Time-tested vegan proteins

More and more these days I'm getting requests for vegan and vegetarian recipes. While I'm not a vegetarian as I've stated here before, I like to eat a daily menu that's light on meat, and am always interested in vegan and vegetarian protein options.

There are several what I'd call factory-manufactured vegan or vegetarian protein products out there, from TVP to quorn. I'm sure (or fairly sure) they are safe and wholesome to eat, but I'm more interested in traditional, or time-tested, vegan/vegetarian protein alternatives.

This is the list I've come up with so far. They are Japanese-centric, since that's what I'm most familiar with. Do you have any others to add?

  • Soy bean products:
    • Boiled soy beans
    • Green boiled soy beans (edamame)
    • Fermented soybeans (natto(J), tempeh(SEAsia))
    • Fermented black soy beans (mostly Chinese)
    • Fermented soy bean paste (miso and related products; Japanese, Chinese, Korean)
    • Tofu and tofu variations - fried, etc. See Looking at tofu.
    • Soy milk
    • Yuba (skimmed soy milk sheets)
    • Okara (soy bean bran left over from making soy milk or tofu (thx for the reminder toontz!)
    • Kinako (toasted and ground soy bean powder)
  • Chickpeas and chickpea products:
    • Hummus
    • Chickpea flour
    • Cooked whole chickpeas
  • Other beans and legumes (also often available ground)
    • Lentils/ Dal
    • Azuki beans (also called red beans)
    • White beans or navy beans
    • Black beans
    • Kidney beans
    • Lots of other beans
  • Whole grains
    • Brown rice and other whole-grain rices (black rice, red rice, etc.)
    • Whole wheat and products made from whole wheat flour (bread, pasta, couscous, etc)
    • Quinoa (particularly high in protein)
    • Millet
    • Whole oats
    • Buckwheat
    • Amaranth
  • Seeds and nuts and products made from them
    • Sesame seeds
    • Tahini
    • Flax seeds
    • Peanuts
    • Peanut butter
    • Almonds
    • Cashew nuts
    • Walnuts
    • Hazelnuts
    • All kinds of other nuts
  • Other whole foods
    • Chestnuts
    • Chestnut flour
    • Coconut
    • coconut milk
    • Avocado
    • Lotus root (not a major source of protein but contains some. Also has a substance that helps protein absorption.)
  • Traditional processed proteins (other than soy bean based ones)
    • Fu (toasted and dried wheat gluten, 25-30g of protein per 100g, see more)
    • Seitan (also wheat gluten)
    • Kanpyou (dried gourd strips, 7.1g protein per 100g)
  • Protein-rich sweets
    • An or anko (sweet azuki or white bean paste)
    • Annin dofu (almond jelly, made with agar-agar)
    • Many Indian sweets and Persian sweets are bean, chickpea based
    • Ice cream! (well it is lacto-ovo-vegetarian :))

And you also have the lacto-ovo proteins if you loosen up your rules to extend to milk and eggs:

  • Lacto-ovo/non-vegan proteins:
    • All kinds of eggs - chicken duck, quail, ostrich...
    • All kinds of milk - cow, goat, sheep, etc.
    • All kinds of cheeses - from cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, etc. milk
    • Other milk products: butter, yogurt/yoghurt, kefir, cream, buttermilk....

Not a good protein source

  • Mushrooms are not a protein source, even though they are often used in vegetarian dishes as a sort of meat substitute. They may taste meaty, especially the heartier ones like portobellos (which are just overgrown brown button mushrooms) but are basically just fiber and water with small quantities of Vitamin B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin), calcium, Vitamin C and iron. They are on the other hand tasty and very low in calories. You're getting a lot more protein from the bun part of a portobello burger than from the 'burger'.
Filed under:  japanese ingredients vegetarian vegan

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You forgot okara! Too bad, I can’t (lol). Ever since buying a soy milk machine, I have okara taking over my kitchen. I have been experimenting with cooking and baking with it, and have been having a lot of fun.

Oh, and dairy products have protein...not vegan, but vegetarian!

What a great list! Like you, I'm not vegetarian/vegan, but I do like leaning towards vegetarian and vegan options and I always give myself a pat on the back if I've gone through a meat-free day. I completely agree that there's so many processed products out there that it really makes it hard to say vegetarianism is good for you; this list is a great resource.

I'm not sure I could have come up with half that many things.

This is a great list. I've been trying to reduce meat consumption and focus more on beans and nuts.

Because this is a vegan/vegetarian list, what about eggs? Assuming someone is ovo-vegetarian.

How could I forget okara! Thanks for the reminder toontz (and what a great subject for a blog too! :))

Caitlin I've added lacto-ovo options for the sake of completeness now!

Kaitlin it's amazing how many options there are, once you start looking!

Vincci, me too (about the pat on the back)!

I know rice milk doesn't have much protein (unless it's added?) but I think almond milk does. It's good in dessert foods. :)

Is agar agar rich in protein? If so I will consume a lot more of it!

Good list! (though I would have quorn fairly high on my list as we eat it regularly - soaks up flavours really well and is easier to get hold of in the UK than things like fu and seitan)

You kind of covered it with whole wheat but I think bread deserves its own a mention, given that it is such a staple for a lot of people (2 slices of whole meal/granary provide about 8g of protein)

Just a suggestion: since peanuts are legumes, it might be better to put them with other beans.

