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Unfamiliar Vegan Ingredients: Answering Your Questions About Agar, Jackfruit, Aquafaba and More

Have you ever suspected that vegan’s have a secret language? 

Do you see delicious recipes and concoctions, and have no idea how they’re able to pull it off?


I’m here to tell you that this isn’t in your head. 

Vegan recipes tend to have a few unfamiliar ingredients that are staples in the kitchen that bring cooking and baking to the next level. 

Want in on the secrets?

You’re in luck!

This article will cover everything you want to know about these game changing vegan ingredients including: 

  • The Complete List of Unusual and Unfamiliar Vegan Ingredients

  • 21 Recipes to Try: Experiment with New and Tasty Ingredients

Are you ready to dive into unchartered waters?

Let’s go!

vegan cooking

The Complete List of Unusual and Unfamiliar Vegan Ingredients

Wondering how vegans make cheese?

Curious how on earth they are baking without eggs? Do you want to learn about delicious meat substitutions? 

Then this is the list for you. In this article you’ll find 13 key ingredients that will transform your vegan cooking and baking. 

1. Agar

What it is: Agar, also commonly called by the adorable name “agar-agar,” comes from red/purple algae. In appearance, it looks almost exactly like jello. 

What it’s used for: Agar is used as a vegan substitute for gelatin. 

Gelatin is a sneaky ingredient in foods like yogurts, gummy candies, jello, and other various treats. It is quite common, and unfortunately it is made of animal ingredients. 

The good news about agar is that it is easy to use and can be substituted in equal parts for gelatin in recipes. 

Where you can find it: You can purchase agar in several forms like powder, flakes, or bars. You can find this ingredient in health stores as well as common grocery store chains like Walmart or Kroger. 

Of course, if buying online is more your jam, there are several options for that as well! 

2. Agave Nectar

What it is: Agave nectar, often called agave syrup, is a golden sweetener that comes from the blue agave plant. 

(Fun fact, this is also the plant that tequila comes from!)

What it’s used for: Agave nectar is an easy substitute for honey. They are about equal in calories and this sweetener is more potent than white sugar. Agave nectar can be substituted in equal parts, making for a super easy swap in the kitchen. 

3. Apple Cider Vinegar

What it is: Apple cider vinegar is a substance that comes from fermenting the sugar in apples. You’ve most definitely heard of this substance, but you may not know all of the incredible reasons it has reached legendary status in the vegan community. 

What it’s used for: Apple cider vinegar has a tart and distinct flavor that when used correctly can add a tang to your vegan recipes. 

Common uses:

  • Activating baking soda and adding a layer of flavor to different bread and pancake recipes

  • Core ingredient for vegan salad dressings

Beyond that, apple cider vinegar has a few health benefits when consumed. 

  • Help fight obesity

  • Can help kill harmful bacteria

  • Help lower blood sugar

Apple cider vinegar is a great ingredient to have in the kitchen as it has also been found useful for these unusual purposes

And more!

4. Aquafaba

What it is: Aquafaba is the leftover liquid found after draining a can of chickpeas. 

Yup, you heard me right, it’s glorified “bean water.”

What it’s used for: Aquafaba can be used as a substitute for eggs when baking since it is a great binder. Aquafaba is extremely low in calories and it does not contain many vitamins or nutrients. It is a versatile ingredient that can be easily used for sweet or savory recipes. 

With aquafaba, you can utilize it in one of three forms:

  • Unwhipped (great for substituting eggs in recipes!)

  • Whipped (similar to using egg whites in recipes)

  • Whipped into stiff peaks (This can be used for things like meringues and macarons.) 

If you need to whip your aquafaba in any capacity, you should consider using a hand mixer.  

5. Cashew Cheese

What it is: After pre-made vegan cheeses, cashew cheese is the go-to recipe for vegans. There are a ton of recipes for this beloved cheese substitute, but this simple recipe is one of my favorites to use. 

What it’s used for: Cashew cheese is a great ingredient to use on sandwiches, wraps, and even gourmet charcuterie boards. 

6. Chia Seeds

What it is: Chia seeds are gaining popularity for their health benefits, and they are small black seeds that come from the plant Salvia hispanica. 

