Friday, April 8, 2011

12 Vegan Products I Wish Existed

Here is a list of things I occasionally pine for as a vegan, some with more hope than others.  It was going to be a list of ten but I overshot :-).

  1. Low fat or nonfat non-dairy cream cheese
Why?  One of the most frustrating things about vegan shopping is the fact that you’re often limited to one dietary modification.  Case in point—one can often find low fat crackers or chips, and one can sometimes find low sodium versions too.  But you very seldom find a version of the same product that is reduced in both fat and sodium simultaneously.  And it is the same with vegan food:  you can find special non-dairy versions of a product, but not so often with other dietary considerations available as well. And since there are medical issues requiring restrictions such as low or nonfat, low sodium, and sugar free foods, some vegans are placed in a difficult position when it comes to their food choices.

And while some foods can be made at home effectively, and thus modified as needed, I have had limited success achieving a satisfactory cream cheese texture at home.  I suspect industrial equipment and materials may have more success, but perhaps not.

  1. Cool Whip
I don’t mean a substitute for real full-fat whipped cream.  I never really ate it anyway.  What I miss is the totally artificial, mostly air, water and chemicals, stay-fluffy-til-the-end-of-time cloud of sweetness, both for its own sake and for its use in a variety of recipes, from frostings to puddings, pies, cheesecakes, etc.  Since it was so low in sugar (low in everything, really—all air and water :-)) it was great for diabetic-friendly desserts.  And it was low enough in fat that things made with it never left that heavy feeling in your stomach that really rich food can—and the way coconut milk substitutes usually do, in my experience.

  1. High Protein Vegan Cheese
I’m not quite sure why vegan cheeses are so low in protein, but the ultimate result is that when it replaces dairy cheese in recipes, it makes for much less of a well-rounded meal. This leaves me having to add extra ingredients to make up for it, which can be inconvenient, and it leaves the vegan cheese’s role as essentially a condiment, rather than a main ingredient that can stand on its own.

  1. Cracker Cheese—firm textured and sharply flavored
Finally, a food that makes the list based on something other than nutrition!  This one is all about taste and texture.
While I can respect the improvements that have been made in the meltability of faux cheeses, and I do appreciate their properties for some things, I really would like a cheese whose texture has been perfected as a nice firm solid, without worrying about melting.  One that would be great sliced on crackers and sandwiches.  I also would like a cheese with a nice sharp tang to it, and perhaps some smoky or herb flavors too.

  1. Lemon Based Vegan Mayonnaise
My reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, I personally find lemon juice to be more digestible than vinegar, although I realize this may not be a common issue.  Secondly, I find citrus tanginess to be brighter and more appealing than the fairly bland and harsh flavor of white vinegar, especially when zest is used.  In fact, when I’ve added lemon juice and zest (and a little olive oil) to a standard vegan mayonnaise, the flavor has immediately and significantly improved.

  1. Reduced Sugar Non-Dairy Ice Cream
Second verse, same as the first, right?  Another case where I would like more diet-friendly and diabetes-friendly options.
I will concede that the vegan versions sometimes are lower in fat, sugar and calories than standard versions, but not always low enough to meet medical needs as well as diet-friendly non-vegan foods.

  1. Non-Chocolate Desserts
I actually cannot eat chocolate, and thus i am acutely aware of just how much of the vegan dessert market it takes up.  Brands with more than a dozen ice cream flavors may have less than three without chocolate, and not uncommonly nothing but plain vanilla.  When I’ve gone to vegan expos, there will one piece of non- chocolate candy for every six booths filled with nothing but chocolate.

This is not only inconvenient for me, but it limits everyone else’s variety as well.

I have actually been lucky enough to come across three different carob-based ice cream flavors in the past, although their availability is very limited.

These days I actually stick mostly to sorbet, because it’s easier to get a hold of and of course is mainly fruit-based, not chocolate.

  1. Vegan Graham Crackers
I’m sad to say that this was once easily available on grocery shelves but has become increasingly scarce, at least in my area.  Brands that used to be vegan are now filled with honey (something many vegans avoid, and which in my opinion adds nothing to the crackers in question), and my vegan s’mores go unmade :-(.

  1. More Creative Meat Substitutes
The thing about fake meats is that you’re starting from scratch—the sky really is the limit in terms of both nutrition and flavor. These products can be fortified with anything from higher amounts of protein and fiber to vitamins and minerals and even omega-3s.  And they can be as low in fat and sodium as you want because the only sources are added, not inherent.

So why are so many commercial version sky-high in sodium, higher in fat than they need to be, and mostly unfortified?  It’s a wasted opportunity if you ask me.

On another note, I would also prefer it if such substitutes didn’t try so hard to mimic meat exactly in texture and flavor. I’ve tasted some products that went too far along those lines for my personal taste—they copied some of meat’s less appealing characteristics as well as the positive ones (Does anyone actually want to eat fake gristle?).
I sort of think it’s like the culinary equivalent of Uncanny Valley , where getting too close is creepier than something that is noticeably different but appealing in its own way.

I’d like to see some ultra-thin deli sliced versions as well, sort of like Arby’s. I think that style would be slightly more forgiving in terms of flavor and texture issues than thicker cuts.

I’d also like it if there were some really interesting flavors that are either uncommon or impossible from a traditional meat product. For example herbs or vegetables could be blended right into a cold cut or other solid “meat” product. Green eggs and ham, anyone?

  1. Baking Chips in Various Flavors
The kinds I miss the most are cinnamon chips, vanilla chips and peanut butter chips. They’d be handy not just for jazzing up cookies and cakes for also for use as coating in dipped or filled candies (yum!).
On the other hand, if these were available I’d probably eat too many of them, and I’ve never seen any, vegan or otherwise, that didn’t have a significant amount of either saturated or trans fat.

  1. High-protein, Low Sugar Yogurt
Most vegan yogurts are nearly all carbohydrate, and thus do not make very balanced snacks or meals when combined with fruit or granola as is traditional.  More protein and less sugar would improve this, and also make the yogurt more versatile for use in different, particularly savory, recipes. There may be limits in terms of how low in sugar you can go with active cultures, however.

  1. Pre-pureed silken tofu
Call me lazy, perhaps, but I think this would be extremely convenient.  You could just stir it into soups or cream sauces, and casseroles and other baked dishes would be easier too, to say nothing of desserts.


  1. Great blog! I like your list -- I'd like to see some of the same vegan products. A good substitute for cheese that tastes like Havarti with dill would be high on my list. I also work hard to balance healthy eating with being vegan -- like trying to get a lot of protein when I was vegan & pregnant (to combat morning sickness), trying to get picky eaters to eat healthy while vegan (my kids), etc. It would be nice to have some healthier pre-made products out there. Also -- I second the pre-pureed silken tofu -- I can't seem to keep a blender or food processor alive, so it'd be nice not to have to have one for so many tofu recipes. Hey, post the recipe for those yummy candy/cereal haystack things with the butterscotch flavor -- SO YUMMY. Again, great blog!

  2. Hey, my first commenter! Cool.
    Yeah, picky eating can be tough to work around--but I probably wouldn't have come up with as many recipes if I weren't picky myself. Necessity is the mother of invention, etc. :)

    I don't actually know what havarti tastes like--I was never very adventurous with cheese--but you could always try adding dill to a white faux cheese or cheese sauce and see if you like it.

    Thanks for commenting!