Vegan Thai Food: Substitutions & Tips
Thai food offers us a lot of layers of flavors, but this cuisine isn’t traditionally very vegan-friendly. That’s why Umamicart is here to bring you some of the best in Thai cuisine and provide you with some vegan alternatives to traditional ingredients. Thankfully, it’s not as hard as you may think (plus, you’ve got us to make it easy to source all of your ingredients!).
We want to go over all the staple ingredients for Thai food, so you know what to expect. Then, we are breaking down those vegan alternatives. To really get things going for you, we are also going to give you ways to make some of the best Thai dishes with those vegan substitutes. Caution: reading may cause drooling.
What Are the Main Ingredients of Thai Food?
We say main ingredients because these are the staples and base ingredients for many Thai dishes. In Thailand, the cuisine is all about beautiful, colorful dishes packed to the max with flavor, as well as straightforward recipes that are quick and to the point. In other words — all of your favorites, you can make at home!
Sauces, Pastes, and Condiments
These are shelf-stable items, so you’ll be able to keep an unopened can or jar in the pantry to have ready when inspiration strikes!
A lot of these items can only be bought a few days to a week ahead of time as they’ll only keep so long.
- Galangal (similar to ginger)
- Thai basil and holy basil
- Bean sprouts
- Bell pepper
Vegan Substitutes for Thai Ingredients
Spoiler alert: not all the ingredients listed above are vegan. We know you probably already knew that, but we wanted to confirm anyway. The good news here is that there are plenty of options for vegan alternatives.
For vegan dishes, creating that savory fattiness you get from meats can be challenging.
Thankfully, we have items like mushrooms, bean sprouts, and tofu.
- Mushrooms provide very hearty flavors to foods. As they cook, they release so many qualities needed to achieve umami in food.
- Tofu will soak up all the flavors you’re cooking up beautifully. They’ll become little creamy pockets of all the pieces of your sauce or dish. They’re also perfect for someone that needs a filling addition to a meal that doesn’t involve animal proteins.
- Lastly, bean sprouts. They’re used in many Thai dishes anyway, so adding them to your cooking will be a seamless process. Bean sprouts are milder in those meaty flavors compared to the other two, but make up for it with a crunchy texture.
Unfortunately, shrimp paste is one of the ingredients used to make traditional Thai red curry paste. Fortunately, there are vegan red Thai curry pastes on the market now. You’ll want to ensure you read the labels as a double-check. There are also a few ways to make it fresh at home, but plan ahead for that.
Thankfully, coconut milk is the other base ingredient that gives Thai curry its silky smooth texture, and that’s vegan already.
Fish sauce is a delicious salty and savory sauce that is perfect for finishing a dish. But for vegans, it isn’t on the menu. At the base is fish, but you can still get a lot of the same flavors from other sauces.
- Soy sauce would be an easy switch; the salty intensity is very similar to fish sauce. Try blending it with tamarind paste for a tangy and sweet balance to the salt. This will be closer to umami than soy sauce alone.
- You can also try tamari for a more balanced flavor. It is a sauce similar to fish sauce and soy sauce. However, tamari is thicker and balances the flavors better than soy sauce will in order to emulate fish sauce more accurately. The best part? It’s vegan and gluten-free!
Oyster sauce is the ultimate in umami flavor. It is thick, rich, dark in color, and packed to the brim with flavor. It’s a sauce that does it all. You can use it for a dipping sauce, finishing sauce, stir-frys, or add it to other sauces to amplify flavors in a dish.
The best way to achieve this sauce with a vegan substitute is a mushroom sauce. It is a wonderful balance between salty, savory, and sweet flavors. Plus, mushrooms have a rich heartiness that will help get the umami flavors of oyster sauce.
Many traditional Thai dishes call for noodles. Many use rice noodles, but quite a few list egg noodles in the recipe. You could sub in rice noodles for any instance of egg noodles, but there is a downside: rice noodles are very high in carbs, so if that’s something you’re watching for, too many dishes with these noodles can throw off your numbers.
Instead, try sweet potato noodles — they’re healthier than wheat-based carbs and provide the same spring in texture. Oh, and yes, totally vegan.
Ordering Vegan Thai Food at a Restaurant
A lot of the more modern Thai restaurants have options in place for those that choose to eat vegan. If they don’t, they’re at the very least usually pretty accommodating and provide options to make your selections just so.
Many dishes will have a splash of oyster or fish sauce added at the end so just ask for these omitted.
Another item you’ll need to take off will be egg, which again is added toward the end so leave it off to have vegan options.
You will have to be mindful that some of the more old school or super traditional places might not be this way. You’ll have to ask about sauces additions and potentially find that you’ll need to adjust your order.
Delicious Vegan Thai Food Recipes
Maybe you live in an area with sparse restaurant options and you need Thai food now! Well, we’re ready for you. Below are a few of the more popular Thai dishes with vegan ingredients that are delicious and easy to make.
Vegan Pad Thai
Pad Thai is close to vegan to start, so creating a fully vegan version is a cinch. Tofu in place of animal proteins and a vegan fish sauce in place of the traditional variety will have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Here’s a recipe for Shrimp Pad Thai that will need only a few mods to make it vegan.
Vegan Thai Curry Ramen
Thai curries bring the heat and we stay in the kitchen for more. Here’s an amazing Thai curry noodle soup recipe that will require simple switch-outs to become vegan. Tofu for chicken, vegetable broth for chicken broth, vegan curry paste, and a vegan option for fish sauce.
Don’t forget the lime, Thai basil, and cilantro for garnishes. You’ll want the bright and citrusy notes to help cut through the spice!
Vegan Thai Spring Rolls
Thai spring rolls are the perfect addition to your dinner plans. They’re packed with flavor and textures and you can get them ready fast. Avocado, Thai basil, carrots, bell peppers, and green papaya instead of cucumber make for a perfect filling. Throw in a little red leaf lettuce for volume and you’re ready.
Pro tip: If you want a little more sweet and savory balance, try adding some fresh mango or pineapple slices for a sweet tang.
Peanut sauce on the side finishes this delicious small plate. If you don’t or can’t eat peanuts, cashew or almond butter are the perfect substitution for sauces. Add either ground or minced ginger and chili sauce to really kick up the flavors of your sauce. Green onions garnished on top will take it over the edge; you’ll blink and the rolls will be gone.
Experience Thai Food Your Way
Bottom line, your diet choices are your business. Enjoying Thai food shouldn’t mean you have to compromise on this, and with a few swaps and omissions, you can enjoy the rich, unique flavior of Thai cuisine, free of animal products.
We hope this guide has helped, and as always, you can find most of what you’ll need right here at Umamicart.