What is a vegan-friendly diet? An introduction to ingredients and nutrients for restaurants


Due to the spread of COVID-19, the number of foreign visitors to Japan has declined significantly since February 2020. However, the total number of visitors from January to June 2023 exceeded 10 million, showing signs of gradual recovery. As the number of foreign travelers is expected to continue to increase, it will be necessary to respond to diverse food customs.

Against this backdrop, the number of restaurants that cater to vegans is on the rise. Offering vegan meals can meet the demands of not only foreign tourists, but also sustainability-conscious Japanese. This article introduces the ingredients and nutrients for restaurants that are considering serving vegan meals. We hope you will find it useful as a reference for creating vegan menus.

The concept of a vegan-compliant meal menu

Perhaps the most important thing to know about serving vegan meals is to know about veganism. In addition, there are other things that are helpful to know when planning a menu. Here are a few tips to help you plan your meal menu.

A refresher on what it means to be vegan

Vegan is a type of vegetarianism, also called pure vegetarianism. It is a completely vegetarian style of eating that does not consume any animal products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, as well as meat and fish, due to religious, animal welfare, environmental protection, and health-consciousness backgrounds.

According to data from the Japan Tourism Agency, approximately 50% of respondents answered that they would not enter a restaurant unless it was vegetarian-friendly when selecting a restaurant when traveling abroad. Naturally, this tendency is even stronger for vegans. This suggests that it is an urgent issue for restaurants to accommodate diverse dietary habits.

Know what ingredients are vegan-specific.

When planning a vegan menu, it is important to know what ingredients are acceptable for vegans to eat. In addition to common ingredients such as fruits and vegetables, you can broaden your menu by incorporating plant-based alternatives and other ingredients that have been developed specifically for vegans.

Be aware of nutritional balance

Vegans have many restrictions on ingredients due to their completely vegan diet, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Therefore, when providing vegan-specific meals, it will be necessary to incorporate a menu that takes nutritional balance into consideration. It is important to understand what specific nutrients tend to be lacking, and then actively incorporate ingredients that compensate for the missing nutrients.

Vegan-specific ingredients are introduced.

Vegans can eat a wide range of foods, from fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables and condiments to foods processed to vegan specifications. Here, we will introduce the general foods such as fresh foods and seasonings, as well as processed foods.

Vegetables, Fruits

Vegetables and fruits can be eaten by vegans without restriction. However, Oriental vegans, who are common in Taiwan, cannot eat five garlic and five pungent roots (garlic, chives, rakkyo, leeks, and chives) based on Buddhist beliefs. If five pungents or five garlic/pungent roots are to be used, it must be noted on the menu.


Vegans can eat grains without restriction. In addition to white and brown rice, wheat-based ingredients such as udon and pasta can be used. However, since bread basically contains dairy products, they must choose breads that do not contain dairy products, such as French bread.

Soy Products

Soy products are another food item that can be eaten without restriction. Tofu, thick fried tofu, natto (fermented soybeans), okara (bean curd), and many other foods made from soybeans. Plant-based meat alternatives called soy meat are also popular. Soy is an ingredient that vegans should actively include on their menus because it can provide the protein that vegans tend to lack.


Nuts are one of the foods that can be eaten without restrictions, although one should be aware of allergies. Many foods are used as snacks, such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts. While nutritious, they are high in fat and calories, so care should be taken not to overeat them.


As for seasonings, basic seasonings such as salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and mirin can be consumed without restriction. However, miso should be used with caution, and any product to which dashi has been added should be avoided. Dashi is made from animal ingredients such as bonito dashi, so you must choose miso with no dashi added.

Also often overlooked is gelatin, which is found in jellies and other products. Since it is made from the bones and skin of animals such as cows, it cannot be used as a vegan ingredient. It would need to be substituted with agar agar, for example.

sweetening materials

Many people think of white sugar when they think of sweeteners. However, there are vegans who refrain from consuming white sugar and other sugars because they are filtered through the production process using bone charcoal, which is made from animal bones that have been burned to a charcoal-like state. It would be preferable to use unrefined sugar, coconut sugar, or other completely plant-based products.

Examples of ingredients processed to vegan specifications

There are also processed alternatives that can be eaten by vegans who cannot consume eggs or dairy products. By using them in combination with the ingredients introduced above, you can broaden the range of your menu. Here are some examples.

Plant-based (vegetable) milk

There are many different types of plant-based milks in the world, including not only soy milk and coconut milk, which are well-known in Japan, but also quinoa milk and other milks not sold in Japan.
Because it provides different nutrients than cow’s milk, it is attracting attention not only from vegans but also from health-conscious people.Since there is a wide variety, it can be used not only for drinking but also for a variety of other menu items.
[Related Article] 15 cutting-edge “plant-based milks” from around the world. Introducing some milks that have not yet entered the Japanese market.

