Ok, so I hate this photo more than any other I have ever taken. Food has never looked so unappetising. I even used an old, chipped, overly reflective blue plate just to get some colour into the picture and this made it both better and worse at the same time. But I am not apologising because, if we are talking vegan we have to talk tofu, tempeh and seitan – the holy trinity of vegan protein sources.
So what are they?
Tofu is essentially a bean curd made from soya beans. It is formed by coagulating soya milk (mmmm) – the resulting curd is then pressed into blocks to form tofu. This is a very similar process to that used when making soft cheeses (it doesn’t sound so bad now does it?). It is reasonably high in protein and is also a good source of iron. Do check the packaging though to make sure that your tofu is made from a non-GMO source of soya.
Tofu doesn’t have much flavour but it can absorb flavours wonderfully well and so becomes a carrier for the sauce or marinade of your choice.
Tofu comes in a number of different forms and they can be a little confusing:
Extra soft tofu is usually sold in a tube as it will not hold its own shape. It is less commonly available in the UK but is often used in Korean cooking.
Soft or silken tofu is very smooth and quite fragile. It is usually sold in block form and you can buy soft or firm silken tofu (not the same as firm tofu). This can, with care be sliced, marinated and fried / grilled but it is best used as an egg substitute in baking/scrambled “eggs” or pancake batter.
Firm tofu comes in firm or extra firm. It has been pressed longer than silken tofu and contains less water. This is your go-to soya if you want to slice it and fry it or if you want to use pieces in stews or casseroles.
You can buy tofu fresh, frozen, in jars, pre-marinated, smoked… the list goes on.
Tempeh is also made from soya but this time the beans are fermented. Tempeh has more flavour than soya and is kind of mushroomy/meaty. It is also very firm and is often used as a meat substitute in casseroles and stews. Tempeh can be sliced thinly and is sometimes used to make a meat free alternative to bacon.
Seitan is made from wheat gluten. It is closest in texture to meat and has a chewiness about it. You can make seitan at home but it is a lengthy process which involves making a wheat dough and repeatedly washing it (by kneading it under water) until no starch is left. The dough is then cooked and flavoured with vegetable stock or soy sauce for example. The resulting seitan can be sliced and is firm enough to be cooked on a BBQ. You can but seitan in blocks, in jars or vacuum packed. Seitan is an excellent source of protein.
If you are considering eating these foods as an alternative to meat you might find it helpful to check out some of the comparable data in the table below.
|Iron||7% RDA||8% RDA||21% RDA||28% RDA|
|Vitamin A||3% RDA||0% RDA|
|Vitamin B6||20% RDA||17% RDA||0% RDA|
|Vitamin B12||5% RDA||3% RDA||0% RDA|
|Calcium||1% RDA||13% RDA||11% RDA||14% RDA|
|Magnesium||5% RDA||23% RDA||6% RDA|
- Data from multiple sources.
A Personal View
So, the piece above offers some general information about tofu, tempeh and seitan but here is my personal view as an experimental blogger!
Tofu is great. I have used it sliced and fried, flavoured with soy sauce and sesame or topped with a chimichurri sauce. I have baked with it and used it in some scrumptious sweet corn fritters and as a feta substiute in spanakopita (recipes to follow).
Tempeh and seitan I like less. I personally feel no need to eat meat substitutes so I take no pleasure in faux meat products. Tempeh tastes ok in its own right but I don’t find it to be necessary to a balanced diet. I would rather eat the beans in their natural state.
I have only eaten seitan once, so I may not have given it a fair try, but I hated it. The weird, fake chewiness of it was unpleasant and I didn’t feel great after eating it – it gave me a headache and an upset stomach. This is not entirely surprising as I can sometimes have a sensitivity to gluten and this is condensed wheat gluten. You may find you like it more than I do. Give it a go!
All in all, these 3 products have their place in a vegan diet, they provide a soure of protein and, if you want it, some interesting meat alternatives. I just wish they looked a bit prettier for this blog piece!