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How to Use Vegetable Protein in Chinese Cooking

by Irving Beilin Chang

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Spring Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(1) page(s): 8, 9, and 10


Many years ago I was at a cookout in a mid-western university, I noticed a young lady near me who looked very pale and not very healthy. She only served herself some vegetables, salad, and bread. I offered her some meat but she declined and said that she was a vegetarian. This led to my query about what protein she normally ate. She advised that at home, her main source was cottage cheese.

To be a vegetarian in America is not easy and it is a big change in lifestyle from the normal American diet. Therefore to be successful, good planning is required so that one does not sacrifice health while pursuing a vegetarian diet.

Since Chinese food has become very popular here, as have Asian groceries, it is my objective to familiarize you with available Chinese vegetable proteins. I want to tell you how they are processed and where to find them. Furthermore, since the results of the Framingham study on diet and heart disease were made known, Americans have become very conscious of cholesterol levels in their blood. Therefore, any manner than maintains protein intake without unduly increasing cholesterol is worth considering. In the Chinese diet, vegetable protein has always played a prominent role. Let me share seven reasons including that:
1. As the population density increased, grazing land for animals became less available.

2. Vegetable protein was easier and more efficient than is animal protein when satisfying one’s dietary requirements.

3. Some religious and personal preferences are such that animals are not allowed to be slaughtered for human consumption.

4. There are health considerations for people with restricted diets.

5. As vegetable protein became popular and available, people developed a taste for it.

6. Many people advise that vegetable protein is easier to digest than is animal protein.

7. Vegetable protein often was easier to store and keep in times of surplus and available for use when the harvest was poor; this was especially true in days when refrigeration was unavailable.

How did the Chinese develop tasty, palatable and nutritious products from vegetable protein? They got it most often from three sources: beans, nuts, and wheat. Soy is the most important bean yielding at least fifteen different products. Mung beans are next with at least seven products that can be made from them. Next comes wheat flour which has a protein fraction called gluten from which many things can be made. More than nine products can be developed from peanuts and at least six others from sesame seeds. Other nuts and beans of lesser importance are also available; and all are high in plant proteins. The products from which all of these can be powders, semi-solids, pastes, milks, and sauces; all are well received worldwide. Although many products were originally developed as meat supplements, they nonetheless contributed taste, flavor, and texture when eating them. As combinations of these bean, nut, and seed products became successful, these vegetable protein derivatives became an essential part of many exotic dishes, bringing with the protein, essential minerals and fiber.

The use of vegetable protein in a dish or meal can reduce animal protein intake. For instance, if a recipe for Pepper Steak calls for eight ounces of steak, use half that amount with four ounces of pressed bean curd. Such a substitution maintains the nutritional value of the dish and reduces the cholesterol by half. This protein combination when cooked with black beans, peppers, onions, etc. makes a very sumptuous meal. Another example is to use tofu skin as a wrapper for fancy egg rolls. After frying, the egg rolls will be crispier and thinner than those usual flour dough wrappers; and they will absorb less oil.

Vegetarians and manufacturers of vegetarian substitute work hard to develop recipes where the vegetable protein simulates the texture, color, and flavor of animal protein. Mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy and tomato sauces, tofu, gluten, and MSG (in very low concentrations) can be used as flavor and texture enhancers. For instance, a Mock Chicken Drumstick can be formed by wrapping a strip of gluten around a spear of bamboo shoots, A Mock Roast Duck can be multi-layers of soy milk skins cooked in soy sauce where sauce gives color and flavor. The lack of animal protein led to these innovative methods to substitute with vegetable protein. Obviously, the simulation is not perfect but the use of these products can aid those seeking a healthy and nutritious diet.

Do consult the hardcopy of this issue of Flavor and Fortune to see the five charts published in it; they illustrate the derivatives of soy, mung bean, peanuts, sesame seeds, and wheat, respectively.

                                                                                                                                                       
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