Do you think most American vegan recipes are bland, and if so...why are they like that?

shaumom
shaumom Posts: 1,003 Member
Pretty simply question, really.
- Do you find a lot of American vegan recipes bland? I don't mean all of them, as there are always going to be the odd ones out in anything, but do you, overall, find vegan recipes to taste bland? And if you DO think it's bland...are you vegan, yourself?

And if you do, or believe they are, I'm curious if anyone has any ideas why that would be? Philosophical, physical, any type of reason this could be so? Because I would assume people don't LIKE to eat bland food, and yet a lot of people I've met find vegan food to be so.


Because for me...I really, really find vegan recipes bland in America. (Indian vegan recipes, on the other hand, I quite enjoy).

One reason that has often been given to me is because I'm just so used to eating processed food that my taste buds are used to too much salt, sugar, etc... So the theory is that vegan food isn't bland, it's just that my taste buds are acclimated to stronger flavors, and if I adjusted to different flavors, I'd start to enjoy vegan food more.

And the thing is, when I was younger, that used to be true - I ate tons of processed foods, all the time.

But it is not true any longer. I've had nearly a decade now where my diet is really restricted and would fit that profile of 'all natural, with no processed foods (including sweeteners), lots of fresh fruits and veggies, sauces made from scratch, etc...

But I still find almost all vegan recipes I come across to be really bland and not pleasant to eat. And I'm really curious why so many recipes are out there like this.

Is there a secret vegan recipe storage facilities where all the good recipes are kept, and I've just missed it? ;-)

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Replies

  • concordancia
    concordancia Posts: 5,320 Member
    Not vegan, but I love many vegan dishes. I make a lovely three bean salad, for instance.
  • lynn_glenmont
    lynn_glenmont Posts: 9,942 Member
    Not sure what you would classify as American vegan recipes, since you seem to exclude foods with an Indian flavor profile, yet I have found many vegan recipes published in the U.S. (books, newspapers) that rely on Indian flavors, and they're not bland.

    Black-eyed peas with Tabasco, greens, smoked paprika, smoke-flavored baked tofu or seitan? Doesn't seem bland to me.

    Maybe nut roasts are on the bland side if you don't appreciate umami.
  • shaumom
    shaumom Posts: 1,003 Member
    Not sure what you would classify as American vegan recipes,

    I pretty much used 'American' as a catch all phrase, to try and distinguish between dishes that are completely based in another culture, vs. dishes being created in the US.

    At this point, I'd say the types of recipes that the majority of vegans I know, or of recipes that come up when I search for a vegan recipe of a certain kind (that is up by an American blogger or chef). It's a wide range, and it absolutely may have flavor profiles from other countries as a fusion.

    I'd say, hmmm...if a person could make a dish out of ingredients they get at a general grocery or health food store, without having to shop in a grocery store that specializes in foods from other countries, then I'd say it is good enough. If that makes sense.
    Black-eyed peas with Tabasco, greens, smoked paprika, smoke-flavored baked tofu or seitan? Doesn't seem bland to me.

    Maybe nut roasts are on the bland side if you don't appreciate umami.

    If there was enough tobasco, yeah, that might be nice. I'll have to check that out. Smoked paprika? That entirely depends on the amount used (and this is one of those where a lot of vegan recipes I have hunted down have really tiny amounts of paprika that turned out really bland. Smoke flavored baked tofu...tastes pretty bland to me, honestly. More flavorful than just plain tofu, but still kinda bland. Seitan I can't speak to (wheat issues). Nut roll, same thing.

    It's not that there are not some amazing spices out there, but when I see them used, it's like...like a vegan Indian recipe I might read would use, say, 1-2 Tb of cumin. And then the American one I read that is similar might tell me to add 1/4 tsp and the difference in flavor is very high.

    But hey, maybe I just don't taste as much and need more flavor? I'm legitimately open to that idea, but after hearing others complain about blandness of vegan food, that seems slightly less likely because it's more than just my own experience, know what I mean?
  • shaumom
    shaumom Posts: 1,003 Member
    jgnatca wrote: »
    The ready made vegetarian meat replacements are bland. Like tofu hot dogs, and veggie burgers.

    I figure you are destined to fail if you try to make veggies replace North American meaty fare.

    Foods are better off if you honour the natural flavours and textures they bring to the table.

    And borrowing vegetarian dishes from historically vegetarian cultures is just smart.

    I do not doubt at all that recipes would be in the 'fail' category if trying to replace one type of fare with another like a substitute. Many celiacs in my family, so I've experienced that from the gluten free side of things, and trying to make one food taste like another is never good. Totally agree that trying to make completely different foods that the recipe was made for originally. So that's what I usually do.

