smoke point of 450 degrees, corn oil is often used in large commercial kitchens for churning out baskets upon baskets of crispy French fries.
You don’t hear much about safflower oil, but it is actually a versatile and useful cooking product. It has a neutral flavour and a super high smoking point (510 degrees).
Flaxseed is kind of a fragile oil. It oxidizes quickly and is not recommended for cooking, but you can dash it on afterwards as a finisher, or use it in dressings.
Dried Fruit & Vegetables
There’s lots of options here, but my personal favourites are banana chips, raisins and dried apricots.
A classic. We are in the midst of a popcorn renaissance in many ways. In addition to your standard popping corn, there is an increasing variety of bagged popcorns on the market and the vegan friendly flavours are plentiful.
My personal favourite. Chips are always a crowd pleaser for vegans and non-vegans alike. There are some healthier options, liked vegetable chips, but your regular plain Lays or Ruffles are also vegan friendly and delicious, though definitely not healthy. There are also a lot of flavoured chips that are accidentally vegan as well – Sweet Chili Heat Doritos being one of the more renowned in the vegan world. You can find lists of these flavour online, like this one from Peta, though note that the ingredients used in certain chip brands can vary between countries.
I honestly can fathom why gelatin is still used to make some candy – it seems so gruesomely unnecessary. There are many accidentally vegan candies (Nibs, Twizzlers, Fuzzy Peaches, Skittles etc.), but companies like Squish Candy are also making plant based version of candies that have otherwise been off-limits for vegans (or even vegetarians.)
Crackers and Peanut Butter was one of my most common childhood snacks and it stills holds a lot nostalgia for me.
Dried Herbs and Spices
There’s a lot of spices out there in the world, so I’m going to limit this list to the ones I find myself using most often.
Black Salt/Kala Namak Salt
If you haven’t tried black salt, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Pumpkin Pie Spice
There are two difference types of yeast to be aware of, instant yeast and active dry yeast. Though they can be used interchangeably, active yeast has to be dissolved in luke-warm water prior to being added to your dough. Instant yeast doesn’t.
Ener-G Foods Egg Replacer is the one that I use most frequently but there are other ones on the market that are just as good if not better. They are usually made of various starches that mimic the binding agent function of eggs.
Regular marshmallows contain gelatin, but you can get vegan ones. Dandies pretty much has this market covered, but Sweet N Sara also makes some.
White Chocolate Chips
Vegan white chocolate is hard to find in stores, but you can buy it online.
Graham crackers can be crushed up and used to make a crumb crust for things like cheesecakes, but vegans ones seem somewhat hard to find in Canada. Most brands contain honey. You can probably buy some online but as a substitute you can also use crushed up vegan cookies or animal crackers.
I don’t think I’ve ever baked anything without adding some vanilla extract, even when the recipe didn’t call for it.
While it’s not something you may use frequently, it’s still good to have some on hand, though, as with most extracts, a little goes a long way.
Again, not something you might use too frequently, but a handy flavourful product nevertheless.
I’m not a big fondant fan. It’s a bit too sweet for my taste, but in moderation I’m okay with it and it is fun to play around and experiment with. Note that not all pre-made Fondant brands are vegans, and some animal by-products hide in some of the innocuous sounding ingredients like glycerin. It’s always best to check with the company. Some of the more well-known brands, like Satin Ice, have confirmed their fondant products are vegan.
Baking soda is a leavening agent. It can help baked goods rise when combined with liquid and an acidic ingredient. It is also a handy, non-toxic cleaning agent.
Baking powder, like baking soda, is a leavening agent, but it only needs liquid to become activated. It can be used as substitute for baking soda, and vice versa, with some adjustment to the quantities.
Strangely some brands of dark chocolate add milk to their products, so make sure to read the label before purchasing. The choice of chocolate percentage largely comes down to personal preference.
Many instant pudding brands are accidentally vegan, just use a plant based alternative when adding milk and voila, vegan pudding.
Jello and Jello mixes usually contain gelatin, but there are some vegan friendly brands out there. Simply Delish is the one I most often use.
Agar Agar Powder
Agar is derived from algae and is basically a gelatin substitute.
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.
I don’t usually eat Pretzels as a snack which is why they are here and not in the snack sections. I find them too dry on their own, but dip them in some chocolate and I’m sold!
Apple sauce can be used in replacement of butters or oils and will provide a similar moistness to your baked goods.
Arrowroot Powder can be used to thicken sauces, gravies and more. It’s gained popularity as an alternative to corn starch, as corn is one of the heavily genetic modified crops and allergies to it are somewhat common.
Xanthan Gum Powder
Xanthan gum is a common food additive that is used as a binder and stabilizer. As food additives go, it’s one of the more harmless, though if you have digestive issue you might want to avoid it.
Cornstarch is the most popular thickener in baking and cooking, though I find that its properties are more fragile or at least finicky than some of the others.
I’ve always tried to avoid food colouring. Traditionally they were a chemically engineered product, sometimes made from petroleum, but in the last few years there have been natural alternatives flooding the market, made from things like roots, berries etc. Superfood powders, such as those made by Organic Traditions, also make effective and nutritional food dyes.
Besides the flavour it provides, molasses can also be used to soften the texture of your baked goods.
This is an obvious one. Not all sugar is vegan though. Check with the manufacturer to confirm.
Brown sugar is sugar that has molasses added to it, so it has a much stronger and more distinct flavour.
Other Pantry Essentials
This is one of the most popular and common ingredients in vegan cooking. It has a strong cheesy flavour but can also be used to thicken sauces etc.
I usually keep my soy sauce in the refrigerator, but it is shelf stable and can be kept safely in the pantry for a long time.
TVP or texturized vegetable protein is dehydrated meat substitute made from soy flour. Those in Toronto who remember Hot Beans, and their ancho spiced TVP burrito, will know the potential of this ingredient when prepared with diligence.
Broth is shelf stable until it’s opened, but then can expire within a week or so, whereas bouillon can last up two years. Obviously, like broths, not all flavours are vegan, but there are several brands that make vegan beef and chicken flavoured bouillon.
Make your own gravy is relatively easy, but requires some diligence when it comes to flavouring it. Instant gravies take the guesswork and trial and error out of gravy-making.
Tacos Shells and Taco Seasoning
Depending on how often you celebrate Taco Tuesday, you might go through a lot of taco shells and seasoning. Keep some on hand just in case.
We already know maple syrup is delicious on pancakes and waffles, but it is also used as a sweetener in cooking and baking.
I love peanut butter, and use it frequently for cooking and baking, but there are a bunch of other nut butters out there too that have their own unique qualities.