The Fascinating World of Meat Substitutes

The growing interest in vegetarian and flexitarian diets has resulted in a large market of meat substitute food products. The three most popular items that seem to pop up on just about every vegetarian or vegan menu seem to be tofu, seitan and tempeh. Knowing what each of these meat substitutes are and how to cook with them is an important skill for any online culinary arts program student.

The original meat substitute, tofu was being made in China as far back as 200 B.C. It is essentially a curd made from pressed soybeans. Very popular in East Asian cuisine, tofu is a great vegetarian source of protein. It comes either fresh or processed. Fresh tofu is packaged in water and can be of varying textures depending on how much water was extracted from it while it was being made. Silken tofu is the softest variety due to its high moisture content. Firm tofu is ideal for dishes in which you want the tofu to maintain its shape while extra-firm can be shredded to form a kind of tofu noodle.

While tofu is made from soybeans, seitan is made from wheat. It is essentially just gluten that has been extracted from wheat and allowed to solidify. It too comes in a range of different textures and has the added benefit of being easily made at home. Seitan packs the biggest punch in terms of protein and is valued for its versatility. It makes an excellent chicken substitute in all of your favorite dishes.

Tempeh is an Indonesian product also made from soybeans. In the case of tempeh, the beans are soaked and cooked before being laid out and inoculated for mold growth. The mold is a safe, edible mold that forms the binding between the loose beans. Once the mold has set, the tempeh will be ready to be cooked with and consumed. Be sure when cooking with tempeh to allow adequate time for it to marinate. Because it is denser than most meat substitutes, it will require about an hour in marinade before being cooked.

Tofu, Seitan and Tempeh are all popular meat substitutes in vegan and vegetarian cooking. Their naturally neutral flavors make them very receptive to the kinds of things you cook them in. As such, they represent fantastic opportunities for student chefs to experiment in the kitchen.

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