Tempeh vs Tofu vs Seitan vs Nattō: What’s the Difference?
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  • Post published:19/05/2021
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This post comes as a slight departure from some of my other articles of comparison, such as race vs ethnicity, Persian vs Arab, Spanish vs Hispanic, and so on.

However, as a worldly traveler, or even just as an informed foodie, it’s a great idea to understand these meatless, protein-packed food items and their differences. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the differences between tempeh vs tofu vs seitan vs nattō:


soy tempeh kedelai
Taken by Wikimedia Commons user FotoosVanRobin. [CC BY-SA 2.0].

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originating in Java, Indonesia (where it’s spelled tempe). Tempeh production uses whole soybeans, which are then softened in water, dehulled, and then fermented for up to 48 hours. The fermentation process binds the softened soybeans together into a solid mass.

Tempeh nutrition facts can be found at the USDA site, but tempeh protein content is over 20 grams out of a 100 gram (3.5 oz) serving, making it an excellent source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Tempeh calories are about 193 for that same serving size. As a single food item, tempeh is very good for you.

Regular tempeh is sometimes called tempe kedelai. Other variations include the softer, fluffier tempe gembus, made from soy pulp or the dregs of tofu, and tempe semangit is a stinky tempeh made from over-ripening during fermentation.


Japanese silken soft tofu (Kinugoshi Tofu)
Japanese silken soft tofu (Kinugoshi Tofu). Taken by Wikimedia Commons user Drypot. [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Tofu is also a soy food prepared by getting soy milk to coagulate, sorting the resulting curds, and then pressing them into little bricks – kinda like cheese making. Originating in Han China, tofu is typically made by cleaning soybeans, soaking them in water to soften, grinding them down, filtering out, boiling down, coagulation into curds, and pressing into blocks.

Tofu is pretty high in protein, though not as much as tempeh. Tofu’s protein content also varies by its hardness, with up to 11% for firmer tofu and as low as 5% for softer tofu. Harder tofu also has a higher fat content. The calorie content of tofu is much lower than its tempeh counterpart, with around 70 calories for a 100 gram (3.5 oz) serving.

Tofu nutritional value gets even more enticing when you consider that same 100 gram (3.5 oz) serving is fairly low in carbs, at 1.5 grams, and is considerably rich in calcium (130 mg) and iron (1 mg).

Tempeh vs Tofu

There are several key differences between tofu and tempeh. Though they are both made from soy, most tofu is not fermented (though the name originates with that word), while tempeh is fermented.

Tempeh is usually much more nutritious than tofu, as you can see from their respective values above. On top of that, many health-conscious people love the fermented tempeh more than its more popular, unfermented counterpart.

Finally, taste. For me, growing up with an Indonesian mother, I used to hate tempeh, but that was as a young child. However, I do think that tofu wins here, as it just seems to be way more versatile than tempeh.


seitan wheat gluten
Slices of seitan wheat gluten. Taken by Wikimedia Commons user nclm. [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Seitan, or wheat gluten, is a substitute for meats and other foods made from gluten. Seitan is made by hydrating wheat flour until all starches are gone, leaving a clump of gluten behind. That wheat gluten is then used for foods or dried again into a powder for sale.

In this day where all the rage is being “gluten-free,” it’s easy to see why a name like seitan is much more attractive. Also, seitan is a great option for those people allergic to soy.


Nattō fermented soybeans
Taken by Wikimedia Commons user D. Monniaux. [CC BY-SA 2.0].

Nattō is a traditional Japanese soybean food where the soybeans have been fermented with Bacillus subtilis, also known as hay bacillus or grass bacillus. The soybean shape remains, but the resulting product is sticky and slimy, resembling baked beans, visually, though it also can be quite stringy.

Nattō can be hard to like for those who haven’t grown up with it, as it has a sharp, pungent smell like the strongest cheeses. It is quite nutritious in many vitamins and rich in protein.

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Hope you enjoyed this article and found it informative! If you want more of these, check out: Asian vs Oriental, Adjoining Rooms vs Adjacent Rooms, St Maarten vs St Martin, Consulate vs Embassy, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and UK vs Great Britain.

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