Vegetarian Substitutes for Chorizo

by Lana Billings-Smith

Two blocks of tofu are sitting on top of a skillet.

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Chorizo, a type of spicy sausage, comes in two forms: loose and crumbly or harder and chewier, more commonly called Mexican or Spanish chorizo. Both sausage types are characterized by their dark red color, garlicky flavor and slight spice. You can make faux “chorizo” with a number of soy or gluten products to stand in for the pork, although the type of sausage you make will affect your choice of meat substitute.

Tofu Chorizo

You can easily make tofu chorizo -- similar in texture to Mexican chorizo -- at home. Crumble firm or extra firm tofu into small pieces and then cook it until it becomes dried, browned and crispy. Season it with garlic and chili powders or fresh garlic, onion and chili if you like, as well as a bit of salt or soy as needed. A 50-gram serving of extra firm tofu makes for roughly 3 ounces of tofu chorizo and has 46 calories, with less than 3 grams of fat and and almost 5 grams of protein.

Textured Vegetable Protein

Textured vegetable protein, TVP, can make either Mexican or Spanish chorizo. TVP is made from soy flour that is deep-fried and then dehydrated to create soy protein that is similar in texture to meat. TVP comes in a range of sizes, from smaller pieces that are closer in texture to Mexican chorizo, or larger, flatter pieces that are closer to Spanish chorizo. You can also stuff the small pieces of TVP into a vegetarian casing to make whole “sausages.” You can add fresh or dried chorizo seasoning directly to the TVP as it rehydrates, adding only a little bit of liquid. Once it's softened, you can bake or fry the seasoned protein to create a chorizo-like texture. One-half cup of dried TVP makes roughly 3 ounces of TVP chorizo and has 160 calories, no fat and 24 grams of protein, making it a higher protein and lower fat choice than tofu.

Homemade Seitan Chorizo

Seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, the protein naturally found in wheat flour, but extracted so it is almost pure protein. To make seitan Spanish chorizo from scratch, mix 35 grams of vital wheat gluten with 1/2 cup of water, along with dried chili powder, garlic powder and, if you like, dried onion and oregano. Thoroughly mix the gluten until it is firm and elastic, and then shape it into a thin log. Place the chorizo in seasoned water and gently simmer for 30 to 60 minutes until the sausage is rubbery. A 35-gram serving of wheat gluten makes 3-ounces of seitan. A 3-ounce serving of seitan has 135 calories per serving, around 0.65 gram of fat and a little over 26 grams of protein, making it the most protein-rich of all three meat substitutes.

Commercial Seitan Chorizo

You can also purchase premade meatless seitan chorizo. Commercial seitan requires less preparation time than any of the other choices, but it is more expensive. A 3-ounce serving of commercial seitan has 150 calories per serving, 2.25 grams of fat and 22.5 grams of protein. It also often has a lot more sodium, which acts as a preservative as well as a flavoring agent. A 3-ounce serving of commercial seitan chorizo has almost 400 milligrams of sodium. Limiting your sodium consumption to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day -- or 1,500 milligrams if you have heart disease, are over 50 or are African American -- can reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

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About the Author

Lana Billings-Smith has been writing professionally since 1997. She has been published in the "Montreal Gazette" and the "National Post." She also teaches and lectures at McGill University. A certified personal trainer, she holds a Bachelor of Arts with a specialization in leisure sciences and a minor in therapeutic recreation.