I spend a lot of time reading food blogs, and that includes all types of food blogs – not just vegan and vegetarian ones. I mean, hey, I might not be making the recipes from every blog I read, but I never undervalue their inspirational content. I have days when I shake my head and wonder “Is the whole world obsessed with bacon?” Then I look at my own content and go “Oh yeah, I guess I am too.”
I should qualify that statement: I’m obsessed with meatless bacon. I’ll be totally honest with you and say that bacon was last on my list of items I might ever miss when I went vegetarian. I was never a big bacon fan. Vegan bacon is a different story though. My favorite vegan foods soaked and cooked up in a smoky, salty, savory and slightly sweet marinade? Sounds good to me!
Since the first vegan baconizing event took place in my kitchen a few years back, I haven’t been able to stop experimenting. I fell in love with the combination of flavors and became, well…obsessed with bacon. My attempts at turning new things into bacon were usually successful, and I think I’ve gotten it down to a formula that works (almost) every time.
Choose Your Bacon Base
I know, the title says turn almost anything into bacon, but let’s be real: bacon strawberries, bacon peanut butter, and bacon black olives probably aren’t going to happen. There are couple of keys. First, you want something sufficiently porous so as to suck up your bacon flavors, which we’ll talk about below. Things that you might normally marinate before cooking are generally a good bet. Mushrooms, well pressed tofu, tempeh, and even chickpeas are all pretty absorbent, so they work great, and you end up with an intensely flavored vegan bacon. Things like nuts and seeds, while less porous, will still absorb a little bit and get a nice surface coating, so you’ll end up with a milder end product.
You also want something with a relatively neutral flavor, or a flavor that will compliment, or at least not compete with, the marinade. Coconut, carrots and eggplant all have distinct flavors, but they go nicely with the smokiness of bacon, so they work.
Finally, when choosing your bacon base, consider the texture you’d like to end up with. If you want something crunchy to replicate bacon bits, try flaked coconut, nuts or seeds. If you want something juicy to put on a sandwich, go with a portabella mushroom or a slab of eggplant. If you want something somewhere in between, perhaps to replicate breakfast bacon strips, try tempeh.
Make Your Marinade
I mentioned the distinctive bacony flavors above: smoky, salty, savory and slightly sweet. Those are the flavors you want to incorporate into your marinade. For the smoky flavor, which is perhaps the most distinctive, I generally go with liquid smoke. Another option is smoked paprika, though this gives a much milder smoky flavor. I sometimes include a few dashes of smoked paprika in addition to liquid smoke.
Salty and savory conveniently come in a single ingredient: soy sauce, tamari for those who are gluten-free, or liquid aminos for those who are soy-free.
For sweet, it’s your call. Maple syrup is my favorite sweetener, and it adds a touch of authenticity since lots of non-vegan bacon includes maple flavors. Agave and brown sugar work well too, though with brown sugar you’ll want to heat and/or stir your marinade well to make sure you dissolve it completely.
The other flavor you’ll find in bacon that might not be as readily apparent is sour. For this I like to use apple cider vinegar, though white vinegar also works.
The key is adding the ingredients in the right ratio. I generally start with the following, by volume:
1 part smoke (liquid smoke)
3 parts sweet (maple syrup, agave, sugar, brown sugar)
4 parts sour (white vinegar or cider vinegar)
4 parts savory and salty (soy sauce, tamari, liquid aminos)
This ratio has more to do with the intensity of the flavors in the ingredients themselves than how apparent the tastes are in bacon. So while smoky is probably the most dominant flavor in bacon, you include it in the smallest amount in your marinade, because it is intense!
Taste test and see if it needs anything. The amounts will vary a bit depending on personal preference and the particular ingredients you choose.
Also consider how much marinade you’ll need. It’s always safest to go with a bit more than you think you’ll need, but don’t go overboard. You don’t need to completely submerge your bacon base, just get it well coated.
Sometimes I also add a bit of oil to the marinade. This isn’t necessary, particularly for bases that already have a bit of fat in them, but in those that don’t it will help with browning and crisping.
