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As a vegetarian, I’ve spent a lifetime battling for quality, variety, and choice. With meat off the menu, I’ve spent too much time condemned to the rabbit corner. Few aquatic plants are edible, and for the vegan with coastal tastes, this restriction of options can be severe.
Sashimi, tofish, carrot salmon and shrimp are the best vegan fish. They’re available from suppliers, some of whom are online. They can also be ordered off the menu in select restaurants and are easy to prepare from basic ingredients at home. There are more variations to choose from.
In order to navigate the choices, it is important to reflect on the whats and whys of plant pescatarian. Knowing what we’re after will affect what we choose to eat.
- What Vegan Fish Is Best And Where Can I Buy It?
- What Is Vegan Fish?
- Where Do Vegans Get Fish?
- Types Of Vegan Fish
- Vegan Fish Standard: Tofish
- Vegan Fish Gourmet: Filet-o-Fish
- Traditional: Vegan Fish Pie
- Vegan Fish Kiddie Meal: Tofish Fingers
- Vegan Fish Slimmer’s Treat: Chickpea Tuna
- Vegan Fish Deluxe: Carrot Salmon
- Vegan Fish Tentacles: Calamari
- Vegan Fish Cocktail: Shrimp
- Japanese Vegan Fish: Sushi
- Vegan Fish Salad: Seaweed Salad And Edamame
- Battered Vegan Fish: Vegetable Tempura
- Vegan Fish Special: Inari Sushi
- Vegan Fish Steak: Synthetic Sashimi
- Vegan Fish Cakes
- Vegan Fish Brit’ Style 1: Banana Battered Kippers
- Vegan Fish Brit’ Style 2: Herring
- Vegan Fish Unshelled 1: Oysters
- Vegan Fish Unshelled 2: Crab Cakes
- Vegan Fish Mussels: Scallops
- Vegan Fish Decadence: Caviar
- Why Do Vegans Avoid Real Fish?
- Why Do Vegans Want Fake Fish?
- How to Assess Quality Vegan Fish
- Things to Look Out For In Vegan Fish
What Vegan Fish Is Best And Where Can I Buy It?
Some diners might prefer vegan fish pie, chickpea tuna and good old sushi. Before we take a look at the best vegan fish you can buy, let’s have a look at what vegan fish is.
What Is Vegan Fish?
Vegan fish is plant-based food designed to capture the taste and textural experience of eating seafood. Not while the category is referred to as fish, it encompasses all marine food and should instead be referred to as vegan seafood.
Of course, some seafood – notably seaweed – is already in a form palatable to vegans. The term vegan fish refers to substitutes for food derived from aquatic animal flesh. Importantly, the substitutes should make use of foods suitable for vegans.
A plant-based restriction on ingredients is safe in this regard. This does not imply a raw-foods focus, as some processed foods – notably soya and seitan – are vegan-friendly.
Call it what you will; vegan fish marks a growing culinary trend. Across the world, an increasing number of supermarkets and eateries are offering vegan seafare. Large numbers of people – many of them non-vegan – are interested in the unique taste and the mushrooming number of preparations.
Where Do Vegans Get Fish?
Having sunk their trawlers and shredded their fishing nets, vegans have three sources for alternative seafood: specialist distributors, innovative restaurants, and their own kitchen counters.
Commercial innovation has led to growth in the first two sources. Youtube has boosted the third. But they are not in competition at all. The restaurant creates a showcase for how the dish is properly done. Enthused customers may then try variations at home, their pantries buttressed by the specialist suppliers.
We’ll look at each category below.
Suppliers Of Vegan Fish
Various specialist suppliers have arisen, providing a range of industries. Many of them have presence online, and web searches for “vegan fish” will reveal sources close to you.
Currently, suppliers serve mainly restaurants, which limits the choices of the home shopper who does not wish to make bulk orders. Some wholesale shops do, however, sell to retail customers, and some online suppliers do home delivery.
The perishable nature of the product limits global supply, so finding local suppliers still is critical. It is easier to find suppliers in bigger, more cosmopolitan cities, as these have a higher concentration of vegan outlets. If you find an eatery that serves food you enjoy, sneak into the kitchen and find out about their product suppliers.