(I have several friends with a peanut allergy, and most of them don't do well with beans either. It can make cooking challenging. Gets even more fun since all of them enjoy spicy food, particularly Thai and Mexican.)

TVP (texturized vegetable protein): A soy product, probably not used much in Japan, that's basically soy flour processed to vague approximate meant (especially hamburger, but it's also found in "chicken" form, too). There's also a relatively new product called Soy Curls, which is similar but uses the whole soy bean, not just flour.

Seitan: Wheat gluten, also "processed" to approximate all kinds of meat.

Sorry, it's been a long day.

I'll stop now, just chalk it up to not paying attention if there are other errors.

What about couscous? There's whole wheat couscous out on the market as well.

Couscous would be a wheat product, so I've added a note to the whole wheat line about products made from it.

Wouldn't mushrooms work? Portobellos are what they use to make Quorn, and I'm pretty sure some other types must have some protein.

Mushrooms are definitely not a good source of protein at all, and as the anon commenter has explained so well Quorn is a 'manufactured protein' (and not vegan), so I don't count it as a 'time tested, traditional' source of protein, which is what this list is about. (I'm not saying Quorn is not safe...I tend to be a bit skeptical about the hyperbole that often emanates from the CSPI, but has little history behind it.)

(I don't include TVP either, for the same reason that it is a fairly recent product. Seitan on the other hand is ok (or borderline at worst) since it does have a traditional precedent in fu.)

But back to mushrooms: FYI here's a nutritional breakdown of 100g (about 3.5 oz) of white button mushrooms:

Calories: 11kcal
Vitamin A: trace
Vitamin B1: 0.06mg (milligrams)
Vitamin B2: 0.29mg
Vitamin C: 1mg
Calcium: 3mg
Iron: 0.3mg
Fiber: 2.9g

I guess the rest is water. Shiitake and other darker mushrooms have a little more calories and a little more fiber and other elements.

I love mushrooms of all kinds, but I guess they to be considered to be a source of fiber and a flavor enhancer more than anything.

Um, Quorn is not made from portobello mushrooms. It's made from mold.
And it's not vegan - it has egg and milk derivatives.

And in fact there is some reason to believe it's not "wholesome," at least not for everyone. For example,
An excerpt:
"WASHINGTON--More than 550 Britons and Americans have reported suffering vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, or anaphylactic shock after eating Quorn, the meat substitute made with vatgrown fungus, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The foods, which are labeled as "mushroom in origin," or as belonging to the "mushroom family," are actually made with a mold called Fusarium venenatum--venenatum being a Latin word for "filled with venom." The adverse reaction reports were sent to CSPI via Quorn Complaints.com."

Now I wouldn't call the CSPI totally unbiased, but usually they seem to at least attempt to use proper scientific information. So even if they exaggerate (bringing up the Latin name is a bit of a scare tactic, isn't it?), there still might be something that needs looking at. And they rightly pointed out that some of the claims on the box were misleading, by implying that it is made of mushrooms. Wikipedia has more about Quorn and the controversy.

That said, it sounds like the problem, to whatever degree it exists, might be an allergy, so maybe if you eat it and like it then you don't need to worry. Personally, I bought some once, and then got it home and read the fine print on it and got kind of grossed out. I kept telling myself not to be so silly -- after all, I eat blue cheese and tempeh, both of which are basically moldy -- but I never could bring myself to eat it, and after two years in the freezer it was icky anyway so I threw it out. All that was before I ever read what CSPI said.

But it made me want to stick to somewhat more traditional veggie proteins. I do eat TVP and other highly processed veggie foods (and meat - I too am not a vegetarian), but I'm guessing straight-up edamame is healthier.

I have grown up trying to live healthy, but never liked mushrooms and really dislike tofu (a little bland and weird texture). I would prefer to use Japanese gluten products instead. When I moved to the US, I discovered gluten wasn't so healthy if eaten all the time, that's why I got excited when i read your list and started trying different protein options. I even tried tofu again, because it's said to be less processed than TVP and and soy textured protein.

My favorite has by far been this new brand called Helen's Kitchen, they are not found in the traditional refrigerated section, but in the freezer section - so ask a staff member to help you find them, because they are placed sometimes in the meat alternative section or the entree section.

I really like Helen's Kitchens GardenSteak Tofu Steaks, they don't taste bland, or wobble like jelly. The tofu is easy to cook up and add to my stir fries (even used it in a sandwich), plus tofu isn't like jelly. This protein source leaves me feeling satisfied without the bloated feeling I would get from gluten, plus I love the taste!

I recently was told to start eating a lower cholesterol diet - people suggested I try vegetarian food. Having eaten my share of beans (bean burritos, lentil stew with rice etc), and having had a bad experience with tofu and soy meats thus far, I was hesitant to keep trying more varieties. I read the list and noticed the previous blogger raved about this Helen's Kitchen Chicken Tofu.

I live in New York, so I was worried that I would not be able to find those Tofu Steaks talked about. Went to a Whole Foods and found Helen's Kitchen Vegetarian Chicken Tofu Steaks and sautéed them up in a pan with onions and peppers, then topped them with gravy. They actually tasted good, and I think I will try the stir fry idea. I also noticed Helen's Kitchen had meals with the tofu steaks and I think I will go and try them, because I have almost no time during the week to cook. Thanks A Woe for the suggestion. Thanks justhungry.com for the list, I was starting to feel like giving up on this vegetarian diet idea!

ANother protein option is hemp seeds.

I do not know if they are available in your area, but the are starting to become more available in the US.