Looking to pin-down that elusive umami flavor in your vegan cooking? The right ingredients will do the trick! Check out these 9 savory vegan seasonings. Whether you're looking for smoky, pungent, meaty or cheesy flavor, keep these on hand to pack your vegan meals with savory flavor.
I'm not one of those people that had a hard time giving up meat. I was the weird little kid who ate all her vegetables but whined like crazy when it came to the meat-based main course. I was always okay with stuff like chicken, until I started cooking and really got a feel for what meat was all about, if you know what I mean. I went vegetarian at the age of thirteen and never looked back.
So does it make any sense that I'm a huge fan of vegan bacon? Or that the meatiest of vegetables, like portobello mushrooms and cauliflower, are those that appeal the most to me? It sure does. See, what I realized is that while I don't enjoy meat itself, I usually really dig the flavors that are usually added to it during cooking, which are the flavors that most people associate with meat.
If you're looking for a flavorful, satisfying vegan dish to curb you non-vegan cravings, just try seasoning up some cooking with a few of the items below.
I even went and created a little cheat sheet for you!
Liquid smoke is exactly what it says it is. Surprise! Burn some wood, then collect and concentrate the smoke, and you've got liquid smoke. Most cooked meat has some smoky flavor to it, and adding a dash of liquid smoke will help replicate the flavor. Bacon and other pork products in particular have a lot of smoky flavor, so I'll be generous with the liquid smoke if I'm replicating them.
You can find liquid smoke in most supermarkets near the sauces and seasonings, or buy it here.
Try this: Black Bean Burgers with Guacamole & Plantain Chips
Nutritional yeast may not sound very appetizing, but it's actually pretty amazing stuff. Nutritional yeast is simply a strain of yeast that's been deactivated. It has a savory, cheesy, and somewhat nutty flavor. My favorite way to use it is in vegan cheese recipes, as I find it to have a flavor much like sharp cheddar, but it also works great for adding a savory element to lots of traditionally meat-based recipes.
Regular old supermarkets are just starting to catch on, so you may or may not be able to find nutritional yeast at yours. Whole Foods and similar health food stores are a sure bet, and you can always find it online.
Try this: Vegan Rosemary Chicklins and Dumplins Stew
Fermented foods are often great for adding that savory element that can be hard to capture in your recipes, and miso just happens to be one of the most useful and convenient fermented foods for doing this. If you aren't familiar with the stuff, miso is a Japanese product made from fermented soybeans. The flavor is pungent, savory and a bit salty. While miso's traditional use is for creating a super savory soup broth, adding a bit to cheesy and meaty vegan dishes will certainly amp up the flavor.
You should be able to find miso in the international foods aisle of most supermarkets. If not, check a health food store, Asian market or online. Use caution wherever you go, as some brands of miso may contain bonito (fish) flakes.
Try this: Vegan Broccoli Cheese Casserole
I'm just going to say it: I can't cook with this stuff without singing Land Down Under while I work. You know? The Vegemite sandwich line? I've never actually even used Vegemite. Marmite's the brand that's available in my area.
Okay, so what am I talking about? Yeast extract, a by-product of beer brewing, is suuuuuuuper meaty tasting. Very savory, a little salty, add a spoonful of this to your veggie burger mix and prepare to be wowed. Marmite is a brand that seems to be popular in the UK. Vegemite is the preferred brand of Men at Work.
I've managed to snag some from the international aisle of Marmite at Wegmans, but if you don't live near one, your best bet is online.
Try this: Amazing Vegan Gravy from The Muffin Myth
Soy Sauce, Tamari or Liquid Aminos
I'm sure most of you have tried soy sauce or tamari as a condiment for Asian fare, but it's great for adding a savory element to vegan dishes too. Often when I'm cooking up something savory and it's time to reach for the salt, I go and reach for soy sauce instead. Like miso, soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, giving it a distinct pungent flavor. Soy sauce is heavier in salt than miso, so it should be used relatively sparingly.
Soy sauce contains gluten, but if you're gluten free, tamari works as a great subsitute. Liquid aminos is an alternative that some folks feel is healthier than soy sauce (no opinion on that here), and coconut aminos in particular are a great alternative for anyone eating soy-free.
Soy sauce and tamari are available in most supemarkets. For liquid aminos, you'll need to check a health food store or online.