Restaurants Serving Vegan Fish
Most people’s first contact with vegan fish will be in restaurants. Vegan restaurants, plant-based eateries, and sushi bars are likely first stops.
In the COVID era, there’s been a burgeoning of cooked meal home delivery. Starved for patrons, restaurants have entered this business, which makes it marginally easier to get vegan fare.
The home delivery business has grown to include home chefs. These are professional chefs who take tailored orders for home delivery. Find home chefs who cover your area, and find out what they offer in the line of vegan fish. As this is a competitive, innovative sector, the inquiry could spark an offering of your choice.
Vegan Fish From The Kitchen
Several vegan fish dishes can be prepared at home. In many cases, the flavourants are well known, and substitution involves processing and combining known ingredients in unusual ways. Short preparation times add convenience to the experiment.
In other cases, lengthy preprocessing, proprietary recipes, and secret ingredients force the customer to lean on the supplier. Even in those cases, though, the product procured rarely is eaten as is and requires preparation.
Advantages of vegan home cooking include cost and the ability to perfect dishes through reiteration.
Types Of Vegan Fish
With that, it’s time to consider the menu. It is an eccentric offering, and the sources of substitute may surprise. Since vegan fish is a work in progress, this list below is by now means final – there is constant innovation and new options rolling onto the menu as we salivate.
That said, the morsels below are indicative of this popular new food trend. Your first foray will likely include a variation of one of the treats below. You might also be inspired to use them as a basis for experiments of your own:
Vegan Fish Standard: Tofish
Tofu has long been the go-to basis for meat substitutes. Also known as “bean curd,” tofu is synthesized by isolating and processing the fat in soya milk – analogous to the whey separation that generates milk curd.
Its spongy texture and natural salty taste make tofu an instant candidate for a fish substitute. While various suppliers offer branded tofish, the product can be whipped up in your home kitchen using seaweed and batter infused with vegan ail. Frying the lot creates a texture very similar to the popular fried fish taste.
Vegan Fish Gourmet: Filet-o-Fish
It’s time to break the health-nut trope that attaches to vegans. McDonalds popularised the filet-o-fish burger. An innovation to replace greasy, mass-produced beef-hash burgers with greasy mass-produced fish-mush burgers. Vegan couch potatoes have risen to the challenge.
The vegan version uses compressed tofu (a process doable by hand), breadcrumbs for the characteristic crusting, and oyster crackers. For binding, use vegan egg. Kelp adds fish flavor and body to the pulp, then some unremarkable seasoning and lemon juice round it out. It would be remiss to serve without a decadent topping of vegan cheese. And tiny plastic cutlery.
Traditional: Vegan Fish Pie
For the vegan with British sensibilities, fish pie is de rigueur. (And delicious). A marine version of cottage pie, this version consists of stewed fishy mush topped with English-style creamy potato mash. Yum.
In the vegan version, butter beans form the substrate for the fish substitute. It’s a rich source of protein and starts with a neutral taste similar to the white fish that forms the basis of the traditional version of the pie. Through a combination of flaking and mushing, the fish texture is simulated.
What remains is to add the traditional flavors. Butter bean mush is as absorbing of flavor as fish. The familiar combination of peas, leeks, and herbs plays well in this vegan treat.
Vegan Fish Kiddie Meal: Tofish Fingers
Also known as “fish sticks,” fish fingers have turned batter-fried compressed fish offal from organic refuse to a Saturday afternoon childhood staple. Tofish reprises the vegan’s childhood memories, using tofu, heat, and a generous lathering of cooking oil.
Tofish fingers can be prepared using tofu – or pre-bought tofish – batter fried with garlic. To capture the fish finger texture, extra compression of the tofu is recommended. With a crisp serving of home-baked potato chips, the excavation of memory lane is complete.
