Tofu, Seitan and Tempeh: A Guide to Vegetarian Proteins

If you’re one of those many people who are looking for more healthy ways to fill up a supermarket shopping cart, you might be really curious about some of the modern choices that grocery stores have started to stock, including meat substitutes like tofu, seitan or tempeh. Navigating these meatless choices can be tough if what you’re used to it is buying beef, pork and chicken, but with a little knowledge about the nature of these health foods, you’ll be cooking vegetarian with the best of them in no time.


The soy-based food that we call tofu has burst onto the food scene in recent years, with almost all major supermarkets now stocking it for vegetarians and others who want it as part of a soy-based diet. Tofu is also called bean curd in some places. It is made from the curds of soy milk, where the solid material is separated and pressed into chunks. Tofu is a low-calorie, low-fat food that is rich in nutritional elements like iron.

The problem that many people find with tofu is in preparation. Firmer varieties may hold up in a skillet, but the silky tofu that is commonly on sale at your food store will fall apart in the pan. Some use alternative cooking methods, but frying is still popular. With some trial and error, you’ll probably find that you can pan-fry firmer tofu without too much trouble.


This strangely named food is actually made of wheat gluten. This gives it its tough, almost leathery texture. If that doesn’t sound appealing, understand that seitan can be a good substitute for meat, where the tougher texture is actually a positive. With the right flavoring, seitan can be a tasty part of a hot dish. It’s similar to the “mock duck” used in some Asian eateries, a favorite with vegetarians.


Tempeh is another food that takes its origin from the soybean, although some varieties are now made from barley or oats. The process for making tempeh is different than the one for tofu. To make tempeh, soybeans are fermented and therefore cultured to create a binding element. Tempeh is made into blocks. Those who are cooking it often cut it into small pieces or thin strips, then fry it or otherwise cook it up for inclusion in all kinds of dishes. Tempeh has a tougher, more solid texture than either tofu or seitan. That’s why cutting it into smaller pieces makes so much sense.

Take a look at all of these vegetarian alternatives for dishes that replace fatty, high cholesterol meats with nutritional alternatives. Some of these foods have a great deal of protein and other positive elements that the body needs to function well. These can also be pretty tasty with the right condiments; since many of them originated from Asian cuisine, home cooking vegetarians often combine them with quantities of ginger, garlic or other flavor-rich plant foods. Using these meatless substitutes can bring additional flare to your vegetarian menu or help you cut down on meat when your doctor recommends a modified diet. It can also help with your weight loss and fitness goals.


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