So I decided to write about vegan products - those that are currently available and those that once were.
I figured it might be useful for new vegans or those who don't shop in as many stores that I do.
I began writing it a while ago and have been adding bits to it every now and then. It's become a bit of a monster.
Overall, being vegan in the UK is pretty damn easy. I didn't find it particularly hard when I transitioned in Jan 2000 and things have, on the whole, gotten better. There are some exceptions, that I'll mention further on. It frustrates me when people talk about how difficult being vegan is because I know it's not. If anything it's less convenient than being an omni in 2010, but more convenient than any diet between 1950 and the dawn of time.
As well as choice increase, labeling has also improved. In 2000 supermarkets already had lists of vegan suitable products if you wrote to them (and the Vegan Society had launched their Vegan Shopper book), but most have since started labeling packaging. Coverage remains sparadic, with Sainsburys and Co-operative doing the best job. Sainsburys went through a phase a couple of years ago when their labelling got worse, but I think we're past that now. Tesco & Morrisons are on the whole a bit shit, with only a handful of products in the store labeled. Waitrose isn't good for labelling either, but do sell many vegan friendly products which can be checked on the Ocado website.
Restaurant choice and vegan awareness remains shite. I tend to avoid those which don't explicitly cater for vegans and have choice already on the menu. This isn't especially a bad thing - I saved endless amounts of money at university by not being able to eat takeaway.
I'm more than a little obsessed with bread. All in all I think we're in a worse position now than we were 10 years ago, especially at the speciality end of the scale. Though labelling has improved the choice has diminished. Still, it's pretty easy to find vegan bread in the UK, so perhaps I shouldn't whinge about it too much.
Ciabatta remains in good supply (Sainsburys olive rolls are my prefered choice) and labelling on standard loaves is much better than it was. Waitrose sell frozen stone baked pizza bases (often on offer, we get through a lot of these), have a fresh base (a rip off - not worth the money) and a fresh pizza (again a bit of a rip off with very few toppings).
Waitrose previously sold an amazing focaccia (seriously, I'd make reasonably long trips to Waitrose just for this), which a couple of years ago they replaced with something containing milk powder (milk powder, in italian bread - why?). Tesco sold a pretty good caramelised onion focaccia, complete with lumps of roasted garlic. I ate a lot of that at university (00-04). In '07 they sold a pretty decent fresh pizza base. Sainsburys sold very good pizza bases around 01-04, a ready to bake flatbread (with garlic and mushrooms) and until recently an italian flatbread (who I may have been the only customer for, as they regularly had it reduced).
Pasta / Noodles
Not a lot to say, other than Waitrose currently sell fresh vegan pasta. They are the only supermarket I know of to have done so in the past 10 years (they previously had some vegan spaghetti for a short period several years ago). It's well priced and thoroughly recommended.
Clearspring (vegan importer/distributor) started selling decent noodles (udon are my favourite) early on, which made their way into Sainsburys a couple of years later (originally only in health food shops). Health food shops still sometimes carry a larger range of them than Sainsburys.
Biona have sold several stuffed vegan pastas for a while now, but I don't see them very often outside London. They're alright, but nothing to get overly excited by.
I remember years ago there being a tofu ravioli sold in jars. It wasn't good, at all, so am not fussed that I can't remember the brand or know if it's currently available.
Cake & Biscuits
Not a lot has changed in so far as the number of options available. Biscuit vendors change recipes every few years, creating new options and removing others. Tesco used to sell amazingly good half chocolate dipped ginger biscuits, but I've not seen them in a while. Bourbons, fruit shortcake and fig rolls are often vegan. I used to buy packs of bourbon biscuits at university, then sit in the library doing revision, picking off the top layer of biscuit, throwing it away, eating the middle then throwing the remaining part away. Does that make me weird?
Tru-free used to sell vegan custard creams, but helpfully changed their recipe without making it obvious on the packaging.
Cake remains scarce. Gluten free cherry bakewells have been available (not sure which if any are still vegan), but the case is really crap / not short at all. Mrs Crimbles have sold vegan suitable long life cake for a number of years, but I'm not a fan and would never think to buy it. There are several vendors of allergy aware products, who make complete junk and sell it at rediculous prices.
For years vegans believed that Tesco sold vegan doughnuts, due to an error in The Vegan Society's Vegan Shopper. M&S used to sell good ring doughnuts, but I've not seen them in recent years. Co-op currently sell both jam and custard doughnuts that are pretty good. They're no longer labelled vegan due to the fact that they're made in-store, however I've read that the staff are pretty good at avoiding cross contamination (from a vegan staff member I should add!).