Soak time can be anywhere from a quick splash in your marinade, up to 12 hours or so in the refrigerator. It’s up to you, and generally, the longer the soak time, the more flavor gets into your base, and the more intense the flavor of your bacon is. Coconut is the only base that I usually skip soaking altogether for, as it quickly sucks up the marinade like a sponge.
For the most part, you can cook your bacon just like you would normally cook whatever ingredient you’ve chosen as a base. So for tofu, baking it works great. Coconut bacon also does best in the oven, though be careful, as this one burns quick. I like to pan-fry eggplant and tempeh. You can even throw your bacon on the grill in the summer, or use a food dehydrator for a raw bacon with a jerky-like texture.
Megan Rotondo says
I love everything about this post.
That is all.
So happy to hear it! Thanks so much Megan!
Oh my! You had me at the title! The only problem I have is with measurements. I'm not good at 2 parts this and 4 parts that. I understand that the measurements depend on the ingredients, but I guess I'm too literal because I don't have the confidence yet. Do you have any suggestions? REALLY looking forward to trying this, thanks!
I usually take the parts and a generic measurement and multiply them out, then compare that size measuring device with what I'm planning to cook. I start with TBSP, so 1 TBSP, 3 TBSP, 4 TBSP, 4 TBSP for this. It really depends on how much you're making, but I think the having 12 TBSP of marinade (or 3/4 cup) is good for a small amount of food. Or you can double it (so 2 TBSP, 6 TBSP, 8 TBSP, 8 TBSP, for a total of 24 TBSP or 1.5 cups), or halve it, quadruple, etc. I look at the final measurement and eyeball from there if I think that was a good start or not, and go up or down depending on how I feel 🙂
Hope that helps!
Hello Laura, thank you so much for responding so quickly, I sincerely appreciate you time and detailed answer. Yes! It is VERY helpful and I'm going to print it out and keep it handy so when similar circumstances show up, I'm ready! Thanks again, Laura.
I absolutely agree with what Laura just said. Tablespoons is a good place to start, or for very small items like nuts or coconut, you could even use teaspoons as the "parts." You can always start small and then multiply the batch size if it doesn't seem like you'll have enough. If, on the other hand, you end up making too much, you can always stick it in the fridge for a few days and try baconizing something else. 🙂
Good morning Alissa! Love your answer, esp. the end when you made the statement: "Who doesn't love bacon!" Your answer was most helpful and I'll print it out so it's ready at a moment's notice (almost a daily occurrence!). I appreciate your help.
Instead of part just think teaspoon, so one teaspoon, three teaspoon :o) Or if you want a smaller end amount use 1/4 tsp and rewrite it all so 3 parts=3x1/4 = 3/4 then when you make it your head wont hurt.
Exactly! Thanks Claudia!
Yep, sounds about right! I also add sprinkles of nutritional yeast at the end of crimping it up! So good, 'specially when it burns a little. 🙂
I haven't tried using nutritional yeast, but it sounds like a nice addition. I'll give it a try next time!
nutrition mate says
I love bacon. I love the smell of bacon. I often just sit in the kitchen and smell it passionately while my boyfriend makes it 😀 So I think I will save your post forever <3
Awesome! I hope it comes in handy! 🙂
Jennifer @ Delicious Everyday says
I seriously love all of this! Pure genius! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much, Jennifer!
I love the inspiration in this idea, it is a funny one for me as I have never tried making vegan bacon, I think it is because I was brought up veggie I never really had a desire to eat bacon and the smell of it always turns my stomach so I almost put vegan bacon in the same category but with your ingredients it sounds like something I would love and so next job is to get marinating 🙂
I never liked bacon at all before going vegetarian, so creating a meatless version seemed a little strange to me at first too. I finally gave it a try and absolutely loved it! If the flavors of the marinade sound good to you I'm betting you'll enjoy this too. 🙂
Arthur in the Garden! says
Wow is pretty accurate! Thanks Arthur. 🙂
Have you tried making bacon from sweet potatoes?
I haven't, but you've definintely got me thinking! I think slicing sweet potatoes very thin, brushing them with the marinade, and then baking them would make some great crispy sweet potato bacon chips. 🙂