Vegan Fish Slimmer’s Treat: Chickpea Tuna
Chickpeas’ near-bland taste and susceptibility to salting set them up as a basis for replicating tuna. What completes the picture is the ability to simulate the look and texture of ground tuna slathered in mayonnaise. With this, chickpea tuna is born.
The deployment onto a lettuce sandwich of artisanal bread recreates a treat that is simple to make, tasty and satisfying. More salting can be added with nori, garlic, and – well – salt flakes.
Vegan mayo can be swapped for thinned hummus, and chia seeds added for extra bite.
Vegan Fish Deluxe: Carrot Salmon
The humble carrot teams up with dill, capers, nori, and lemon juice to create a salmon substitute that approximates not only the taste and texture but the alluring off-pink glow of salmon.
As a regular companion to the real thing, vegan cream cheese can be used as a complimentary dish. Here ground almonds create the basis for the cheese, with garlic, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast conspiring to cream it up.
Carrot salmon, accompanied by vegan cream cheese, allows such conventional favorites as the salmon and cream cheese bagel.
Vegan Fish Tentacles: Calamari
With an artful blend of cornstarch, garlic, pepper, and paprika, a batter is blended as per the usual preparation of calamari. The only substitution happens inside, with squid legs replaced by oyster mushroom rings.
Diners who object to the rubbery ride of real calamari have found the substitute more palatable, as immersion in the savory taste is not sidetracked by frantic chewing.
The entire preparation – batter and oysters – is doable from simple ingredients in twenty minutes and should feature on the options list of home attempts.
Vegan Fish Cocktail: Shrimp
A number of suppliers offer plant-based shrimp. Although this is usually sold alongside processed soya, it is a more complex product. It is made from a compound of ingredients, including fenugreek, konjac, algae, yeast vegetable starches, and oils. Soy is a ubiquitous flavoring agent.
The cooked product can be further flavored by the chef. I have found these to be a particularly effective base for shrimp curry – aided by a fitting masala blend.
The product cooks quickly and responds well to immersion in oil. This puts battered shrimp squarely on the table.
Japanese Vegan Fish: Sushi
The kanji characters in “su-shi” spell “vinegar handcraft.” A fitting term that reminds us how traditional sushi owes its success not to fish flesh as much as the artful interplay of su vinegar and rice. This places the category closer to the vegan table and more tractable to substitution than any.
Accordingly, a number of traditional dishes have already emerged in the vegan sphere:
Vegan Fish Salad: Seaweed Salad And Edamame
No substitution here. On the traditional sushi table, these two whole vegetable offerings are standard. They do belong in a review of vegan seafood to underscore that the experience, and taste, associated with a marine menu does not require full substitution. Some favorites are available with no need for alternatives.
Battered Vegan Fish: Vegetable Tempura
Japanese batter-dipped fish has been augmented with vegetable-based offerings. Here the flavoring and crispness of the batter create the definitive taste, again removing the need for substitution.
Vegan Fish Special: Inari Sushi
Inari sushi is a long-standing vegan option in sushi restaurants. Inari is a pouch derived from beancurd and treated and flavored to mimic seared fish skin. The pouch is filled with a variable selection of vegetables. A popular variety is bean curd nigiri, where spiced mayo-topped rice centers the pouch.
Vegan Fish Steak: Synthetic Sashimi
Commercially available sashimi is produced from a combination of starches, flaxseed, rapeseed, glucose, and seaweed. A careful combination of these ingredients reprises the taste and texture of a fish steak.
While the availability of vegan sashimi opens the door to a range of derivative sushi dishes, the basic ingredient is hard to prepare at home and is more easily obtained from the supplier.
Vegan Fish Cakes
Only slightly less popular than fish sticks, fish cakes are a traditional fish waste favorite. In the vegan alternative, banana blossoms and chickpeas combine to add a flaky texture.
Unfancied outside of vegan circles, banana blossoms are the purple flowers that adorn the ends of banana bunches. While the densely packed petals are flavorless, their sedimented structure mimics the flaky flesh of a fish.
Vegan fish cakes hijack the banana blossom texture, using a crushed chickpea mix to approximate the texture of a fish cake. The act is sealed with oily crumbed batter – with a crisper finish than with fish fingers.