Several companies sell cereal / fruit bars these days. I eat Nakd products regularly (2 of your 5 a day!) and went through a phase of eating way too many Doves Farm chocolate crispy bars and flapjack bars.
Seasonal products (hot cross buns, mince pies etc) change every year (I assume based on which supplier won the contract and what raw ingredients are cheapest) - sometimes we have a good year, other times there's virtually no choice.
Baking your own vegan cake and biscuits is so easy that I've never really been bothered by lack of commercial offerings. It would be nice to just go out and buy a birthday cake on occasion, but there you go. Jus Rol have offered several vegan pastry products for as long as I remember.
Like many I was drawn towards egg replacer when I turned vegan, however I soon realised that it is complete redundant and has no real use. It's better to adapt recipes to not need egg, rather than make non-vegan recipes with it and hope it comes out vaguely similar.
Supply of silken tofu in 2000 is comparable to 2010 - in most supermarkets.
Firm tofu supply has increased a lot however. Originally I was buying only Cauldron plain/smoked (marinated came available shortly after) from health food shops (soon adopted by Supermarkets). I switched to Taifun and Clearspot when they came available (I first found Taifun in '04). Their flavoured tofu is extremely convenient (can be eaten without cooking, or fried with onions when making curries) and though more pricey it's cheaper than organic meat. We use a couple of blocks a week (mostly their smoked types, though basil goes very well in thai green curry). We use Clearspot on the odd occasion when we eat plain or smoked.
I've encountered other brands, but nothing stands out. Tofu is sometimes available pre deep fried in Chinese supermarkets, however its really fishy smell has put me off!
I personally drink Fresh So Good and use whatever is cheap / organic / longlife for cooking. There's always some in the fridge. I've tried oat / nut milks and get OK with them, but rarely buy any (certainly Oatly varieties contain sheep). Fresh So Good is an acquired taste and has been recently withdrawn from Sainsburys.
I don't get on so well with Alpro (other than their fresh chocolate milk). The Lite version is OK, but I wouldn't think to buy it.
10 years ago there were no fresh milks available in supermarkets, but already a good selection of long life. I don't remember mainstream coffee shops offering soya milk before 2003.
Alpro started selling fresh single cream a couple of years ago, which is excellent in every way. We buy several cartons at a time as it has a long life. It has a neutral taste and is usable in cooking as well as with on desserts.
There are several long life single creams available, but none are in the same league.
From 2005 onwards Soyatoo have sold whippable cream, as have Granovita (I can't tell the difference). The latter is in Tesco and Sainsburys (recently we bought a year's supply when we found it massively reduced). It's not got a neutral taste and it's not a direct replacement to dairy (recently described as tasting like baby food). It's pretty good though.
Soyatoo also introduced squirty cream in 2005. It's pretty good, but some of the bottles have issues (if none comes out, shake and try again. If you just keep the nozzle held down you'll waste all the propellant) and the nozzles difficult to completely clean (growing mould if you don't do a good enough job). I'm not sure I've seen it in a supermarket, but it's in most independent health food stores.
Tofutti sour cream has been around for a long time and is pretty good. There was a hoo-hah a few years ago when it transpired that they don't always use vegan sugar, however UK products seem to be unaffected.
Vegan Margarine was once widely available, however some time ago all margarine brands switched to selling 'spread' instead, which is margarine plus butter milk for flavour. I can't believe it's not butter, because it contains butter.
By far the best margarine currently available is Pure, which has been in most supermarkets since 2003. Their nicest spread (organic) has recently been withdrawn, due to cheapskates not paying the extra few pence per week for organic. The sunflower is best in baking, soya marginally nicer used as a spread. Typically we buy sunflower. Take care when making toffee with it - it contains water which will spit at you if you add to hot sugar.
When I first turned vegan there were no vegan margarines available that were any good. One I tried was grainy! Books suggested using tahini instead, which isn't a valid alternative in my eyes. Sainsburys introduced a dairy free spread that was at the time the best, but quickly got displaced by Pure.
Vitalite is currently vegan I believe (for a while it wasn't due to vitamin D), but we prefer Pure.
Ten years ago vegan cheese was not good. There were a few options and all sucked. The only one I did enjoy I found after a couple of months thinking I was vegan that they contained casein, to make them melt.