Plant-Based (vegetable) Meat

In the fall of 2022, BEYOND MEAT, INC., an American company said to be a leader in the global plant-based food industry, will enter into an exclusive distribution agreement in Japan with United Supermarket Holdings, Inc. (U.S.M.H.) of Tokyo, Japan, for the exclusive distribution of its products in Japan. Beyond Meat produces beef, pork, and chicken meat substitutes using advanced production technology and has been widely expanding its business in Europe, the United States, Asia, and Oceania.

BEYOND MEAT, INC., makes a pea-based meat substitute, but the most popular meat substitute in Japan is probably soybean meat. Major companies such as Marukome, PrimaHam, and Nippon Ham also commercialize soybean meat.
BEYOND MEAT, INC., a major alternative meat company, finally landed in Japan. Sold at Maruetsu, Max Valu, etc.

Plant-based custard cream

Plant-based custard cream is a plant-based food made from plant-derived coconut milk powder and soy milk. Developed by TSUKISHIMA FOODS INDUSTRY CO., LTD., which manufactures and sells oil and fat foods, the product was launched in May 2023 as “PraboCuster/MB”.
Characterized by its gentle taste and smooth texture, it can be used in a variety of ways, such as squeezed as is or sandwiched between bread and cakes.
[Related Articles] A Countermeasure to Soaring Egg Prices and Shortages. Plant-Based Custard Cream Goes on Sale

vegetable egg white powder

Vegetable egg white powder is an ingredient that can be used as a replacement for egg whites.A French-Japanese trading company that imports and sells food and beverages began selling “YUMGO Blanc Powder” from France in February 2023.
Plant-based sweets are said to taste inferior to recipes that use egg whites. However, by utilizing vegetable egg white powder, it is possible to make sweets that can be enjoyed by vegans.
[Related Article] Plant-based Egg White Powder from France is now available in Japan. Features the Same Functions as Chicken Egg Whites

Nutritional deficiencies in a vegan diet


Because vegans do not consume animal products, they have various advantages, such as reducing calories, reducing obesity, and improving intestinal health. On the other hand, it is inevitable that there is a risk of nutritional imbalance due to a completely vegan diet. Here are some of the nutrients that vegans tend to lack.


For vegans who do not consume meat or fish, protein is the nutrient of greatest concern as it is often lacking. In order to obtain protein from a vegan diet, soy and nuts must be included in the diet.

However, excessive intake of soy isoflavones, which are contained in processed soy foods, may be harmful to health. According to data from the Food Safety Commission of the Cabinet Office, the upper intake limit is 64 to 76 mg/day, so caution is advised.

vitamin D

Vitamin D is a nutrient found in fish. If you want to consume it from plant foods, mushrooms such as eringi mushrooms, maïtake mushrooms, and enoki mushrooms are good sources. Sun exposure is another effective way to obtain vitamin D other than from food.

vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps maintain healthy nerve and blood cells. It is rarely found in plant foods, so vegans need to consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as cereals.

iron (content)

Iron is found in meat and seafood, and its deficiency can cause anemia. If it is obtained from plant foods, it must be obtained from cancer, pure cocoa, and soy milk.

omega-3 fatty acid

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish and crustaceans; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid but different from EPA and DHA, is found in vegetable oils and flaxseed oil, so vegans can get it from vegetable oils.

calcium (Ca)

Calcium is abundant in teeth and bones, and is also involved in blood and other organs, playing an important role in the body. According to the recent National Health and Nutritional Survey, the calcium intake of Japanese people does not meet the target, and it is a nutrient that should be actively consumed not only by vegans. Among vegetable foods, calcium is abundant in fried tofu and tofu products.

Expand your meal menu by using vegan-specific ingredients.

Ingredients with vegan specifications are being developed not only for fresh foods, but also for processed foods such as plant-based custard cream. Weaving these ingredients into the mix will broaden the menu and make it easier to offer vegan meals.

In recent years, the number of vegan-friendly restaurants has been increasing as the vegan market grows. It would be a good idea to aim for vegan-friendly restaurants for foreign tourists and sustainability-conscious Japanese.

[Related Article]


[Reference site] Japan National Tourism Organization, Number of Visitors to Japan (Estimated figures for June 2023)
[Reference Site] Japan Tourism Agency: Vegetarian and Vegan Guide for Food and Beverage Businesses, etc.
[Reference site] Cabinet Office/Food Safety Commission: “Basic Policy on the Safety Evaluation of Foods for Specified Health Use Containing Soy Isoflavone
[Reference site] National Institute for Research Advancement: Vitamin D
[Reference Site] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Vitamin B12
[Reference site] National Institute for Research Advancement: Iron
[Reference Site] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Omega-3 fatty acids
[Reference site] National Institute for Research Advancement: Calcium
[Reference site] National Institute for Research Advancement: Zinc

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