Vegan Fish Brit’ Style 1: Banana Battered Kippers
Banana blossoms lend themselves to kippers, a favorite dish. Most cities have Asian food supply shops, and these are good places to search for banana blossoms. Usually, they’re sold canned, soaked in brine. Once you’re familiar with the brands, fancy the ones with bigger pieces. These work best for copying kipper.
In batter-dipped kippers, the banana blossom is dipped in a flour mixture and deep-fried. The flour is salted and flavored with nori and dill. Options for the batter are caper brine, pickle juice, lemon juice, and turmeric.
In the absence of banana blossoms, artichoke is a handy substitute for the substitute. Serve with chips.
Vegan Fish Brit’ Style 2: Herring
Vegan herring salad capitalizes on the vegginess of the original dish. The Black Sea fish carries the saltiness of the dish, and this saline taste is critically maintained in this version. The main alternative substrate is beetroot, which is blended with fried aubergine, gherkins (for the trademark pickled effect), and – preserving the signature taste – sour apple. Apple acid may be used instead.
Soya yogurt creams the flavor and texture, and the fishy taste is upheld with the help of crushed nori. To preserve the Scandinavian taste, the dish may be served with creamy potatoes.
Vegan Fish Unshelled 1: Oysters
Panko crumbs give Japanese kaki fry (batter-fried oysters) a distinctive lightness. No prizes for guessing that the vegan version leans heavily on oyster mushrooms (though pat yourself on the back for knowing that maitake mushrooms are a fit substitute).
The key is to use complementary ingredients, not very well known outside of Japan. Kombu dashi adds seafood flavor. As does aonori. Nagaimo is a Chinese ingredient that plays the binding role of egg. It ensures that the batter sticks.
Better-known ingredients include soy sauce and the ubiquitous nori.
Vegan Fish Unshelled 2: Crab Cakes
In the same way that actual crab cakes are often made from ground white meat, vegan crab cakes straddle the boundary between fish alternative and meat alternative.
Commercial suppliers produce the food by varying the consistency and flavoring of vegan substitutes for chicken, pork, and even beef. Wheat protein, textured to match crab cake consistency, is a core ingredient. Concentrated soy protein is added to the mix.
Finding the right supply might be hard if you are not a restaurateur or retailer, as these items are usually produced for wholesale. There are, however, online suppliers.
Vegan Fish Mussels: Scallops
Scallops form the basis for many a pasta dish. With the help of oyster mushrooms, this combination is kept alive. Oyster mushrooms have a fleshy consistency and enough size to lend themselves to diverse presentations.
The key here is to cut the mushrooms into scallops and then prepare a characteristic brine. The combination of the salty flavoring and the texture of seared oyster mushrooms is key.
For the rest, tossed lemony garlic fettucine seals the deal. More adventurous chefs may try variations on the starch, including quinoa pasta.
Vegan Fish Decadence: Caviar
Caviar is sturgeon egg. This places it off-limits to vegans. However, numerous retail outlets and restaurants are stocking vegan caviar. It is a delicious alternative to the original and much cheaper.
Algae forms the basis of vegan caviar. Kelp and seaweed are regular bases. Remarkably, homemade caviar tastes close to the real deal and takes less than twenty minutes to prepare. The key is to crumble nori (seaweed) into a soy sauce and ginger gel. Chia seeds add consistency and taste.
Why Do Vegans Avoid Real Fish?
It pays to pose this question, as the answer may inform how vegans go shopping for alternatives. The vegan prohibition on meat-eating derives from one or more of four sources.
The Ethics Of Vegan Fish
Most people feel a moral resistance to harming animals. For vegans, this spills over into culinary behavior. In addition, some religions – including major strands of Hinduism – explicitly prohibit the killing of animals for food.
Vegan Fishing And The Environment
Netflix’s Seaspiracy documentary has been the latest moment in popular culture to trigger public concerns about the sustainability of the fishing industry. The presents evidence that human fishing has led to 90% of the ocean’s fauna teetering at the edge of extinction due to overfishing.
