As a Portuguese, I didn’t know this, but it turns out that tempura is a classic Portuguese dish, but it was actually the Japanese that made it popular after Portuguese missionaries introduced it to Japan.
Unfortunately, tempura is not suitable for vegans as the batter is typically made with eggs, hence why it has a yellow tonality. However, you can easily make tempura at home using only plant-based ingredients, and some restaurants actually offer vegan tempura.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about tempura.
What Is Tempura? How Is It Made?
Tempura is a classic Japanese dish consisting of vegetables or seafood wrapped in a very thin batter that is fried for a couple of minutes in hot oil to a crispy consistency.
The most common and most served in restaurants is shrimp-based.
The batter, for those who don’t know, is a culinary preparation used in frying certain foods. It is a dough of soft consistency, with which food is wrapped before frying. Its main ingredients are wheat flour, egg, and/or water. Its thickness can vary based on the ingredients used.
It is said that it was Portuguese missionaries during the 16th century, more specifically in the city of Nagasaki, who introduced this recipe to Japan. This was because the Jesuits did not eat red meat during Lent, and therefore vegetable tempura was an alternative in their diet.
Is Tempura Vegan?
Unfortunately, tempura is often not suitable for vegans.
While it’s true that you can make tempura with vegetables – which involves mixing the vegetables with the tempura batter and frying them – the end product might not be vegan.
The tempura batter, or at least the variety that you encounter in restaurants, contains egg, a non-vegan product. However, it’s certainly possible to make tempura batter without eggs, as long as you know which replacements you should be using to achieve a similar consistency.
Some supermarket varieties do not contain eggs and instead will have corn starch and a leavening agent such as sodium bicarbonate. Such is the case with the Kikkoman Mix Tempura Batter, which is purely a mixture of wheat flour, corn starch, and leaving agents such as sodium acid pyrophosphate and sodium bicarbonate.
Therefore, it’s safe to assume that to eat vegan tempura, the safest option it to make it at home, as restaurants often add eggs or other animal ingredients to the mix.
Common Varieties of Tempura
There are several varieties of tempura, some of which are clearly not vegan, but others can be, or you can certainly make them vegan by using your very own vegan tempura batter.
Here are some of the most common varieties of tempura:
Nasu is basically eggplant tempura, with “nasu” being the Japanese word for eggplant.
“Ebi” is the Japanese word for shrimp. Shrimp tempura is often used as a topping for soba or udon noodles in Japanese cuisine, and it’s certainly not vegan.
“Kabocha” refers to the variety of winter squash, which is a type of vegetable (common in Japanese cuisine) that you can also use to create a tempura recipe.
Shiitake refers to shiitake mushrooms, which are perhaps the most common in Japan, and they can also be deep-fried with tempura.
Ayu which stands for sweetfish – and is a common fish tempura. This type of tempura calls for any type of white dish, including cod, haddock, pollock, rock salmon, sea bass, and sea perch.
Needless to say, this type of tempura is not suitable for vegans.
Maitake is a type of mushroom with a very strong taste, and it’s also a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine which you can use to make tempura.
Fugu is another fish tempura, but it’s a particular type of fish called poison fish. It’s very expensive, but it’s usually seen in Japanese cuisine.
Okra is a green vegetable with a somewhat slimy texture, but it’s actually a good vegetable to include in your tempura, as both the texture and flavor blend quite nicely.
Ninjin is the Japanese word for carrot, which is a universally known vegetable that also makes for a good and inexpensive tempura dish.
Green beans are also useful to make a tempura dish, and although they’re not something you will commonly find in Japanese cuisine, they still appear from time to time.
Takenoko are ivory-colored crisp and tender shoots of bamboo that grow underground which can also be used in a tempura dish. Freshly dug bamboo shoots have a sweet taste, so they can also be eaten raw.
Satsuma Imo refers to the Japanese sweet potato, a variety of potato that is common in Japan but that is now grown in the U.S as well as other regions of the world. This potato can also be used to make tempura.
Renkon is thin-sliced lotus root tempura. Lotus root is the edible stem of the lotus plant, a type of plant that is also common in Japanese cuisine.
Ika is basically squid tempura, which is certainly not suitable for vegans.
Kani refers to crab tempura, also not suitable for vegans.
Hotate is scallop tempura. Scallop, for those who don’t know, is a marine bivalve mollusk. While some might claim that bivalves feel no pain or are not sentient, most vegans will disagree.
Piman is quite common, and it’s basically a bell pepper tempura. Typically, only the green variety is used.
Anago refers to saltwater eels, which are basically ray-finned fish. This type of tempura is clearly not vegan.
Making Vegan Tempura At Home
Traditional Japanese-style tempura is actually quite easy to make at home, and you will only require a small number of ingredients.
If you wish to make vegan-friendly tempura, these are the only ingredients you will need:
- 1 cup of flour (120g)
- 2 tbsp of cornstarch
- 1 tbsp of baking powder
- 1/2 tbsp of salt
- 1 cup of sparkling water (250ml)
- 2 cups of oil (500ml)
- And a variety of vegetables, including carrots, bell peppers, eggplants, broccoli, zucchini, and whatever else you may want to deep-fry.
Prepare your vegetables by slicing/cutting them into pieces that are roughly the same size. Add oil to a large pot and heat it until it reaches a temperature of about 180ºC/350ºF. If you wish to cook potatoes that take a while to cook, you should turn down the temperature slightly so that you don’t overcook the batter.
While the oil is heating, mix the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and stir until it’s well combined. Add the sparkling water gently, and whisk it until it’s well combined. Dip the vegetables into the batter, one at a time, to lightly coat them. Remove any excess batter.
Using a slotted spoon, add the vegetables to the oil and deep fry for a few minutes. Turn the vegetables at least once during the frying process, so that they get cooked more evenly. Remove the vegetables once the batter involving them turns into a pale golden color, and drain the excess oil from the batter before eating.
Unfortunately, traditional tempura is not vegan as the batter is usually made with eggs. Additionally, a lot of the tempura dishes are made with fish or seafood, including shrimp, scallops, squid, etc.
However, it’s possible to find vegan-friendly tempura mixes in the supermarket, which you can use to create vegetable tempura at home.
With that being said, if you head to a restaurant to have some tempura, they likely include eggs in their tempura recipe.
Is Tempura Gluten-Free?
Tempura is typically not gluten-free because the batter is made with wheat flour, which is typically the type of flour they use in restaurants.
However, you can make gluten-free tempura at home by choosing a different form of flour such as rice flour.
Is Tempura Spicy?
No, tempura is not spicy food, however, some people might choose to dip the tempura in a spicy sauce
Does Tempura Have Dairy?
No, traditional tempura does not contain dairy ingredients, however, it’s quite possible that a few rare tempura recipes might use dairy, particularly in restaurants.