Friday, 3 May 2013

The Faux Friends

Many vegans, especially those new to the meat-free world, can admit to the occasional desire for a meal with a little heft.

It's not that the abundance of vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in vegan diets is somehow insufficient. A well-planned vegan diet satisfies every single nutritional need without batting an eye, but sometimes vegans look for foods with a more substantial texture.

Let's call it a craving for meaty-ness, without the collateral damage.

It's here that the three Faux Friends enter the picture. Tofu, seitan and tempeh can provide some much-needed oomph to meals, and are especially useful when veganizing a traditionally meat-based dish. They add bulk, substance and texture to meals, and are often used to imitate meat products like chicken, beef or pork.

Some vegans shy away from consuming the Faux Friends on a regular basis because they all require some form of processing, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should be avoided.

Knowing how to make, use and consume the Faux Friends can open up a world of delicious meal possibilities.


Love it or hate it, we can't overlook tofu. It's cheap, plentiful and easily adaptable to a wide variety of recipes. The process for making commercially prepared tofu is similar to cheese. The soybeans are soaked, ground, boiled and strained to make soy milk. The milk is mixed with a coagulant (from salt, acid or enzymes) and curdled to create soy curds. The curds are then processed based on the desired consistency. Soft tofu is pressed directly into its plastic package, whereas firmer tofu requires pressing before distribution.

Format: large, white cakes
Consistency: soft to firm
Usage: smoothies & desserts (soft), stir frys, curries (firm & extra-firm)
Taste: neutral


Until recently tempeh was a relatively obscure product outside of vegetarian restaurants and some ethnic cuisines, particularly Indonesian, but it's now becoming easier to find. Partially cooked soybeans are mixed with vinegar and active bacterial cultures, then spread thin and left to ferment for 24-36 hours in a warm space. Since the soybeans are left whole, tempeh contains more protein, vitamins and fiber than tofu.

Format: small, rectangular cakes
Consistency: firm
Usage: stir frys, soups, sandwiches & curries
Taste: nutty, earthy & chewy


Seitan is also a relatively new product in Western markets, but it's been used in Asian cultures for centuries. Seitan is made using vital wheat gluten; washing wheat flour separates the wheat gluten from the starch. The process of separating vital wheat gluten from wheat flour used to be arduous and time consuming, but it's now possible to buy vital wheat gluten in bulk stores and Asian markets.

Format: flour
Consistency: firm
Usage: soups, stews, kebabs, salads & stir frys
Taste: dense, meaty & chewy

Coming up galore!