In around 2004, Redwoods launched their cheezly super melting range, which to this day are my favourite cheese product. We eat 1-2 blocks mozzarella a week. It's not perfect, but it does melt and perform the vague function of cheese in many dishes. Their cheddar is very good, but for some reason only available in slices these days (where you get the amount for the same price as a block). I'm not a fan at all of their non super melting stuff.
Scheese improved their products around 2006 and I became a fan. They're not so good cooked (unless chopped on pizza), but much better than cheezly when eaten on crackers.
Many vegans are waiting with baited breath for Daiya being released in the UK. It's currently in the US only and apparently the best vegan cheese so far, by a long way.
Tofutti Cream Cheese remains the best for cooking. Scheese do versions with bits added which are OK eaten on crackers. Pure launched cream cheese recently which is widely available and not very good.
Pure have also released cheese slices which are really manky. The only vaguely palatable way I've found of serving them is melted on a burger. They were threatening to make cheese triangles, but it never came to anything.
One of the great side effects of becoming vegan is learning about where food comes from and how it's made. When you realise that most non vegan icecream is made from vegetable oil you realise why perfectly good tasting vegan icecream is available. Swedish Glace was in health food shops in 2000, then hit supermarkets during the cholesterol awareness phase that also brought in fresh soya milk. It remains the best available, with several flavours (all good except for Neapolitan, which does a very good job of tasting just like cheap and nasty Neapolitan icecream from the 80s). They changed their vanilla a few years ago to include specks of black (assumebly vanilla, not plastic). It's far cheaper in supermarkets than health food stores.
Tofutti and Sainsburys have(/still?) sold icecream, but it's not great. Booja Booja sell icecream, which (like their other products) is nice but chronically overpriced.
Swedish Glace choc ices (fake Magnum things) are good and well priced. They've made the chocolate thicker since launch, but it could go thicker still. Including nuts and caramel would be a welcome addition too! They sell cornetto type icecreams, which are OK, but not overly exciting. Tofutti sell them too and whilst more promising (with chocolate and nuts) the cones are always soggy which really puts me off. I thought at first it must be a problem with the shop's freezer, but they've been like it consistently for years.
Various supermarkets have sold fruit sorbet over the years. Sainsburys are the only company that currently label (to my knowledge). On a sorbet related note, there's a coconut based sorbet thing that comes in pyramid shaped packets that you buy unfrozen and place in your freezer. They're pretty good, in Sainsburys and some independent shops. I forget the name, which I realise isn't overly helpful. Are you still reading this post? Isn't there something else you should be doing?
I'm not obsessed with the concept of recreating meat, however I do believe that meat replacements have their place. They make transitioning easier for some people (most of us, myself included, were bought up eating meat) and some products are nice in their own right. Other meat products are actually formats - ways of delivering food to you in a convenient form, such as burgers. Some just fail miserably - in the quest to make something that looks like meat they completely miss the point of making something that's pleasurable to eat.
We bulk buy Frys products - their sausages and burgers are very good. Not such a fan of other products they sell - their meaty strips are like chopped up burger and not good at all. They are sold in H&B and independent shops.
We also buy a lot of Redwoods products, most of whose range we like. Their 'beef' products are a bit creepy, but other than that they're pretty good. Their chicken pieces are currently my favourite. Redwoods used to sell really good sandwich filler things (chunks of 'meat' in curry sauce, BBQ etc). I have no idea why they were discontinued. Redwoods have entire ranges which are only available in certain shops. ASDA for instance sold several products for a while I've never seen elsewhere. The brand was purchased fairly recently Heather Mills (McCartney), who sells their products heated up in her VBites cafe (which I've no interest in visiting!).
H&B sell good frozen sausages. Their ready to eat range has recently had a revamp and seem to better than previous (they've been several discussions online about mouldy sausage rolls). I'm not at all fussed by the frozen cheesecakes they've just started selling or Amy's imported products.
Linda McCartney vegan options are OK (pies, sausages, sausage rolls etc), but we seldom buy them. The were originally sold in yellow boxes, then several turned non vegan when switched to red. To the amusement of my housemates at university I filled my freezer drawer with yellow boxed sausage rolls when they were discontinued, then rationed them off over the coming months.
A 'technology' known as Gardein was licensed by several companies in the UK a couple of years ago, and Tesco amongst others started selling pretty decent nuggets and other 'chicken' products. Unfortunately it was short lived.
