Vegetable Proteins

It is a common misconception that vegans and vegetarians have difficulty obtaining sufficient protein from a meat-free diet. Vegans and vegetarians can obtain adequate protein from their diet, as long as it includes a varied range of foodstuffs, such as beans, lentils, nuts and cereals.

There are some vegan and vegetarian products available to use in place of meats in recipes. These are often available in different forms, for example chunks, fillets or blocks, or mince. Some of the main types are discussed in more detail below.

TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)

TVP is made from protein of vegetable origin. The protein may be derived from soya beans, wheat, or another vegetable or mix of vegetables.
The product is available dried, in which case it should be reconstituted in water or vegetable stock before use, or frozen, in which case it can simply be defrosted before use. TVP does not have much flavour, so if reconstituting, it is best done with a well-flavoured stock. As it is usually very low in fat, adding some oil or margarine may help bring out flavours and prevent the TVP from being too dry. TVP is widely available, as mince or chunks, from health food shops and large supermarkets, and is mostly used as a substitute for darker meats, such as beef.

Tofu (Soya Bean Curd)

Tofu is a protein-rich solid prepared from soya beans. Depending on the details of the preparation method, the tofu may have different consistencies. Commonly available types include soft silken, firm silken and regular.
The silken tofu types may be liquidised and used as a thick cream, or soft cheese, added to soups, or fried to give an texture similar to scrambled egg. These are usually available in long-life cartons in supermarkets, oriental grocery stores and health food shops.
The regular type of tofu is much firmer, and is usually available in the chill cabinets of large supermarkets, health food shops and oriental grocery stores. This type is usually available in chunks, either plain or marinated, or in large blocks.
The flavour of tofu may vary from very mild to beany, depending on the brand. In most cases, the flavour of a dish is provided by a marinade or other sauce or added seasoning.
Freezing tofu permanantly changes its texture - regular tofu can be frozen, then thawed and gently squeezed to remove excess water, to obtain a chewier product. Regular tofu can be diced and shallow or deep fried, or marinated for kebabs, and works well in place of lighter meats such as chicken in recipes.
Bean curd skin is also available, usually from oriental supermarkets. These thin sheets are skimmed off the top of soya milk as it is warmed. They are sold dried, and may be rehydrated, then layered and rolled up, or shredded and added to rice, to add texture.

Seitan (Glutens)

Seitan is made from wheat protein (called gluten). It may be made by washing the starch out of strong flour until a ball of elastic glutens remains (a time-consuming process). This may then be cooked in a well flavoured stock to give a surprisingly meat-like texture. Gluten powder may be bought in dry form, on-line or in very good health food stores. The powder can be added to liquid and cooked as before. Seitan is also available ready-to-use in oriental supermarkets, either tinned (often called mock meat, or fried glutens) or frozen (often called Buddhist meat). These products are good replacements for darker meats in recipes.
As seitan is derived from wheat, it is not suitable for coeliacs.


Tempeh is formed by the fermentation of soya beans, to produce a strong beany, or mushroom flavoured product. Fresh tempeh is still relatively difficult to get hold of, but many health food stores at least offer frozen tempeh. Tempeh does have a strong flavour, which is an advantage once you are used to it, but it may take a while to acquire! It is usually sold in solid blocks, which are diced or sliced and fried.
Other similar fermented products, such as fermented quinoa, are also available in some places.


Quorn is a commercial product developed by Marlow Foods, based on a mycoprotein fungus. Unfortunately, egg is used as a binder, making the product unsuitable for vegans. A wide range of ready meals and convenience foods based on Quorn are now available in chilled and frozen sections of supermarkets, as well as unflavoured chunks which can be used for marinating or frying in recipes. For better or for worse, McDonalds also now offer a Quorn burger. Quorn is primarily used as a chicken substitute.

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These pages were last updated 22nd May 2010
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