Have ever wondered about the nutritional benefits of seitan vs tofu? Maybe you need some inspiration on how to use them? You’ve come to the right place! In this post, I’ll give you a dietitian’s take on the nutritional differences between the two as well as taste, texture, cooking methods, and recipes.
Although seitan and tofu have not been carried in American grocery stores until the last 100 years or so, they have a long history as an ingredient in Asian cuisine. As the popularity of plant-based diets has grown and more people are looking to reduce their meat intake, the popularity of plant proteins like seitan and tofu has been growing.
In case you have ever wondered about the nutritional benefits of seitan and tofu or maybe you need inspiration on how to use them – you’ve come to the right place! As a plant-based dietitian, I love the convenience and versatility of both of these ingredients.
What is Tofu?
- Tofu is a soy product made by curdling soy milk with a coagulant such as nigari, magnesium chloride, calcium sulfate, or magnesium sulfate and then pressing the solids into a block and cooling it. The longer the curds are pressed, the more firm the tofu. The process is actually very similar to making a dairy-based cheese.
- The different types of tofu you find in the store have different levels of firmness from silken tofu to extra firm. You want to pay attention to what type of tofu a recipe calls for since they are not always interchangeable.
- If you are interested in a deep dive into the history of tofu, I found this history of tofu post to be fascinating.
- Appearance: Tofu is usually sold in a soft, creamy white block packed in water. You can usually find tofu in the refrigerator at the store. However, it can also be sold in shelf stable containers.
- Taste: Tofu has little to no flavor which means it can be dressed up in any number of ways with marinades, sauces, etc.
What is Seitan?
- Seitan (ie. “wheat meat”) is a popular meat substitute made from gluten, which is the protein contained in wheat. To isolate the gluten, wheat flour is washed to remove the starch so that only the gluten or wheat protein is left behind.
- Seitan dates back to the 6th century in ancient China where Buddhist monks created it as an alternative to meat. This meat alternative was introduced to the West in the 1960s by George Oshawa the founder of the macrobiotic diet.
- Appearance: Seitan is not very visually appealing as it often looks like a light brown lumpy mass but it can be shaped or manipulated in a variety of ways like slices, grounds, etc.
- Taste: Seitan has a yeasty and mild nutty flavor that works well in savory recipes. It has a chewy texture that can mimic the texture of real meat, making it a popular option among vegan meat substitutes.
Let’s take a closer look at the macronutrient and micronutrient composition of tofu and seitan.
Tofu (3.5 oz, 100 gram serving firm tofu)
- Calories: 85 kcals
- Carbohydrates: 2 grams
- Fiber: <1 gram
- Protein: 9 grams
- Fat: 4.5 grams
- Saturated Fat: 0.5 grams
- Calcium: 10% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 7% DV
- Magnesium: 9% DV
- Phosphorus: 10% DV
- Potassium: 3% DV
- Folate: 5% DV
- Thiamin: 0% DV
- Choline: 5% DV
Seitan (2 oz, 57 gram serving)
- Calories: 90 grams
- Carbohydrates: 5 grams
- Fiber: 0.5 grams
- Protein: 18 grams
- Fat: 0.5 grams
- Saturated Fat: 0 grams
- Calcium: 2% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 8% DV
- Magnesium: 6% DV
- Phosphorus: 5% DV
- Potassium: 2% DV
- Folate: 0% DV
- Thiamin: 0% DV
- Choline: 0% DV
Amino Acid Profiles of Tofu vs Seitan
Tofu is considered a “complete protein” since it provides all 9 of the essential amino acids in similar amounts to what our body needs. Seitan provides a sufficient amount of 8 out 9 of the amino acids. The only exception is lysine. Preparing your seitan with some chickpea flour can help add some of the missing lysine.
Otherwise, just be sure to rotate the types of plant-based proteins you eat to ensure you get all the amino acids you need on a vegan diet. Your liver stores amino acids so there is no need to eat complementary proteins at each meal.
Check out my vegan protein guide for everything you need to know about plant-based protein.
- Both tofu and seitan are great sources of protein but also low in saturated fat, sodium, and contain zero cholesterol. Replacing foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol like red meat with foods like tofu and seitan could lower risk of heart disease.
Blood Sugar Management
- The carbohydrate content of both tofu and seitan is low which makes them a great option for those who need to monitor their carbohydrate intake.