Real Eat sell the best frozen soya mince. It used to come in resealable bags, I don't know why they stopped. It's become more difficult to find in supermarkets recently, but is in H&B and independent shops still. Redwoods fresh mince is OK in some dishes.
Taifun sell several tofu sausages, which are alright. Biona used to sell very good tofu sausages (available in Waitrose), but I've not seen them in a few years.
Chocolate, Sweets and Crisps
Plamil have been making vegan chocolate as long as I remember. Being one of the few vegan companies in the UK I should really be endorsing them, however I'm not a fan.
For a long time, Green and Blacks was the vegan chocolate of choice. They were bought out by Cadburys however and later stopped labelling vegan (going as far as listing butterfat an ingredient even when it isn't). Recently it's become Kraft and is far off the radar. Whilst organic, G&B only ever had 1 fair trade bar and in my book, fair trade overrides organic.
Divine is our favourite. It's cheap in supermarkets (until recently 89p for 100g), fairtrade and tasty. We use far too much of it. Organica is organic and overpriced, but some milk chocolate loving people find it the only palatable non dairy alternative.
I've eaten a lot of Ritter Sport Marzipan over the years. I've had to stop myself from eating it, as I consume a bar with too much ease. It's sometimes on offer in Tesco (we've been known to buy 10 bars at a time).
Up until 2006 there was no such thing as vegan white chocolate. I tried making my own after going through the lengthy process of acquiring cocoa butter, but achieved only chocolate smelling massage bars. Then organica white was released, which was an instant disappointment. Like their 'milk' it's overpriced and tastes more like Caramac than white chocolate. To add insult to injury it goes funny when melted. Within the last year bags of dairy free white buttons have been released, which are excellent in every way. We buy 10-20 bags at a time, open them all and store the contents in a tin. By weight they work out cheaper than organica, I just wish they'd start selling it in bars to cut down on packaging.
I've never understood carob.
Booja Booja make pretty good truffles, however at those sorts of prices I'd rather eat Montezumas. Tescos started selling "Gianduiotti" a year or so ago, which is rather tasy hazlenut chocolate. Sainsburys have recently started selling chocolate covered caramels. They're very good, but again terribly overpriced. Talking of overpriced - Hotel Chocolat. I just can't fathom how they are still in business - their product is no better than divine yet 5x the price. What sort of a name is Hotel Chocolat anyway?
Vegan marshmallows are available, but again way, way, way overpriced and not 100% identical to their gelatinous counterparts. Turkish delight isn't far off, which is available at cheaper prices.
There are several products made for people with allergies that are vegan, but most of them are overpriced and disappointing. I used to buy slightly odd chocolate mini eggs, but didn't see them this year.
Wrigleys have always made vegan gum. Choice of sweets from other mainstream manufacturers however remains shite. There's no reason why more vegan sweets couldn't be manufactured, but the companies choose not to (I assume it's more profitable that way).
Choice of crisps has remained roughly the same, with Kettle and Tyrells at the high end of the market, various walkers at the bottom. Walkers have changed recipes a few times, but there's currently a good selection (though none are labelled). Kettle have recently changed recipes, removing previous vegan options and created new ones. Tyrells are my favourite, but then I'm not a great crisp eater.
Ready Made Sauces / Pastes
We're in pretty much the same situation we were 10 years ago here, with many sauces being vegan but not marketed as such.
Something that has gotten better is Thai curry paste. Originally I found none in supermarkets not containing (shell)fish. The first jar of green I found was from a Chinese supermarket (and is to the day one of the cheapest and best I've tried). These days there are several widely available options.
We use jars probably more than we should, but it's one step up on a week night from really lazy 'stick it in the oven' food.
There are a few things I miss, such as the sundried tomato hemp pesto that Sainsburys once sold. It was pricey but very good. This reminds me; I've not used hemp seeds in baking for ages. I must rectify this.
Not a lot has changed here over the past 10 years. Labelling has become a bit better, with Sainsburys, M&S and Co-op marking vegan wines. Tesco & Waitrose have some listings on their respective websites. Some beer and cider companies label (Batemans, Westons etc). Famous brands of beer change recipes every few years. When I was at university the only beer on tap in every local pub was Stella (aka wife beater), which meant I got more pissed than friends on pub crawls who were drinking weaker beer. It then went non-vegan until recently, which when I tasted it again my university days came flooding back... :D
Various lists have been available on the Internet of vegan alcohol, but they get outdated very quickly and become rather meaningless. Barnivore is currently the best site, which records the date and response from the company.