    I just keep finding more recipes than not that seem really bland, doing that. :-(

    But I'd agree with that last statement, too. One of the reasons I figured I would check out Indian vegan dishes, since there is a strong culture history of vegetarianism in some areas, you know?

  • shaumom
    shaumom Posts: 1,003 Member
    edited January 2019
    I think many Americans have mostly learned to cook using animal fats for flavor, and when that is taken away they don't always replace it with other flavors.

    LOL - I never learned to do that. But then again, I have never been that great of a cook, so perhaps, that's why. ^_^

    Other cultures such as India and Japan have native traditions of vegetarian foods, so it's not surprising that they have learned a few things.

    It's easy to borrow a few tricks from other cultures to fancy up any recipes you find bland. For example, flavoring a dish with a tadka, or spices heated in oil and then stirred into the dish, is an Indian trick which works with anything. If you choose a typically Indian spice mix, you will end up with food that tastes like Indian food, but you can also use other flavors to get Mexican, Thai, or Japanese inspired dishes. Get a garlic press and a grater and some ginger and have a high old time flavoring up your food. Try different peppers and herbs. You're not going to succeed in making a vegan hamburger and bacon taste more flavorful than real hamburger and bacon, but you can make whatever you do eat taste delicious.

    I've seen some of the concepts you mention. Spices heated in oil especially works well.

    But the thing is, I don't see these being used in most vegan recipes I see. And I guess that's the question. Not so much how 'I' can find ways to make good, flavorful vegan recipes (although information on that is, of course, appreciated), but why do so many people seem to NOT do that?

    So many recipes I come across for vegetable dishes (by vegans, although also by non-vegans, to be honest) are just...not good, bland, not enough seasoning, or it's not added at the right time in the dish to make the most of it, etc....


    Is it that America has a much younger vegan culture, so people here are still learning? Or Americans in general are less willing to experiment? Today's vegetables are poor quality? Or something else?

    I honestly don't know. And I am not trying to say 'all vegan food is bad' or 'vegans have bad taste' or anything like that. I truly find the majority of recipes I find pretty bland - and I've been really scouring the internet the past couple of years for my son who is vegetarian edging on vegan. But even he finds a lot of these recipes bland. And while I CAN find good recipes here and there, it's much more of a chore than I would have thought, to be able to find the really flavorful ones.

    I don't recall having this trouble with a lot of other types of diets, so I really am curious about why this is.
  • lemurcat2
    lemurcat2 Posts: 7,899 Member
    jgnatca wrote: »
    The ready made vegetarian meat replacements are bland. Like tofu hot dogs, and veggie burgers.

    I figure you are destined to fail if you try to make veggies replace North American meaty fare.

    Foods are better off if you honour the natural flavours and textures they bring to the table.

    And borrowing vegetarian dishes from historically vegetarian cultures is just smart.

    This.

    I don't really cook from recipes and didn't when I was experimenting with 100% plant based, but I do use recipes as inspiration and used many American cook books that focused on cultures that are more veg or vegan as inspiration, like East Asian and Indian ones,

    I don't know, or know why anyone would care, how most US vegan recipes are. If I want to be vegan recipes don't matter.
  • lemurcat2
    lemurcat2 Posts: 7,899 Member
    shaumom wrote: »
    I think many Americans have mostly learned to cook using animal fats for flavor, and when that is taken away they don't always replace it with other flavors.

    LOL - I never learned to do that. But then again, I have never been that great of a cook, so perhaps, that's why. ^_^

    Other cultures such as India and Japan have native traditions of vegetarian foods, so it's not surprising that they have learned a few things.

    It's easy to borrow a few tricks from other cultures to fancy up any recipes you find bland. For example, flavoring a dish with a tadka, or spices heated in oil and then stirred into the dish, is an Indian trick which works with anything. If you choose a typically Indian spice mix, you will end up with food that tastes like Indian food, but you can also use other flavors to get Mexican, Thai, or Japanese inspired dishes. Get a garlic press and a grater and some ginger and have a high old time flavoring up your food. Try different peppers and herbs. You're not going to succeed in making a vegan hamburger and bacon taste more flavorful than real hamburger and bacon, but you can make whatever you do eat taste delicious.

    I've seen some of the concepts you mention. Spices heated in oil especially works well.

    But the thing is, I don't see these being used in most vegan recipes I see. And I guess that's the question. Not so much how 'I' can find ways to make good, flavorful vegan recipes (although information on that is, of course, appreciated), but why do so many people seem to NOT do that?

