Tempura is a delightful light and crispy batter that can be used to coat everything from seafood to veg. While most people worry about what's inside the batter, is the tempura batter itself actually vegan?
Let's take a closer look at what makes tempura crunch and find out.
What Is Tempura?
Tempura is a dipping dish from Japan dating back hundreds of years. It is a light and fluffy batter that provides an excellent flavor and a satisfying crunch.
It is less dense than other batters and, while still quite oily, doesn't feel as typically heavy or bad
It's trendy in the West, and you'll find it as a staple menu item at Japanese and other restaurants alike.
Typically it is served as a coating around fish, but broccoli, asparagus, bamboo shoots, and many other vegs are equally popular.
Is It Vegan?
As a general rule, no, even vegetable tempura is not vegan. In the West, this is because the batter most likely contains eggs unless you're at a vegan restaurant.
In Japan, the batter is straightforward and only really calls for sparkling water and weak flour, but it's always best to check.
Restaurants aren't the only place you can find delicious vegetable tempura, though, and if you're making it at home, it's really easy to make tempura vegan.
There are hundreds of recipes online for plant-based tempura batter and even some ready-made kits for those of us with less time or patience.
Tempura as a dish is famously a coating for seafood, whether shrimp, fish, or squid.
Traditionally the vegetables are usually served alongside the seafood, not as the primary focus.
It will be simple to avoid ordering seafood tempura on most western menus but be aware of this if you do end up ordering it abroad.
Another thing to consider is whether you are okay with your vegetable tempura being fried near or in the same oil as seafood tempura. Ask your server if it's a concern.
The traditional recipe for deep-fried crispy tempura has a straightforward ingredients list. It focuses on high-quality ingredients and not too much filler.
Essentially it is just: wheat flour, rice flour, and sparkling water. This means the most authentic tempura recipes are also vegan recipes.
That said, in the West, eggs are far too often used, and you should always check to make sure with your waiter. While authentic vegetable tempura should be vegan default, you still always, unfortunately, have to check.
Always Check the Dipping Sauce
Even if you are sure you're ordering plant-based tempura, it's a good idea to check the ingredients for the dipping sauce.
While the batter might contain animal products such as eggs, the dip is prone to having seafood incorporated into it like dashi flakes.
Fish sauce is also a common ingredient in dipping sauces, which is why chef Freya Drake of Culinary Ambition advises checking the ingredients or asking the server first to make sure that the sauce is vegan.
If it turns out the dipping sauce isn't plant-based, though, don't worry because even a simple mix of soy sauce and chili flakes makes a brilliant easy vegan substitute.
Is Restaurant Tempura Vegan?
- Unfortunately, the cliche that a vegan will always let you know they're vegan is there for a reason. The first thing you should do is let your waiter know you're vegan so they can make recommendations and accommodations for you.
- With tempura, the first thing you'll want to check is the batter. Ask if they use eggs or just wheat flour and water.
- If the dish isn't explicitly labeled as vegetable tempura and comes with a variety, ask what comes with it to make sure you don't accidentally order seafood.
- Check that the dipping sauce is vegan, and if not, ask if there is a replacement.
Homemade Vegan Recipe
Making vegan tempura at home is pretty much the only way to make sure you're getting the best possible tempura. You get to use the perfect vegetables, your favorite oil, and you can even craft the ultimate vegan dip.
When cooking tempura at home, the biggest problem you'll likely face is deep enough deep fry and the proper utensils to fish your fried vegetables out.
One thing I like most about doing this at home, though, is using our oil. Even a little bit of sesame gives such a rich umami flavor to the traditional Japanese dish.
When choosing the right vegetables for our vegan tempura cooking, make sure they have a decent crunch as well as a chew. Broccoli and asparagus are perfect for those reasons, but any of your favorite veggies will add something special.
Store-Bought Vegan Tempura Batter
Yes, as mentioned above, traditionally, tempura batter should be plant-based. If you're looking for a Japanese mix to use for home cooking, be sure to keep an eye out that it is egg-free.
At home, I usually keep a stock of Kikkoman Extra Crispy Tempura Batter, which goes to prove that tempura doesn't need an egg to be delicious, light, and fluffy.
It's great for surprising guests with something that is surprisingly easy to mix and make while also giving the impression of something exotic and exciting.
If you don't have the time to be making your batter mix from scratch, there are lots of great Japanese-inspired tempura to cook at home. It's only really the West that loves adding eggs.
So, Is Tempura Vegan?
Yes, traditional tempura should be egg-free, and as long as you avoid the seafood on the inside, tempura is very vegan.
As we mentioned above, it's important to double-check with the restaurant when dining out to avoid any nasty surprises.
If you're making it for yourself, though, it's easy only to use vegan ingredients and a delicious treat to impress your friends with. My personal favorite is asparagus and broccoli tempura frying in light sesame oil.
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