If you recently made the transition to a plant-based diet, then you're likely searching for a few new protein sources. Luckily there are several meat-free options for vegetarians and vegans to help create any dish sans animal protein. Tempeh and seitan are among the two most popular plant-based meat alternatives. Use them to make seitan "duck" noodles, or barbecue tempeh sandwiches. The possibilities are truly endless.
While both seitan and tempeh taste delicious, navigating the differences between each can be a bit tricky. Learning more about these two plant-based proteins, how to prepare them, and their unique flavor profiles is the first step to creating a delicious vegan meal. Keep scrolling to discover more about tempeh vs. seitan and when you should choose one over the other.
Tempeh, a popular vegan meat substitute, is made from fermented soybeans and boasts a hearty texture full of flavor.
What Is Tempeh?
Don’t know how tempeh is made? A staple in Indonesian cuisine, tempeh is made by fermenting soybean in banana leaves until a firm, cake-like patty. As a popular meat substitute that has been around since the 12th century, the recipes that tempeh can be added to are endless. Aside from holding a nice texture, this soy product is also an excellent source of protein. In fact, it contains more protein—31 grams per cup—than tofu and has a mild nutty flavor that makes it a favorite amongst vegetarians and vegans alike.
Over the years, tempeh has grown in popularity, and it is now readily available in most health food stores in both unseasoned and seasoned varieties.
Is Tempeh the Same as Tofu?
While tempeh and tofu are derived from soybeans, they are different in both texture and flavor. Tempeh is thought to be a less processed meat alternative and is made through the process of fermentation. Tofu is made by combining soybean milk with a coagulant such as calcium and magnesium chlorides and then pressed into a firm block for cooking. Unlike tofu, tempeh is made with whole soybeans making it a heartier, more flavorful plant-based protein.
Tempeh can be cooked in several different ways, including baking, grilling, boiling and simmering. Depending on the style it's cooked in, tempeh can be crumbled and used as ground meat, tossed into a stir fry, or seared into strips and used in similar ways to chicken or bacon.
Seitan, pronounced "say-tan" is quite different from both tofu and tempeh. Instead of being made with soy, it's made from vital wheat gluten.
What Is Seitan?
So, what is seitan? Commonly referred to as wheat gluten, seitan has been around since the sixth century and is a standard ingredient in Asian cuisine. Used as a meat substitute for centuries, seitan first started due to rinsing and cooking wheat dough to remove the starch. Once rinsed, a protein-dense substance was leftover and quickly turned into an excellent faux meat. Over the years, this wheat meat has grown in popularity and can now be found ready-to-cook on most health food store shelves. Additionally, several vegetarian and vegan products incorporate seitan into their recipes to create mock meats like sausages, crumbles and deli slices. When purchasing pre-made seitan, it's important to note that most store-bought protein is mixed with seasonings, salts and other ingredients.
If you'd prefer to make seitan at home, you can purchase vital wheat gluten and create this meat alternative yourself. A powder easily turned into the perfect plant-based protein; combine it with your favorite seasonings and spices to recreate your favorite meals. To make seitan, vital wheat protein is most commonly mixed with water and kneaded to produce a sticky dough. The dough is then washed to remove the starch, leaving only the protein.
Because seitan is made from gluten, the protein that gives bread its springy texture, it's not a suitable meat alternative for individuals who have a gluten allergy or celiac disease.
Seitan holds a dense and somewhat spongy texture, which gives it its "meaty" character. Incorporate it into traditional meaty dishes like cheesesteaks, beef fajitas or stir-fries.
The Difference Between Seitan and Tempeh
Aside from being made with entirely different ingredients, tempeh and seitan also have a significantly different taste. Of both plant-based proteins, tempeh has the toughest texture. This firmness makes it easy to manipulate, and you can cut it into strips, cubes or slices. Tempeh's flavor is often compared to that of mushrooms. Its slightly nutty and savory flavor, making it ideal when adding to recipes like teriyaki bowls, salads and curry.
Seitan's taste is a bit more savory, with a taste closer to a portobello mushroom or bland chicken. Though seitan has a mild flavor itself, it can be combined with several other ingredients to take on the flavors of each and be added to different recipes. The ability to easily flavor seitan isn't the only thing that makes this plant-based protein popular. The meat-like texture of seitan is far more realistic than other protein alternatives like tofu or tempeh, which don't have much of a "meaty" texture.
How to Season Seitan and Tempeh
Much like meat needs seasoning, the flavor of seitan vs. tempeh is significantly enhanced by marinating them in herbs and spice beforehand. Depending on the taste you're hoping to recreate, you'll want to combine your tempeh and seitan with a variety of sauces and flavorings.
Which Meat Alternative Should You Choose?
If you're searching for a protein source that won't crumble under the heat, then we'd recommend cooking with tempeh. An excellent protein replacement for a backyard barbecue, tempeh can be grilled up in a steak-like fashion or grated and used as a vegetarian replacement for taco meat.
Seitan, on the other hand, can be used to create almost anything you want. Because the gluten helps the batter bind and create a rugged texture, it can be shaped into nearly any meat-like meal. From meatballs to chicken strips, seitan is a shape-shifting wheat product that you'll love incorporating into your plant-based meals. In fact, it's so delicious you'll completely forget you're eating a plant-based meal!
Recipes to Substitute Seitan and Tempeh
A savory and meaty comfort food classic, Shepherd's Pie is traditionally made with ground lamb cooked with herbs and vegetables. For a plant-based version of this delicious meal, substitute lamb with seasoned seitan and sprinkle it with nutritional yeast before topping it with a luscious layer of mashed potatoes made with our potato flakes.
Mediterranean Farro Stuffed Peppers
A Mediterranean-inspired dish, these stuffed Mediterranean Farro Stuffed Peppers are sure to be a crowd-pleaser. For a more "meaty" version of this recipe, mix a bit of flavored tempeh into the farro before serving. The nutty flavor of tempeh and tangy flavors of bell-peppers with a hint of mint make this dish an excellent side or entree when paired with a seasonal salad.
Lamb and Chard Ragu
A dish perfect for any time of the year, this hearty Lamb and Chard Ragu Recipe is sure to leave your guests satisfied. To make this entree plant-based, substitute the lamb with flavored tempeh or seitan. Easy to create and wonderfully delicious, it's a dish that's loaded with protein and savory flavors. If you're having trouble finding chard at your local store, beet greens or lacinato is an excellent alternative.
A popular Middle Eastern dish, this Beef Kibbeh recipe is out-of-this-world delicious. Traditionally made with beef or lamb and then fried, crumbled tempeh works well in this recipe when substituted for ground beef. A slightly healthier version of traditional kibbeh, this recipe opts for a baked cooking method rather than fried and is served with a dollop of tangy plain yogurt.
Lemony Chicken Barley Soup
Who doesn't love a large bowl of soup? This Lemony Chicken and Barley Soup Recipe is a great way to combine all of your favorite ingredients into a single meal. And, if you're plant-based, swap the chicken out with seitan or tempeh to create a vegan meal worth writing down in your recipe book. Kids and adults alike will love filling up with this flavorful dish!
Tip: When serving vegan/vegetarian guests, remember to use vegetable broth as your soup's base instead of meat-based broths.
We hope this article has helped you better understand the differences between seitan and tempeh and when to use each. Whether you're creating a delicious plate of shepherd's pie or using one of these proteins to make plant-based meatballs for your next plate of spaghetti, using these meat alternatives is an excellent way to spice up your weekly routine. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, we wish you the best on your plant-based journey!
Want to share more about the many ways you use these two meat alternatives? Let us know how you cook with seitan and tempeh in the comments below.