Tempeh vs. Seitan: Which Is Healthier?

Tempeh and seitan both tend to come up in the same conversations and for similar recipes and uses. Their look and feel are comparable, so some may not even be able to detect the differences. Some key components make them different and will help you choose the best option for your meal.

Tempeh and seitan may be used similarly, but at their core, they are quite different; tempeh is a soy product made from fermented soybeans. In contrast, seitan is made from hydrated gluten from wheat. They are both used as a meat substitute and offer their own sets of nutrients on top of being a protein substitute.

When we go to the store, we are faced with more options than ever before. Making decisions on similar products has become a lesson in research. So, we will cover everything you need to know about these two protein-packed options that are grouped so frequently.

Differences Between Tempeh and Seitan

The biggest difference between tempeh and seitan is what they are made from, with the next biggest being how they are made. 

Tempeh

Tempeh is made from soy and goes through a fermenting process. It was popularized in Indonesian culture, where the soybean is used heavily. It is also ideal conditions for the process of fermenting to soybeans before it is turned into what we know as tempeh.

Most variations of tempeh also have a controlled fungus that helps form its texture and nutrients. That fungus thrives in warm temperatures, which is one reason it is so heavily used and made in Indonesia and regions with similar climates. 

Once the mold and fungi begin to grow on the soybeans, it turns the beans into a cake-like form. Each of the soybeans come together into this cake and form what we know as tempeh. The soybeans go through roughly a 48-hour fermenting process for optimal results, so the tempeh has its firm, cake-like texture and appearance.  

Seitan

When people find out that seitan is not made from soybeans like its relatives, tempeh, and tofu, it can be surprising. They have so many similarities in their uses and tend to be used interchangeably. But seitan is made from wheat gluten.  

To make this superfood, wheat gluten is derived from wheat flour. When the dough is washed thoroughly, they can remove all the starch from the flour. This turns it into a sticky mound that can be more easily manipulated.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “meat wheat,” it was most likely referring to seitan. Because of its heaviness and texture, it is an excellent meat substitute. You get many of the same nutrients as other substitutes, but you also get a texture and feel that is closer to meat than many of the others.  

Seitan is highly malleable, making it easy to morph into any shape you need. This is why it has become a popular substitute for restaurants who want to make their vegetarian options still have a look and feel of meat.

Which is the Healthier Option?

As much as we would all love for experts to flat out say one is healthier for everyone than the other, it is more nuanced than that. As with any food, there are going to be positives and negatives to their nutrition. 

What may be the healthiest option for you may not be the healthiest option for your friend who has a different set of needs in their diet and nutrition regimen.

Here is an overall view of their nutrition facts:

Tempeh (Serving Size: 3 oz)Seitan (Serving Size: 1 oz)
Calories: 162Calories: 104
Protein: 15 gramsProtein: 21 grams
Carbs: 9 gramsSelenium: 16% of the RDI
Total fat: 9 gramsIron: 8% of the RDI
Sodium: 9 milligramsPhosphorus: 7% of the RDI
Iron: 12% of the RDICalcium: 4% of the RDI
Calcium: 9% of the RDICopper: 3% of the RDI
Riboflavin: 18% of the RDI
Niacin: 12% of the RDI
Magnesium: 18% of the RDI
Phosphorus: 21% of the RDI
Manganese: 54% of the RDI
Tempeh vs. Seitan: Nutritional Differences

Source: Healthline – Tempeh / Healthline – Seitan

The big draw for both tempeh and seitan are in their nutrients, low calories, and protein. Whether you are a vegetarian or you just like cutting back on your meat intake from time to time, they are both amazing options for protein substitutes. 

When it comes to overall health, one of the biggest things to consider is what your diet needs. Of course, if you are Celiac, this will not be a question for you. Your body will not be able to tolerate the seitan, so tempeh will be your healthiest option.

And while there are many with Celiac, there are also plenty of people who suffer from soy allergies, making tempeh a non-starter.

But for those without food allergies to consider, it can be a hard question to answer in a blanket statement. 

When It Comes To Digestion, Tempeh Is An All-Star

The fermentation process that soybeans go through creates prebiotics and healthy bacteria for your gut. Since it is fermented using a fungus, it contains prebiotics compared to probiotics, which are typically the more commonly heard of. 

Prebiotics are what promotes the growth of bacteria that can benefit your overall health and digestion. This makes tempeh extremely healthy for your colon and digestive system.

Seitan, however, may be bad for your gut, according to some studies. In an article from Healthline, they explain that the gluten-based seitan may cause digestive issues. These studies have not always replicated the same results, though, so the digestive prognosis may still question.

Tempeh Promotes Bone Health 

The high levels of calcium are a big win for anyone with a lactose allergy. If you are looking for ways to get your calcium levels up, then tempeh is a solid option, with 9% of your daily recommended calcium intake.

If you suffer from high cholesterol, that may be another reason to begin looking at tempeh as an option. Soy contains isoflavones, which have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. Many meat products are high in cholesterol or do nothing to limit the levels. So if you are battling cholesterol, reaching for tempeh instead of meat will be a very smart alternative.

Seitan is one of the easiest options to add to just about anything. This can make it a healthier option solely because much of our health has to do with our choices and what is easiest for us to fit into our day.

When you are always on the go and need to find healthier options for your meals, seitan is a protein-packed option that also offers a high content of iron, making it ideal for meat substitution.

They are both high in protein, but seitan has tempeh beat in this category if you are looking to up your protein intake.

In the end, tempeh offers more in the way of varied nutrients, but seitan is a higher protein option. Figuring out what makes sense for your dietary needs will help you decide which is the better option for you. 

Tempeh and Seitan: Which is Better?

Tempeh and seitan are both nutritious, easily accessible, and inexpensive options for substituting meat, or simply just to add to your omnivore diet. How they are made and what they are made from mean differences in their nutrients and appearance.

Both options are packed with protein and are a healthy option, provided you do not have a food allergy that will hinder you from eating one of them.

“Homemade seitan” by RobotSkirts is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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