What it’s used for: When 1 tbs of chia seeds are combined with 3 tbs of water for a few minutes, this substance can be used as an easy and nutritious egg substitute for vegans. 

For such a tiny ingredient, these seeds pack a punch. 

Here is what just one ounce contains: 

  • 11 grams of fiber

  • 4 grams of protein 

  • 18% RDI (recommended daily intake) of calcium

  • 9 grams of fat

Drop an ounce on your salad, in your water, or in your smoothie for a boost of vitamins and healthy calories. 

Where you can find it: These seeds have gained so much popularity in recent years that you can find them in the “health section” of your local grocery store. 

7. Flaxseeds

What it is: Flaxseeds are another seed that has grown in popularity due to its health benefits, and it comes from the flax plant. 

What it’s used for: Vegans can use flax seeds to create an easy and nutritious egg substitute. 

All you have to do to create a flax egg is combine 1 tbs of ground flaxseed with 3 tbs of water. Mix these ingredients together and store them in your fridge for about 15 minutes to give it time to thicken. 


Another vegan egg. 

Where you can find it: Flaxseeds can be bought at any grocery store or health store. 

Once you purchase them, it is important to keep them:

  • Dry

  • Cool

  • Dark

If you can, buy them in their whole form and grind them up right before you are ready to use them in your recipes to ensure the highest nutritional value.

8. Jackfruit

What it is: Jackfruit grows from a tree and is a cousin of the fig fruit. 

What it’s used for: It seems strange, but jackfruit is actually an incredible meat substitute that you won’t be able to get enough of. 

Here are some great things about jackfruit: 

  • Low calorie

  • High in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C

You can eat jackfruit one of two ways - ripe, or unripe. The popular vegan method of eating it is unripe! 

To prepare jackfruit, here is what you will do:

  • Cut the unripe jackfruit into halves, and then into smaller pieces. There is no need to remove the skin. 

  • After that, you can boil the jackfruit until the flesh is soft. This can take between 30 minutes to an hour. The texture will be kind of like pulled pork or shredded chicken after this. 

  • Once it is boiled, you will be able to easily remove the seeds and the pods. 

  • Your jackfruit is prepared! Now it's time to find a killer vegan recipe to season your jackfruit. 

Where you can find it: Fresh jackfruits can be found most commonly at Asian food markets. You can find prepared jackfruit that is either canned or shredded in a bag in the vegan/vegetarian section of grocery stores like Whole Foods and Kroger. 

9. Mushrooms

What it is: Mushrooms are the flowering body of a fungus. There are many different kinds, and vegans love them all! 

Portobello, shiitake, white button, and crimini mushrooms are some crowd favorites. 

What it’s used for: You may not think so at first glance, but mushrooms make an earthy and filling meat substitute. 

Take the portobello mushroom for example, it is expertly used as a substitute for burgers. They are the perfect size and shape, and they can be grilled, fried, and more. 

Shiitake mushrooms have a different texture than other mushrooms due to the fact they have less water. This makes their flavor more potent and when cooked they are chewier. This makes an excellent substitute for meat in lots of noodle dishes. 

10. Nutritional Yeast

What it is: Nutritional yeast, fondly referred to as “nooch” is a deactivated yeast that is the unofficial symbol of veganism.

What it’s used for: The better question is what isn’t it used for? 

Nutritional yeast is used in countless vegan recipes and is distinguished by its nutty and cheesy flavor. 

You can learn everything there is to know about nutritional yeast by checking out our blog post for it! 

11. Seitan

What it is: Unlike tofu or tempeh, seitan actually comes from wheat gluten. 

What it’s used for: Seitan is an underrated meat substitute that is positively delicious. 

Seitan is high in protein, and still low in carbs and fat. One serving of seitan has the following:

  • 100 calories

  • 21 grams of protein 

Where you can find it: Seitan is usually tucked next to the other meat alternatives at your local grocery store.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all seitan is created equal. Seitan is a processed food, and we recommend reading through the labels of different brands to find the one that is most nutritious and least processed. 

The “Sweet Earth” brand which can be found at stores like Kroger and Walmart is a crowd favorite.