Rich in Antioxidants
- Tofu and other soy foods are rich in isoflavones, which are powerful phytonutrients with antioxidant and estrogen-like properties. There has been a lot of research into isoflavones as there was concern it may increase estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer risk. However, research has ruled out any concern about breast cancer and notes that there may be reduced risk of cancer in those who regularly consume soy foods like tofu.
- Tofu is a good source of protein and many brands are a good source of calcium, both of which support bone health. Choose tofu that has been “calcium-set” if you want to include more calcium into your diet.
Have questions about whether soy (including tofu) is healthy? Check out my previous post, Everything You Need to Know About Soy.
Is Seitan or Tofu Healthier?
If you are looking to incorporate more plant-based protein into your diet, both tofu and seitan are great vegan protein sources!
Tofu does offer some additional benefits as a complete protein source as well as calcium, phosphorus, and antioxidants. However many people love seitan due to its high protein content – twice as much per serving than tofu.
In general, I recommend eating a plant-based diet that incorporates lots of variety so eat both tofu and seitan! The only group that I would suggest avoid seitan is anyone with a gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity. The same goes for tofu, anyone with a soy allergy should avoid tofu.
My only complaint with tofu and seitan is that they are low in dietary fiber, but they are easy to use in meals that include other high fiber foods like grain bowls and stir fry.
How to Incorporate into Your Diet
There are countless ways to include tofu in your diet from tofu pudding & smoothies to stir fry and sandwiches. Experiment with all the different textures of tofu that are sold: silken, soft, medium, firm, and extra firm. Each can be used in different ways in recipes.
Since tofu is essentially flavorless, you’ll want to add tons of flavor with different sauces and spices. You’ll find tofu in the refrigerator section of the grocery store or in vacuum sealed shelf stable packages in the international aisle.
The meaty texture of seitan makes it a good substitute for chicken or beef in recipes. Seitan can be served in a variety of ways such as steaks, strips, chunks, or ground.
Seitan has very little flavor so make sure to add lots of spices or sauces to add more flavor. We love using ground seitan as alternative to ground beef in dishes like these seitan tacos.
You can find seitan in the grocery store in the refrigerated section, usually with the tofu and other plant-based foods. Many products like plant-based chick’n is also made from seitan, but may not be labeled as such.
You can usually tell if a product is seitan if you see vital wheat gluten in the ingredient list. It is also relatively simple to make your own seitan. Here is a guide on how to make seitan.
- Fridge: Store unopened tofu in the refrigerator and use it by the expiration date listed on the package. Opened tofu can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days after opening. Cooked tofu can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freezer: Tofu can also be frozen, but it completely changes the texture from smooth to chewy. The chewy texture of thawed frozen tofu makes it a great option for plant-based chicken like nuggets or tenders.
- Fridge: Store unopened seitan in the refrigerator and use it by the expiration date listed on the package. Opened seitan can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days after opening. Cooked seitan can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freezer: You can also freeze seitan if you want to keep it for up to 3-4 months. Just thaw in the refrigerator the night before you plan to cook it.
Both foods are a good source of plant-based protein. Seitan has twice as much per serving than tofu. However, tofu has more calcium, phosphorus, and antioxidants than seitan.
Seitan has more protein per serving than a serving of firm tofu. One serving of seitan has 18 grams of protein which is twice as much protein as one serving of firm tofu which has 9 grams of protein.
No, seitan has a mild yeasty flavor and chewy, fibrous texture. Tofu is almost flavorless with a smooth texture.
There is no reason to avoid eating seitan regularly, however it is a good idea to add variety to your diet to ensure that you are adequately meeting all of your nutrient needs. Seitan is low in the amino acid, lysine, so rotating with other plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, and tempeh will ensure you get all of the essential amino acids you need.
No, seitan is made from the gluten in wheat so it is not gluten free. Therefore, it is not a good option for those with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities.
Be sure to check out my other match up posts!
- Pinto Beans vs Black Beans: Beans are a budget-friendly super food that easily add more protein and fiber to a dish. Find out how these two stack up!
- Juicing vs Blending: Both are great ways to easily incorporate more nutrients into your diet, but find out which one I prefer!
- Flaxseeds vs Chia Seeds: Both of these super seeds will add tons of fiber to a dish, but one of them has way more protein – find out which one in the post.
- Sunflower Butter vs Peanut Butter: Peanut butter is super popular, but there are so many other nut and seed butters on the market. Find out how sunflower butter stacks up.