This is compounded by the harm that fishnets and trawlers inflict on marine life that is not intended for consumption.
Vegan Fish and Your Health
Seafood is a healthier alternative to meat from land animals. But plant-based diets are healthier yet. In addition, plants are less likely than fish to include allergins that vex.
The Taste For Vegan Fish
Recent science on the sentience of fish has engendered a compassionate sense of sympathy amongst people who may not feel the weight of an outright moral violation. This makes it hard to eat something that seems to have a familiar capacity for the marine equivalent of bedsit angst.
Others report being “grossed out” at the thought of animal guts in their gut.
Why Do Vegans Want Fake Fish?
Seafood is delicious. It has also been a staple of diets around the world and has left its cultural mark on the cuisines of many nations—notably seafaring ones. To people born into maritime cultures, the taste of the associated cuisine is difficult to shake off.
Since most vegans are not born into it, they arrive with a cultivated tooth for the tastes of the sea. It is this entrenched appetite that leads to a quest for alternatives – foodstuffs that can satisfy the belly and the conscience at the same time.
This defines the challenge for purveyors of vegan fish. There are no points to be won by merely replicating the nutritive content of fish-with-a-face. It’s grander and harder to meet: using only vegetable products to create the taste and textural experience craved.
For new vegans, this challenge is particularly important. There is a cost of adjustment from an omnivorous diet, and this cost only increases when the new menu is smaller and less familiar. By substituting as closely as possible, the transition to veganism is easier.
How to Assess Quality Vegan Fish
Quality assessment matters, at least in part because of unfamiliarity. Most of us have not grown up with vegan food, so while we might have an immediate sense of how what we’re eating compares to its fleshy alternative, we couldn’t tell how it stacks up to other vegan alternatives.
This requires a reiterative sampling and resampling of variations. Without this approach, you might end up hooked on the first thing that lands on your plate – unaware of alternatives. Or you might prematurely give up on vegan fish.
Factors to consider are:
- Ingredients: Vegan fish will involve unfamiliar ingredients. Don’t focus only on the fish substitute but be mindful of flavourants and subsidiary ingredients.
- Health: Different preparations have different health impacts. One of the advantages of the vegan lifestyle is its enhancing of the quality of life.
- Personal Preference: Ultimately, cuisine is a taste adventure. You’re not obliged to stick with options that don’t appeal at a basic level.
Things to Look Out For In Vegan Fish
Some other factors to consider are:
What Is Vegan Lab Fish?
The scientific trend of lab meat has been active for decades. Here animal tissue is grown in laboratories from cells, meaning that a diner can tuck into a prime steak that has never attached to a living animal. This will not appeal to vegans who abhor the taste of meat, but it overcomes ethical and sustainability concerns.
Vegans with moral objections to meat may be drawn to lab fish. A pioneering San Diego company has grown yellowtail filets from cells. As this trend commercializes, there emerges a new substitute for fish: fish.
Vegan Fish And Allergens
Soy is a famous allergen, and because of its saline concentration, a common flavourant in fish substitution. In addition, nuts and nut derivatives often feature in vegan cooking. If you have a nut-based allergy, be on the lookout.
Meaty Ingredients In Vegan Fish
In some cases, seafood is substituted with meat. This is purpose-defeating for the vegan, yet it’s not always telegraphed. Crab falls prey to this in two ways.
Crabstick is a favorite sushi ingredient. This does not generally contain pure crab and includes white meat. In some cases, suppliers of (supposedly) vegan crab make the meat from a genuinely plant-based substrate but then juice it with crab extract for effect.
A second area is fishmeal. While many people avoid it, the conscientious vegan may mind what she puts in her pet. With dwindling stocks of fishmeal, and demand far outstripping supply, innovative companies have come up with insect-based alternatives, harvesting the rich store of protein that insects provide.
Far from restriction, a plant-based lifestyle opens a spectrum of choices. The keys to getting the right vegan fish are information and openness of palate. From global online suppliers through restaurants and a growing store of home recipes, the multitude of options leaves no discerning vegan fishing for quality.