Learn about vegetarian soy products, including what they are and how to cook them.

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Soy Products and the Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarians are often asked “where do you get your protein?” Though protein isn’t one of the key nutrition concerns for vegetarians, many do feel more satisfied when they include high-quality proteins, such as those found in soy products, in their diets.

Three of the most popular soy products are tofu, tempeh, and edamame. Here’s some info these, as well as suggestions on how to prepare them.


Tofu is soybean curd. To make it, ripe soybeans are skinned, then pureed into soy milk. The soy milk is then poured into rectangular-shaped forms, and the soy milk is then left to congeal and harden. (Herbst, 1995). At the end of the process, the excess water is drained off and the remaining curds are pressed into spongy cakes. (Brody, 2010). Tofu comes in standard and silken varieties (this article deals with standard tofu). It can be stored in the refrigerator in a bowl filled with water (which should be changed daily) or frozen for up to 6 months.

Tofu is one of the most versatile of vegetarian soy products, because it has little taste of its own. To cook it, many people prefer to press it between layers of paper towel to remove any excess water, allow it to soak in a strongly-flavored marinade for about half an hour, then stir-fry or sear it. Freezing will dramatically alter the texture of standard tofu, making it much chewier and “meat-like.”

Sample Recipe

TV Chef Alton Brown has a great recipe for Fillet O’Fu, a tangy, pan-fried main dish. You can access it at https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/fillet-ofu-recipe/index.html


Tempeh is fermented soybeans shaped into a block. To make tempeh, ripe soybeans are skinned, boiled to partially cook them, and ground into small bits. Then the beans are inoculated with a special culture (a safe mold) which is allowed to grow under tightly-controlled conditions. When the process is complete, fine white fibers have grown between the beans. (Cervoni, 2001). These hold the tempeh block together. Tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 6 months.

Tempeh is popular because it has a mild flavor and a satisfying texture. Like tofu, it is often marinated. However, unlike tofu, it is not naturally spongy, and therefore requires more time to absorb flavor. One of the popular preparations is “tempeh bacon”, in which the tempeh is soaked in a marinaded overnight, then seared, with small amounts of the marinade added back to the tempeh during cooking, which create a rich, flavorful glaze.

Sample Recipe

Vegetarian Times Magazine published a great recipe for Tempeh Bacon, which can be accessed at https://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipes/10560


Edamame beans are immature soy beans. The beans are picked before they fully ripen, and the green skin is left on. They are then either flash frozen, or packaged for sale as a fresh vegetable (Kimura, 2010). Because they are less processed than other soy products, edamame beans retain almost all of the natural nutrition of the soy plant.

Unlike most other soy products, edamame beans require little or no cooking. They can be eaten raw, straight out of the package, but they can also be cooked like most other fresh vegetables. A quick dip in boiling water, or a quick steam, will tenderize them without washing away nutrients.

Sample Recipe

Nutritionist Ellie Krieger has a recipe for Edamame Hummus which can be accessed at https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/edamame-hummus-recipe/index.html


Brody, E. (2010). How is Tofu Made? Food and Nutrition. Retrieved 12 May, 2010 from https://www.enotes.com/science-fact-finder/food-nutrition/how-tofu-made.

Cervoni, P. (April 2001). Tempting Tempeh. Vegetarian Times Magazine. Retrieved 17 May, 2010 from https://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0820/is_2001_April/ai_73621898/

Herbst, S. (1995). Tofu. Barron’s Educational Services, Inc. Retrived 17 May 2010 from https://www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary

Kimura and Associates Staff. (2010). What’s Edamame? Edamame.com. Retrieved 17 May 2010 from https://www.edamame.com/