Stocking a vegan pantry? Today I’m sharing my 6 essential spices and seasonings.
When people go vegan, they often start looking at cooking in a new way. They may be trying new recipes or produce, picking up different cookbooks, venturing into previously unexplored cuisines, or thinking about ways to flavor foods so that they feel familiar.
Spices add a lot in terms of achieving the flavors you crave – whether it’s cheesiness, smokiness, or spiciness. By adding a little dash of this or that, suddenly your meal has new levels of interest.
I love having a full spice rack – with spices that literally range from A to Z (allspice to za’atar). If I get a new cookbook or discover a recipe I’d like to try, I’m almost guaranteed to already have the spice waiting for me. Truth be told, I love spices so much that when I travel, I often pick up local spices or spice mixes as souvenirs.
However, when you’re stocking a vegan pantry for the first time, you may want to err on the side of brevity. By buying a handful of spices that have a multitude of uses, you get the most bang for your buck. That’s a good place to start.
(By the way, today I’m only talking about dry spices and seasonings. Things like tamari, vinegar, or hot sauce would need a list of their own.)
My 6 essential spices and seasonings for a vegan kitchen are:
- Nutritional yeast flakes
- Kala namak
- Onion powder
- Ancho chili powder
Nutritional yeast flakes
A few months back, I wrote a post covering everything you could want to know about nutritional yeast flakes. Nutritional yeast flakes can do various things in a recipe. They can be a supplement. They can be a major component in a cheesy sauce or seitan. Or they can be used as a seasoning – just sprinkling on some at the end for a cheesy taste.
When I run out of nutritional yeast flakes, we’ve entered emergency territory. I have to run to the store ASAP. Popcorn just isn’t the same without it.
Use nutritional yeast flakes in:
Kala namak comes up a lot on my blog. It’s also called black salt, even though the color straight out of the bag is pink. (Don’t confuse it with Hawaiian pink salt, though. They’re two different things.) Kala namak is a sulfurous salt that gives food an eggy taste and smell.
Keep in mind that it is salt. So a little goes a long way. If you put on too much, it may be saltier than you desire.
Kala namak is an Indian spice, and that’s why I recommend looking for it at Indian grocery stores. It’s usually just a dollar or two, but you can find it online as well. However, you’ll be paying more for it.
It’s great in vegan egg salad, eggy tofu and toast, and tofu scrambles. It adds something really unique that is difficult to replicate without it. (Obviously, if you don’t like eggy flavors, you can skip this one.)
Use kala namak in:
Cumin is the spice-of-all-trades. It gets around – from India to the Middle East, Mexico to Portugal. It is used in such a variety of cuisines, that it’s hard to imagine cooking without it. It stands out in tacos. It’s used in curries. It gives an edge to hummus and baba ganoush.
Use cumin in:
Onion powder or granulated onion
Onion powder or granulated onion is a seasoning that has moved way up on my list in the last year or so. On the face of it, it seems unnecessary, because I use onions in my cooking almost constantly. So who needs onion powder too? But onion powder adds something that is different from the vegetable. It gives an underlying savory quality that is all its own without the astringent edge of raw onion.
(Onion powder and granulated onion have the same flavor, but slightly different textures. I hate to state the obvious, but onion powder is more powdery while granulated onion has slightly bigger granules.)
Ancho chili powder
Most kitchen spice racks include chili powder, but for me, it’s all about ancho chili powder. Typical chili powder is a spice mix that varies by brand. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s mild. But ancho chili powder is made from one ingredient – ancho chilies. (When they’re fresh, the peppers are poblano.)
Ancho chili powder adds warmth to a dish and round flavors without necessarily adding much in the way of spicy heat.
Use ancho chili powder in:
Finally, I’m rounding out the list with paprika. Bursting with bright red color, you can tell paprika is packed with nutrients. It’s made from grinding mild peppers, but its flavor doesn’t overwhelm. And if you crave a bit of smokiness, smoked paprika adds a beautiful edge, reminiscent of a campfire.
Use paprika in:
How to organize & store spices:
I have my spices organized in the cupboard on a tiered shelf from A to Z. Once I got used to putting them away in the correct place, my hand memorized just where to go to find turmeric, basil, cayenne, or dill. It takes a bit of time to set it up, but the pay-off is worth it.
The general advice is that spices shouldn’t be stored where they are exposed to light, because you don’t want them to lose potency. (Light, heat, and moisture are spices’ biggest foes.) That’s why it’s usually recommended that spices be kept in a dry, dark cupboard. And for the most part, that’s where I keep my spices – tucked away in the darkness of a cupboard.
However, I do make a few exceptions…
For the handful of spices I use the most, I put them out at arm’s reach – front and center where I can find them. I go through them fast enough that they won’t really have that much time for light and heat exposure. It makes them easy to access, right at hand.
Keep costs low:
To keep costs low, I refill my spices by using the bulk spice bins at the grocery store. Spices usually cost only change for a baggie full, because they weigh so little. It allows me to buy small amounts and replenish often. Plus, since my grocery store is also going through spices regularly, I feel certain that they are putting out fresh stuff as well.