5 Things You Need To Know About Vegan Food

New to a plant-based diet? Want to learn more? These are some great bits of info you should probably know about vegan food.
Plant-based food isn't just salads and dal. Photography: Symplicity.

Veganism. It’s a thing. We’re decades past the point of veganism being considered a fad or a phase and, considering the state of the world right now, the chances are fairly high that you’ve considered incorporating more plant-based food into your diet lately. You might even want to go completely vegan. If either of those is the case, you’re mightily lucky that we’ve created a myriad of delicious vegan recipes for you to enjoy. We’ve got quick vegan recipes, vegan curries, and loads of vegan pasta recipes ready for your lunch or dinner. We’ve also provided a round-up of some wicked vegan takeaways and five vegan cookbooks you can consult for recipes and wisdom.

Despite all that wealth of knowledge available to you, there’s always more to learn. I’m of the belief that you can never learn too much and that’s why I enlisted the help of chef Neil Rankin to write about some of the things you need to know about vegan food that you might not have considered before.

Neil Rankin, for those of you who don’t know, is the owner of Symplicity – a plant-based food company that makes products from fermented vegetables. As a professional chef and a trained butcher who’s renowned for cooking meat, who better could there be to give advice on what you can eat to replace it?

Here are Neil’s five things you need to know about vegan food:

1. You Can Make Your Own Plant-Based Proteins

Plant-based proteins are easy to make at home from basic starchy vegetables and legumes. There is no need to buy expensive pre-processed powders. Essentially you just have to wash out the starch which you can then use to make plant-based cheese or thicken a stew or soup. Making your own tastes less bitter than the bought-in powdered ones which means you need to add less sugar and salt to mask the bitterness.

2. You Don't Always Need Fat

Vegan food doesn’t need fat to taste good. Fat is really just an amplifier of flavour as its viscosity helps carry flavours over our tastebuds more evenly and slowly. If you have more flavour you need less fat which is why product quality is so important as is cooking and fermentation which can amplify the overall flavour complexity.

3. The Price Makes Sense

Some people are confused by the cost of meat substitutes in comparison to actual meat but it's actually just basic maths. The water loss in increasing the texture of vegetables multiplies the cost of vegetables past the cost of meat. Then there’s the labour involved which is extensive in comparison to meat. Mushrooms need the least processing to make them mimic meat texture, hence why they are so popular.

4. Meat Substitutes Aren't New

Meat substitutes are not a trendy new phenomenon that’s going away any time soon. Seitan has been doing the rounds for a few thousand years now. Made by Buddhist monks primarily as a replacement for meat in dishes that required texture and chew, they would wash kneaded bread dough in water till only the gluten remained. Seitan gets a bad rep due to the current and unwarranted vilification of gluten, but it is actually one of the healthiest alternatives and one of the easiest and cheapest to make.

5. Vegan Food Doesn't Have To Taste Like Meat

The idea of vegan food needing a meat-like taste is a marketing misdirection which only plays into a desire we have for a flavour we think we know. Meat doesn’t have a specific flavour or texture – it has millions of variations of both. Also, except for the insanely rare high-quality stuff, most meat generally tastes pretty bland unless cooked, browned, aged or seasoned heavily. And a large proportion of meat is bland even when it’s cooked and seasoned. The fact that vegetables have so much more inherent flavour raw and unseasoned means it’s not hard to come to the realisation that meat is more often trying to taste like something it’s not than the other way around. If you disagree the next time you eat bacon try some raw pork for comparison.

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