Smoky, salty, slightly-sweet vegan bacon bits only have four ingredients, and they're a snap to make in the oven or air fryer. Eat them on their own or use them anywhere you'd use conventional bacon bits!
Often, when I tell someone that I'm vegan, after they ask me how I live without cheese, they wax poetic about loving bacon. Y'all, I get it. Bacon tastes good. That salty, smoky, savory crunchiness is addictive (literally!)
But you don't have to harm animals and to indulge in some bacon-y goodness. These bacon cashews can bring all of that good, bacon flavor in a healthier, cruelty-free package.
About the bacon flavoring
So, remember last week, when I said that my kid dips his cashews into BBQ sauce? Obviously, I was curious about how they tasted, so I tried one. Delicious! They actually tasted slightly bacony to me at first, and I thought, "Oh my gosh. What if I made vegan bacon bits?"
Of course, there are no bacons in these cashews. The secret ingredient to these crunchy, rich, smoky bacon cashews is liquid smoke.
I used to be afraid of liquid smoke. It seemed like a fake ingredient to me, but after seeing it in lots of recipes and doing some research on how to make it, I've laid my fears to rest.
It turns out it really is made from smoke!
You might not think about it when you taste it, but bacon is also slightly sweet.
Since it was my molasses-y homemade BBQ sauce recipe that gave me this idea in the first place, I am using molasses to add sweetness and depth to this recipe.
If you can't find blackstrap molasses at the store, you can substitute maple syrup, but I really feel like the molasses gives this recipe a distinct flavor that's worth the hunt.
Oven vs. air fryer cooking directions
Really, the big difference between making vegan bacon bits in the air fryer vs. the oven is that the air fryer is faster.
In the oven, these take between 12 and 20 minutes to cook. In the air fryer, they are ready in five to 10 minutes!
The total cooking time depends on a number of factors, including how old your cashews are, the conditions of your air fryer or oven, etc. It's a wide cooking range, because it's easy to burn nuts when you're roasting them, and that's essentially what this recipe is.
Don't burn your cashews!
If you've never roasted your own nuts, you're in for such a treat! It's super easy to do, and the results make the house smell amazing. And fresh, smoky, vegan bacon bits, still warm from the oven or air fryer are a real delight.
You do need to keep an eye on these, no matter which method you use. If you're baking, stir frequently. For the air fryer, shake that basket well and often to prevent burning.
Roasted nuts darken slightly when they're ready, and the line between not done and overdone is thin. Keep an eye, and don't skip the stirring. It's key to preventing a burnt mess!
Your vegan bacon bits are ready when the pan/air fryer basket is on the dry side, the cashews have darkened a bit, and the house smells amazing.
If you taste a piece for doneness, don’t worry if it’s still a little bit chewy. It will get crunchier once it cools completely. Trust me: I burnt my first batch, because I was waiting for them to get crunchy. Don't let that happen to you!
Use these anywhere that you'd use conventional bacon bits, like Bacos. I love these:
- over a green salad with creamy ranch dressing
- sprinkled onto a loaded baked potato or baked potato bites
- added to tacos or a wrap for some extra crunch and bacony flavor
- sprinkled onto creamy soups
If you think a dish could benefit from a little smoky-sweet-salty crunch, these vegan bacon bits are here for you!
How to store
After baking, let them cool on the pan or in the air fryer basket for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to your storage container. Do not cover these until they're completely cool, to prevent condensation. Condensation can cause mold!
Your vegan bacon bits will keep for up to three to five days in an airtight container at room temperature.
Vegan bacon bits recipe
- Air Fryer - optional
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- In a large bowl, toss together all of the ingredients, making sure to coat the cashews really well (and really evenly!).
- Spread the cashews out on on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. If there’s any liquid left in the bowl, use a spoon or rubber spatula to scrape it out, and drizzle it over the cashews.
- Bake for 12-18 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes, being especially careful to check the cashews on the edges of the pan. Those will burn first, so make sure to stir thoroughly each time. During the last 4 minutes, I recommend checking on these babies every minute or two, to prevent burning.You don’t have to stir every minute, but definitely check in.
Air fryer directions
- Pour the cashews into your air fryer basket, and cook at 350° F for 5-10 minutes, shaking every 2 minutes to make sure they cook evenly and to check for doneness. During the last 2 minutes, you should shake/check every minute to avoid burning. The line between done and burnt can be thin with this recipe.
When they're ready
- Your vegan bacon bits are ready when the pan/air fryer basket is on the dry side, the cashews have darkened a bit, and the house smells amazing. If you taste one while it’s cooking, don’t worry if it’s a little bit chewy – like coconut bacon, these bacon cashews will get crunchier once they’re cooled.
- Let them cool to room temperature – about 10-15 minutes – then transfer to your storage container of choice. DO NOT cover them until they cool completely, because then you'll get condensation in your container, and that will make your cashews moldy.