    So many recipes I come across for vegetable dishes (by vegans, although also by non-vegans, to be honest) are just...not good, bland, not enough seasoning, or it's not added at the right time in the dish to make the most of it, etc....


    Is it that America has a much younger vegan culture, so people here are still learning? Or Americans in general are less willing to experiment? Today's vegetables are poor quality? Or something else?

    I honestly don't know. And I am not trying to say 'all vegan food is bad' or 'vegans have bad taste' or anything like that. I truly find the majority of recipes I find pretty bland - and I've been really scouring the internet the past couple of years for my son who is vegetarian edging on vegan. But even he finds a lot of these recipes bland. And while I CAN find good recipes here and there, it's much more of a chore than I would have thought, to be able to find the really flavorful ones.

    I don't recall having this trouble with a lot of other types of diets, so I really am curious about why this is.

    I think on the whole "American" vegan recipes -- meaning a cookbook for American vegans, vs one that has vegan food that just happens to be vegan -- has a focus other than taste, either ethics + easiness or being super healthy (which usually means low fat in vegan circles).

    I hate recipe cooking so haven't noticed this, but I'd ignore recipes that are specifically vegan and focus on ones that are just vegan or can easily be made so, including in cookbooks from traditionally vegetarian cultures.
  • janejellyroll
    janejellyroll Posts: 25,763 Member
    Vegan here and I don't have a problem with "American" vegan food, I usually find it to be quite tasty (although there are individual cookbooks I don't particularly care for). Sometimes I will have a vegan entree in a restaurant that leaves me unimpressed, but I've also had some great ones.

    I do tend to gravitate towards spicier food and dishes with a more Southern influence, so that could be the basis for my experience.

    For your son finding the recipes bland, what does he enjoy in non-vegan food? Many times I find that adjusting things like garlic, acid, salt, and spice in all kinds of recipes often makes people enjoy the food more. Something that is "okay" may become "great" with a hit of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar or increasing the amount of garlic. Another issue could be fat levels. Some vegans prefer lower fat recipes, but I think some people who don't enjoy the vegan recipes they've tried might enjoy a higher fat approach.

    Salt and sugar are both acceptable for vegans, so I don't buy that someone won't enjoy vegan food just because their taste buds are used to these flavors. If that is what you want in food, then add enough to your vegan food to enjoy your meal!

    I don't know what recipes you've disliked, but some of my favorite cookbook authors are Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope Romero, Bryant Terry, and Gena Hamshaw. If you have more time to spend on food, Rich Landau's cookbooks are great -- he owns "Vedge" in Philadelphia, PA. I haven't been, but it is sometimes mentioned as one of the best restaurants in the city (not just a vegan restaurant, but of all of them). He is also the vegan who beat non-vegan chefs on "Chopped." I've loved everything I've ever made from his books.

  • GottaBurnEmAll
    GottaBurnEmAll Posts: 7,722 Member
    shaumom wrote: »
    I think many Americans have mostly learned to cook using animal fats for flavor, and when that is taken away they don't always replace it with other flavors.

    LOL - I never learned to do that. But then again, I have never been that great of a cook, so perhaps, that's why. ^_^

    Other cultures such as India and Japan have native traditions of vegetarian foods, so it's not surprising that they have learned a few things.

    It's easy to borrow a few tricks from other cultures to fancy up any recipes you find bland. For example, flavoring a dish with a tadka, or spices heated in oil and then stirred into the dish, is an Indian trick which works with anything. If you choose a typically Indian spice mix, you will end up with food that tastes like Indian food, but you can also use other flavors to get Mexican, Thai, or Japanese inspired dishes. Get a garlic press and a grater and some ginger and have a high old time flavoring up your food. Try different peppers and herbs. You're not going to succeed in making a vegan hamburger and bacon taste more flavorful than real hamburger and bacon, but you can make whatever you do eat taste delicious.

    I've seen some of the concepts you mention. Spices heated in oil especially works well.

    But the thing is, I don't see these being used in most vegan recipes I see. And I guess that's the question. Not so much how 'I' can find ways to make good, flavorful vegan recipes (although information on that is, of course, appreciated), but why do so many people seem to NOT do that?

    So many recipes I come across for vegetable dishes (by vegans, although also by non-vegans, to be honest) are just...not good, bland, not enough seasoning, or it's not added at the right time in the dish to make the most of it, etc....


    Is it that America has a much younger vegan culture, so people here are still learning? Or Americans in general are less willing to experiment? Today's vegetables are poor quality? Or something else?