Try this: Soba Noodles with Tahini Sauce, Broccoli Rabe and Ginger Black Pepper Braised Tofu
Obviously dried spices are great for adding flavor, but meaty flavor? You might be surprised! Many of the meaty flavors we associate with a particular dish actually come from the seasonings. If you're trying to capture the flavor of a favorite meat-based dish, consider how it's seasoned, and try adding that seasoning to something plant based. Missing beef tacos? Try adding taco seasoning to some black beans. Blackened steak? Throw some Cajun spices on a big portobello mushroom.
I promise, you'll find some suitable spice blend at just about any supermarket.
Try this: Chickenless Tofu Noodle Soup
Okay, so this is really simple, but it works. If you're cooking up some beans, rice, quinoa, or other grain that you want to use as a base for a savory dish, cook it in vegetable broth instead of water. That's it. Automatic umami boost.
Most supermarkets carry vegetable broth these days.
Try this: Quinoa Lentil Tacos
A family friend once told me never to use water in my cooking when I could use wine. Okay, so that doesn't hold true all of the time, but when you're looking to replicate meaty dishes, that little undertone you'll find in most alcoholic drinks goes a long way. I'm not much of a drinker, but from what I do know, wines generally pair well with foods of similar tone. The same holds true for cooking with wine. White wine works great for adding complexity to light, creamy, and vegetable-based dishes, while red works great for rich tomato sauces and heartier, more deeply flavored dishes. Liquors can be used to add a stronger flavor punch to your dishes, and I like whiskey in particular for a deep woodsy flavor.
Head on over to your liquor store and pick up a few bottles to try. You don't need to go too fancy, but make sure what you buy is good enough to drink on it's own.
Try this: Spaghetti with Vegan Tempeh Ragu
This stuff is also known as black salt, even though it's more pink in color. In essence, it tastes like concentrated eggs. Seriously, I nearly jumped out of my skin the first time I tasted it. This volcanic salt contains a bunch of sulfur, hence the eggy flavor. Add it to your tofu scrambles, quiches, frittatas, and anything else you might long for a bit of eggy flavor in, and long no more. Whatever you do, don't spill it all over the place in your food photography room like I did, unless you want it to smell like someone's perpetually scrambling eggs in there.
Kala namak is traditionally used in Indian cooking, so if you've got an Indian market nearby, that would be the best place to look. You can also buy it online.
Try this: Vegan Breakfast Burritos from Simple Vegan Blog
Do you have another favorite ingredient for adding savory flavor to your vegan dishes? I'd love to hear about it. Leave me a comment and let me know what it is!
Christine | Mid-Life Croissant says
yes yes to all these things! full disclosure : I'm a total omnivore but I do love my veggies. having a wonderful affair with miso lately and seriously need to try liquid smoke.
Alissa Saenz says
I'm all about miso lately too! Also, you should definitely try liquid smoke. I've got several omnivores in my life hooked on "baconizing" things with it! It's awesome. :)
JADA SPICES says
Thank you for sharing your experiences and tips! We feel more people would eat healthier if savory seasonings and options were readily available. We would love to send you our Vegan All purpose Chicken Salt for you to try! We would also love to hear your feedback as our growing company sincerely appreciates all feedback.
The most surprising spice I've tried is white pepper. Silk (the alternative milk company) has a recipe for alfredo sauce on their website that uses white pepper to bring about that sharp, cheesy, creamy taste that vegans (and those of us who are just allergic to dairy) miss. It works wonders in a roux, a "'cream' of" soup, and it's my fave in mac 'n' "cheese". :) Thanks so much for sharing these! I picked up some nutritional yeast today, and I'm excited to try it!
Alissa Saenz says
Wow! I've never heard that one before! I just found the recipe on Silk's website - I'm definitely going to experiment with this. Thank you!
Tim Mann says
Late here in the comments but I’ve been fiddling around with becoming vegan for a few weeks now. Definitely going to, no worries there, but my family has always used Dale’s seasoning (Not sure if they have dry stuff but the liquid is what we use) for marinating steaks. That’s the flavor I’ve always loved. It’s vegan and is just heavenly on a portobello mushroom.
Alissa Saenz says
That's a new one for me! I'll have to find some and give it a try. Thanks so much for the tip!
Mushroom broth has a very rich umami flavour, great to add to a gravy or risotto.
Smoked paprika has a sweet meaty flavour very reminiscent of bacon. :)