Trying to navigate the complex world of veganism can be a minefield – particularly for those who are embracing it as a fully ethical lifestyle choice in terms of sustainability and carbon footprint matters – and particularly for newbies to the vegan world!
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that just because many foods do not contain meat or dairy compounds, they’re still not necessarily fully vegan in terms of ethics and sustainability. So, it really depends on your motives behind becoming a vegan.
But that’s a different article for a different day! Let’s get back on track and look into the original question: is tempura vegan?
Traditional Tempura is not vegan as the recipe includes eggs. However, there are ways around this! Get settled and allow us to introduce you to the vast and colorful world of Tempura!
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What is Tempura?
Tempura is the act of battering and deep-frying used on many typical Japanese foods, including seafood, meat, and vegetables. Despite its Japanese connections, traditional Tempura actually dates back to 16th century Portugal by way of fritter-cooking techniques.
Its name ‘Tempura’ is said to originate from one of two sources: the Spanish Témporas, which refer to the Ember Days, during which no meat is to be consumed, or from the Portuguese word tempêro, which means “seasoning”.
Despite this, it is now widely associated within Japanese cuisine and is a popular appetizer across the world.
Methods of Cooking Tempura
Prepare the Batter
Traditional Tempura batter consists of the following:
- Iced sparkling water
- Wheat/all-purpose flour
- Baking soda/powder (if required)
The batter is traditionally mixed using chopsticks instead of a whisk to allow for a thick and lumpy-ish texture, creating the ‘fluffiness’ Tempura is famous for. The batter is then kept on ice.
Thinly sliced strips of the food of choice are then dipped and coated in the batter before briefly being deep-fried in hot oil, which traditionally would be sesame oil (those with allergies are recommended to use any other type of cooking oil; ideally one without flavor.).
The food does not need to be deep-friend for too long. Just long enough apply heat to the food and to cook the batter to the desired crispy texture. Tempura is traditionally served warm.
Tempura sauce is the dipping condiment known as Tentsuyu, which is a popular Japanese accompaniment of many Tempura dishes. The traditional recipe for Tentsuyu varies, but generally consists of dashi, mirin, and one part soy sauce.
Traditional Tentsuya isn’t vegan, as it contains Dashi, which is a fish-based stock.
Can Tempura be Vegan?
Yes. In fact vegan Tempura is both popular and very tasty!
Tempura vegetables are a fan-favorite of many vegans, as the tempura recipe needn’t be tweaked too dramatically to achieve a tasty batter. Naturally, eggs are removed, and turmeric is used instead to provide the yolky, yellowish color.
All other products involved in Tempura batter are vegan.
However, it is important to be mindful of ordering vegetable tempura in Japanese restaurants, as they may not use vegan-friendly batter, even if you are ordering vegetable Tempura, as it is very likely the batter will contain eggs.
To be certain your tempura is cruelty-free, order it only when visiting vegan restaurants – or make it at home. The batter, however, is very quick and easy to make, and most restaurant kitchens shouldn’t take issue with a request for vegan-friendly Tempura batter.
Avoiding Non-Vegan Tempura
Always double-check with the restaurant (even Western-themed ones) that both the Tempura and the dipping sauce are fully vegan.
It is worth bearing in mind the possibility that some restaurants may use the same Tempura batter for meat, seafood, and vegetables, therefore cross-contaminating the batter with animal products, so it is worth making sure your server is fully aware that you’re vegan and the kitchen will need to cater to that by having a separate batter for your veggies.
Making your Tempura at home is likely to be the safest bet as you’re fully in control of both the recipe and the methods of cooking. Many food stores offer ready-made sachets of Tempura batter.
However, you can also make your own. It’s quick, easy, and cost effective! A standard vegan Tempura batter recipe looks like:
- 350g wheat flour
- 300ml chilled sparkling
- A pinch of salt
- 3g turmeric (for colour)
- Flavorless oil (such as sunflower oil) for your frying method
- Your veggies of choice
Cut your veggies into even-sized strips so that they cook evenly. Make sure your oil is heated to roughly 180c / 350f.
Mix your batter and coat your veggies in it. Carefully dip them into your heated oil, turning them once to ensure a crispy, golden coating on both sides of your vegetable.
Other Types of Tempura
Nasu is eggplant tempura, as “nasu” is the Japanese word for “eggplant”, and is a popular choice for vegans.
“Ebi” is the Japanese word for “shrimp”. Shrimp tempura is often used as a topping for soba or udon noodles in Japanese cuisine, and therefore is certainly not vegan.
“Kabocha” refers to the variety of winter squash vegetables (common in Japanese cuisine) that can be Westernized with seasonal veggies, such as pumpkin and butternut squash.
One of the most popular Tempura culprits is the Shiitake mushroom and is naturally a popular choice for vegans.
A big part of Japanese cuisine is fish, and “Ayu” is the Japanese word for “sweetfish” – and is a common fish tempura in Japan. This type of tempura often substitutes with any type of white dish, including cod, haddock, pollock, rock salmon, sea bass, and sea perch. Obviously, this type of tempura is not suitable for vegans.
Maitake is also a type of mushroom with a very strong taste, much like the Shiitake, and therefore can be a nice vegan tempura option.
Fugu is a type of fish known in Japanese cuisine called “poison fish”, and is a more ‘upmarket’ tempura option, as it is high in price.
A popular choice for Western vegans, as this garden veg is easily accessible and is a flavorsome option.
“Ninjin” is the Japanese word for carrot, which is a universal, inexpensive vegetable, therefore a great option for vegans.
Green beans are also great for Westernized vegans to make at home. They’re inexpensive and full of nutrients and flavour, ergo are another good one to include to your vegan Tempura appetizer board!
Takenoko are shoots of bamboo that grow underground, which are often used in Japanese tempura dishes. Freshly dug bamboo shoots have a sweet taste,, therefore they make a great vegan substitute.
Satsuma Imo is the Japanese term for Sweet Potato – a root vegetable that is cheap and easily sourced everywhere in the world, and therefore is vegan-friendly.
Renkon is thinly-sliced lotus root. Lotus root is the edible stem of the lotus plant, a type of plant that is also popular in Japanese cuisine.
IKA is squid, therefore not an option for vegans!
Kani is crab tempura. Same as above!
Hotate is scallop tempura. Scallops are seafood, therefore another one to avoid!
Piman means green bell pepper, therefore a flavorful vegan option and delicious cruelty-free tempura option.
Anago is salt-water eels tempura. To be avoided by vegans, obviously!
Like many popular dishes, there are vegan and cruelty-free ways around recreating them!
Vegan Tempura is a delicious way to enjoy your veggies, and is another fine example of how foods do not need to include animal compounds to be tasty and nutritious. It is also super easy to make and is a great option for tapas or appetizers when you’re entertaining at home!