What’s the difference between tofu, tempeh and seitan?

You’ve probably heard of tofu, tempeh and seitan as they are often used as meat replacement in vegetarian or vegan dishes. But what’s the difference between them? And what are they made of?
Isabel, from www.dehippevegetarier.nl, has been a vegetarian since she was nine. She’s an expert on vegetarian food and lifestyle and I asked her to explain what the difference is between the meat substitutes tofu, tempeh and seitan.

Isabel: ‘Tofu, tempeh and seitan have been used for centuries, but they’re still a bit weird or unknown to most people. We understand as they look a bit unattractive and they don’t smell like anything. But…if you continue to read you’ll find out that there are many fun, creative and tasty ways you can prepare them! We challenge you: prepare them based on Isabel’s tips and judge for yourself. Wanna bet that at least one of the three will often be on your grocery list?’


Tofu (also known as bean curd) is a Chinese invention from over 2000 years ago. It’s made from soy milk that is coagulated to form curds. The coagulation is most often done with calcium sulfate. Tofu is very high in protein and low in fat. Besides that it contains a lot of vitamin B, calcium, kalium and natrium.
Tofu has a very neutral taste. If you don’t know the possibilities of tofu the neutral taste might keep you from making anything with it. But the benefit of it is that you can use it in all sorts of ways, because the tofu will take over the other flavors.

There are different kind of tofu’s depending on if it’s coagulated with salts, enzymes or acids, and the way it was prepared. The most well-known and widely available tofu is when the soybean curds are pressed to form tofu cake. But you also have the lesser known silken tofu that’s very soft and easily falls apart. Silken tofu is great as a low-fat and vegan replacement for (whipped) cream in desserts. Chek the recipe for vegan Oreo pie with silken tofu. Or buy a package of regular tofu and try one of these recipes:

tofu soy sauce
1. Cut the tofu in squares and bake them for 10-15 minutes in a skillet with a two tablespoons of soy sauce until all sides are golden brown and crispy. Tastes great in an Asian salad or any noodle dish.

crunchy tofu vegan tacos
2. Make oven baked crispy tofu by rolling tofu squares in flour, then almond milk and then fried oats. Put them on parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes until crispy. They go great in a taco.


Just like tofu, tempeh origins in Asia, in Indonesia to be precise. Tempeh has a more firm, cookie-like texture. Tempeh is made by soaking dehulled soy beans, cooking them and then fermenting them. A fermentation starter is mixed into the beans and then the tempeh is fermented for 24 to 36 hours.
Because the whole soybean is used for tempeh the product is high in fiber, iron, calcium and vitamin B. Tempeh is also very low in fat and cholesterol and easy to digest. Because tempeh is a bit more solid, it adapts a bit less easily to your dish than tofu, but you can make it really tasty by marinating it.

Try this with tempeh:
1. Slice the tempeh and marinate it for an hour. You can choose your own marinade but you could try 3 table spoons of soy sauce, two tablespoons of sunflower oil, two tablespoons of sesame oil, one tablespoon of rice vinegar, a tablespoon of maple syrup, a clove of garlic (crushed) and about 1cm of grated ginger.

tempeh recipe vegan vegetarian

2. Serve marinated tempeh with thinly sliced cucumber, bell pepper and carrot on a Libanese flat bread. Great with parsley and cilantro (coriander). Check the full recipe from Isabel in Dutch on this page.

3. You can make a vegan club sandwich with marinated tempeh, tomatoes, avocado and aubergine. Click here for the recipe of this vegan club sandwich. 


Seitan is very different from tofu and tempeh. Seitan isn’t made from soy beans but from wheat flour and water. By rinsing the dough with a special technique only the wheat-protein, or the gluten, remains. These gluten are boiled in water or a vegetable broth until a spongy texture is formed with a (depending on the broth) savory taste. You can leave the seitan as it is since it’s already high in flavor, or you can give it something extra by marinating it. Seitan is high in protein and vitamin C.

vegan pulled chicken sandwich

1. Buy a can of mock chicken in the Asian supermarket, this is made from seitan. You can make a delicious pulled ‘chicken’ sandwich with it.

2. Cube the seitan and cook it in a curry or soup.

You can find many more vegetarian recipes (in Dutch) at dehippevegetarier.nl.

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