    I honestly don't know. And I am not trying to say 'all vegan food is bad' or 'vegans have bad taste' or anything like that. I truly find the majority of recipes I find pretty bland - and I've been really scouring the internet the past couple of years for my son who is vegetarian edging on vegan. But even he finds a lot of these recipes bland. And while I CAN find good recipes here and there, it's much more of a chore than I would have thought, to be able to find the really flavorful ones.

    I don't recall having this trouble with a lot of other types of diets, so I really am curious about why this is.

    Well, this is where it helps to have some knowledge of cooking.

    I usually use recipes as a jumping off point and then go from there with what I know.
  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 41,879 Member
    I'm still trying to figure out what American vegan food is...can you give a specific example?

    I find a lot of recipes in general to be somewhat lacking...but perhaps I'm more into herbs and spices than many people are. I usually use a recipe as a general template, not as something I follow to the T like I would with baking...that's the great thing about cooking...you can pretty much do what you want.
  • happytree923
    happytree923 Posts: 463 Member
    I think most American recipes are pretty wimpy on seasoning to begin with, and when you take away the flavor from meat it really shows. But it depends on the recipe source. I used to own a low fat vegan cookbook called Appetite for Reduction and that food was the blandest *kitten* ever, even when I was 100% plant based. I started eating meat again but I still cook vegan or vegetarian meals every week and it's never bland because I tend to add extra seasoning to whatever I make. This is my absolutely favorite vegan chili recipe and it is super, super flavorful

    https://www.brandnewvegan.com/recipes/soups/best-damn-vegan-chili-ever
  • janejellyroll
    janejellyroll Posts: 25,763 Member
    American vegan food? Like french fries and oreos?

    Apples and Lay's BBQ potato chips. :D
  • lemurcat2
    lemurcat2 Posts: 7,899 Member
    I only really use recipes when needing ideas or cooking something I'm not familiar with. For the most part when I look for plant-based recipes I do go to books for food from other cultures, but I doubt it's possible to generalize about "American vegan food" -- I'm sure as with any recipe books there are huge differences from book to book.
  • MikePfirrman
    MikePfirrman Posts: 3,306 Member
    I find many recipes with flavor. I think it's because I've been cooking since I was literally 9 years old and I'm 54 now. If you understand flavor profiles, it's not hard to read recipes and understand what's good and what's not. I also think that bloggers contribute a great deal to the bland food out there. My wife can't cook a lick. She shows me pictures from bloggers all the time with pretty Instrgram pics. Unless you have really cooked and messed up with mistakes, killed recipes and made wonderful meals all experimenting, you don't really know what you're looking at when you read a recipe.

    I think that Oh She Glows has excellent, flavorful recipes. Another one is Minimalist Baker. Vegan Richa is another. All able to adapt to Gluten Free and Vegan. Some of the others that a lot of people seem to like, such as Forks over Knives, don't impress me that much. Those fall into the bland category to me (and way too much use of gluten for my taste). Vegan Richa is fantastic but some of her recipes take time to come together. Many people don't want to develop flavors over time, especially like with vegan Indian dishes. Impatience might be the issue with American cooks.
  • apullum
    apullum Posts: 4,838 Member
    edited January 2019
    What's an "American" recipe? A lot of things we eat are adapted from other cultures. For example, most people would say that spaghetti with tomato sauce is pretty American, even though it clearly has Italian origins. That dish is also vegan, unless you're adding something like cheese or butter to your sauce.

    Most of the time when food is "bland," it isn't seasoned well. When cooking savory vegan food, salt, spices, and/or oil become especially important because you aren't relying on animal fat for the flavor. Last week I made blackeyed peas in my crock pot. I used black and red pepper, vegan chicken flavored broth powder, garlic, onion, smoked paprika, liquid smoke, and salt. I added a lot of spices because I wasn't adding pork, as blackeyed peas are often cooked. They were delicious. We ate them with cornbread and garlic sauteed spinach. All of those things are vegan or easily made vegan. That's also a pretty American meal; it was a meatless take on traditional Southern US New Year's Day food, even though blackeyed peas aren't originally from North America.

    I also use a lot of low calorie sauces. Most people don't want to eat a plain, unseasoned chunk of protein, whether that protein is tofu or boiled chicken. But if you season that protein, cook it well, and serve it with a complementary sauce, it becomes part of a good meal. That's just as true for meatless proteins as it is for meat.

    I absolutely did not have a good understanding of seasoning food before I stopped eating meat. My family almost never used spices. Since then, I've become much more aware of other, lower calorie methods of seasoning besides animal fat.