Co-op drew our attention to the fact that not all juice is vegan (as the fruit may have been glazed with shellac), by being the first supermarket to label products as not vegan. It should also be mentioned that some juice is clarified with gelatine.
We currently use Method:Home for cleaning products, which came available within the last couple of years (Homebase, B&Q, Waitrose, Sainsburys) and is very good. When I say we, actually I do very little of the cleaning ;)
We use their granite, stainless steel, wood & glass cleaners/polishes, as well as range of accompanying microfibre clothes. We use their all purpose spray, bathroom and toilet cleaner.
Until a couple of years ago we all believed Ecover to be vegan (including The Vegan Society, who accredited their products), when we found that actually they do conduct animal testing afterall. Vegans were left instead with Clearspring and Bio-D, both of which are unfortunately substandard. I struggled to find a dishwasher detergent as good as Ecover (Bio-D's gel is crap), but eventually found Co-op's tablets which as just as good (and often on offer, when we buy several boxes). Bio-D's rinse aid is OK, which we still have some left of from a 4 litre bottle I bought several years ago. Co-op have recently started selling vegan dishwasher cleaner, which is good news.
There are lots of choices for washing detergent / softener. We currently use Co-op's liquid detergents, as neither of us got on with ASDA's. We were using Simply previously (who sell powder in capsules, in tubs from Waitrose, Sainsburys etc), however not all of the powder dissolved in each wash and eventually blocked our drain.
Washing up liquid supply has fluctuated several times. Currently we're using Co-op, as Sainsburys seem to have stopped labelling their's.
Astonish products are vegan, but of all we've only tried the oven cleaner (then only vegan one I could fine). It seemed to work pretty well.
Candles are something that many don't realise aren't all vegan and those that do think you have to pay through the roof for overpriced tea lights. Ikea have recently started specifying which of their candles are made from animal source and which are not. They have a good selection and prices are sensible.
There always been a good choice of Shampoo / Conditioner. Currently I use Superdrug (who have gotten very good at labelling recently) 2 in 1, but my hair is happy with Co-op and Original Source - all of which are cheap and often on offer.
There are many premium brands that have vegan options. I used to use Neals Yard, but it all got a bit expensive. My partner uses Lush, but I think their hair products are overpriced for the amount of time they last.
Lush do have some good products and I've tried a large number of those that are vegan suitable. They started labelling vegan products around '04 and have a good choice. I'd recommend their massage, moisturiser, lip balms and shower products. The bath bombs are good, but seriously overpriced. Their shaving cream is the worst I've ever tried. Original Source sell good, cheap, vegan friendly shaving gel. Lush soaps are nice, but I'm not a fan of solid soap. Simple sell cheap, no nonsense, squirty anti bacterial hand soap (cheapest in Morrisons) and Method:Home sell more interesting flavours / foaming stuff.
Kingfisher vegan toothpaste has been available as long as I remember. Co-op whitening is good, though we're currently using Beverly Hills formula whitening, which is easier to find. Co-op sell the only sensibly priced vegan mouth wash I know of (blue tastes better than green).
Perfume / Aftershave
This is more of a tricky area, with limited choice.
Ted Baker products are vegan (according to them). The Stella McCartney range is vegan (according to various sources, but not them directly). The Jean Paul Gaultier range is vegan, however they sell fur and are on my naughty list.
Having renovated (gutted and started again) a house recently I've done a lot of research on this topic. It's vegan where possible*, with stone, wood, laminate and natural fiber carpets. All walls, plaster and woodwork was painted with Ecos Paints, which are vegan, environmentally friendly and very good (pricing similar to that of premium paints, like Farrow and Ball (who won't say if their products are vegan or not)). There's no wool, leather, feathers or silk in any of the furnishings (including mattresses, sofas and cushions).
When vegan products have been available they've been used. The reason for the * is that whilst we've not knowingly used anything that isn't vegan, there are products which probably are vegan but no manufacturer will state for sure that it is suitable. Thus risks have to be taken with certain things, which isn't great, but reality. Obviously I avoid brands I boycott due to animal testing and will err towards no product rather than one I think has a good chance of being non vegan.
There are several other vegan paint options available now (including those that come in powder form). I am however happy enough with Ecos (having used Lily White, White, Olive and Vanilla matt paints, white gloss, wood sealer, wood gloss, wood varnish, plaster sealer).
Is that all?
For now. I've probably missed out loads of things and I'm not going to re-read it all and check for grammar :)
Monthly vegan market in London
1 day ago