What are Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan?

While beans and legumes are a popular vegetarian choice for protein, tofu, tempeh and seitan are also versatile and common ingredients for plant-based protein.

Healthy Food

Q:  I’m seeing a lot more tofu, tempeh and seitan on restaurant menus these days.  What are they and are they healthier than other options?

A: As research continues to point towards the benefits of a plant-based diet, many restaurants are adding vegetarian options with plant-based proteins to the menu to answer growing demand from guests.  While beans and legumes are a popular vegetarian choice for protein, tofu, tempeh and seitan are also versatile and common ingredients for plant-based protein.  Depending on your tastes and personal dietary needs, one may be better than others for you and your healthy diet.  Here are the basics to help you get familiar with them:

Tofu

This plant-based protein is probably the most recognizable.  Made from soy bean curds, tofu comes in a variety of textures, such as silken or extra firm, and can be used in just about anything your taste buds may crave!  Scrambled tofu, anyone?  It’s naturally gluten-free and rich in calcium.  Sample choices like these at restaurants to get familiar with just how good this soy protein can taste:

Tempeh

Also made from soy, this vegetarian protein is actually made of fermented soy beans and is minimally processed.  With a denser and heartier texture than tofu and significantly more protein than standard tofu, tempeh can also be used in such options as sandwiches, salads and stir-fries.  Give it a try in dietitian picks like these:

Seitan

This meat-like product, unlike tofu and tempeh, is made from wheat gluten.  If you have celiac disease, this is most definitely not the meatless choice for you!  Loaded with protein, seitan is often the base of the “fake meats” you see on grocery shelves and restaurant menus, thanks to its texture that is so similar to meat.  Enjoy seitan in menu choices at your local vegetarian or vegan restaurants or in your own kitchen with recipes like this Seitan with Sweet Onions and Peppers.

Next time you head out to eat, try something new with a meatless choice.  Plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh and seitan can make a delicious addition to any diet.