12. Tahini Dressing

What it is: Tahini dressing or sauce is made of ground hulled sesame. 

What it’s used for: This dish, popular in many traditional Mediterranean dishes, (think hummus or falafel) and has made its way into the vegan repertoire due to its distinct flavor and creaminess. 

It is the ultimate dairy-free cream sauce! 

13. Tempeh

What it is: You can think of tempeh as tofu’s slightly less popular cousin. It is made of fermented soybeans that are cooked into a sort of brick. 

What it’s used for: Tempeh is a vegan staple because it is a healthy and filling meat alternative. 

Just three ounces of tempeh has the following:

  • 140 calories

  • 16 grams of protein

  • 7 grams of fiber

  • Vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, manganese, and more

Since it is fermented, it is also a healthy probiotic to incorporate into your diet. 

Tempeh, like tofu, absorbs the flavors around it, the cooking possibilities are absolutely endless. You can use tempeh in sandwiches, burgers, as fake bacon, and more. 

Where you can find it: Most chain grocery stores carry tempeh in the substitute-meat section. The Trader Joe’s Organic 3 Grain Tempeh brand is worth a try! 


vegan baking

21 Recipes to Try: Experiment with New and Tasty Ingredients

Now that you know the power of these ingredients, here is a list of tasty recipes where you can put them to the true test!

Scrumptious Breakfasts

  1. The agave syrup in this oatmeal raisin waffle recipe by Eggless Cooking sweetens the deal

  2. Don’t forget to try this chia pudding recipe by Simple Vegan Blog

  3. These blueberry muffins with flaxseed by Del's Cooking Twist would brighten anyone’s morning

vegan blueberry muffins

Blueberry Muffins by Del's Cooking Twist

Pick-Me-Up Lunches

  1. This BBQ jackfruit sandwich with avocado slaw recipe by Minimalist Baker will put this substitute meat to the test

  2. It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken quenches unsuspecting meat cravings with this sesame shiitake mushroom recipe

  3. Carb up with this garlic alfredo pasta recipe by The Vegan 8

  4. Everyone loves chorizo, and this tempeh based recipe by Brand New Vegan is no exception

  5. Nutritional yeast is the key ingredient to this mac and cheese recipe by Simply Organic

vegan mac and cheese

Vegan Mac and Cheese by Simply Organic 

Delicious Dinners

  1. Cozy up with this jackfruit pot pie recipe by Soy Division

  2. Impress dinner guests with this caramelized shiitake mushroom risotto by Minimalist Baker

  3. It’s practically a vegan rite of passage to learn how to grill up a portobello mushroom like a steak. This recipe by Vegan Huggs does the job

  4. This recipe for seitan and mushrooms with polenta is an elegant dinner choice

mushroom risotto

Caramelized Shiitake Mushroom Risotto by Minimalist Baker 

Decadent Desserts

  1. This vegan jello recipe by Detoxinista uses agar-agar

  2. This coffee and cream jelly recipe by hot Thai kitchen is a unique dessert to bring to your next event

  3. This 3 ingredient meringue cookie recipe with aquafaba by Bosh.TV is delicious

  4. Are you ready for a more complicated dessert recipe? Then this lemon meringue tart recipe by Peaceful Cuisine is for you

vegan jello

Vegan Jello by Detoxinista

Miscellaneous: Dressings, Sauces, Snacks and Wraps! 

  1. This video by Jordan Cornwall shows you the best apple cider vinegar salad dressing

  2. In this article, Emilie Eats walks you how to create the perfect vegan charcuterie board, complete with a cashew cheese ball

  3. Are you looking for a creamy, cheesy sauce to go on vegetables and pasta? This cashew cheese sauce recipe by Ambitious Kitchen is the one for you.

  4. This zucchini snack by Eat Drink Better calls for toasted chia seeds. Talk about yum

  5. Use flaxseeds in a creative way in this flaxseed wrap recipe by Nutrition Refined

Now you know the secret ingredients that elevate vegan dishes. 

Before you know it—

Your pantry will be fully stocked with these tasty foods. You won’t even remember how you ever cooked without them. 

Want to keep learning about how to master vegan baking and cooking? 

Read this article about vegan desserts!

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