Plant-Based Cooking 101: Those Mystery Vegan Ingredients

Submitted by Kim Campbell, director of culinary education.

Today we’re going to delve into the weird world of vegan “mystery” ingredients. Some things, like tofu, you’ll probably recognize, but others, like seitan, you may have never heard of. In the next few posts, we’ll talk about these ingredients: where they come from, why we use them, how they’re used, and where to find them.

Photo by Amy Bissinger.

Nutritional yeast (commonly known as “nooch”)

Nutritional yeast is a member of the fungi family (just like mushrooms). It’s made from the single-celled organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is grown on cane and beet molasses for about seven days. During the growing period, B vitamins are added to provide the yeast with the nutrients it needs to grow. The yeast is harvested, pasteurized, and heat dried, which deactivates the organism. Nutritional yeast flakes are a low-fat, low-sodium, non-GMO food that contains no salt, wheat, corn, soy, milk, or eggs.  

Nutritional yeast comes in small yellow flakes. It adds a nutty/cheesy flavor to popcorn, salads, sauces, soups, gravies, pastas, casseroles, and sandwiches. Nutritional yeast flakes are commonly found in natural food stores in the bulk section.  


Seitan is made almost entirely from wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is the protein part of wheat flour. It’s sometimes referred to as the “wheat meat” because of its very meaty, chewy texture.  It is flavored in many ways to mimic sausage, chicken, or beef.  I do not recommend seitan since it is a highly processed food that often causes digestive issues in many individuals. It’s important to note that seitan is high in gluten.  

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.


Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste. Soybeans are combined with salt and a mold known as koji. The fermented soybeans are aged for between six and 24 months to create a rich savory paste. Its salty and tangy flavor adds depth and flavor to sauces, soups, and dressings. Miso ranges in color from a light brown to darker reddish varieties. The darker the color, the stronger the flavor. Miso can also be made from barley, rice, and other legumes, with each one tasting slightly different. 

You can find miso in the produce department of many grocery stores and health food stores. It comes in a plastic tub (like a butter tub) and has the consistency of paste. Keep miso refrigerated and it will last up to a year.  


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