Vegetarian Glossary of Terms

lentils in a bowl

A vegetarian diet can include foods that may be unfamiliar to you. Below is a glossary of terms that are a common part of a vegetarian diet.

Casein: A milk protein sometimes used in otherwise non-dairy products like soymilk, soy cheese and non-dairy creamer

Legumes: The vegetable family that includes beans, lentils, peas and peanuts, all of which are excellent sources of vegetable protein

Nutritional Yeast: A health supplement grown on molasses, sugar beets or wood pulp. A rich source of vitamin B12 and protein

Rennet: An enzyme from the stomach of slaughtered calves, used to coagulate cheese. Found in many, but not all dairy cheeses.

Seitan (also called wheat gluten): A vegetarian replacement for meat, made of protein (gluten) extracted from flour

Soybean: A legume, which is an excellent, inexpensive vegan source of protein and iron. Soybeans are used to make a number of vegetarian and vegan substitutions for meat, dairy and eggs.

Soy cheese: A cheese-like product made from soybeans. Soy cheeses come in most of the same varieties as dairy cheeses, such as parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar. However, some soy cheeses are not vegan as they contain the animal protein casein.

Soymilk: A milk-like product made from soybeans, with the same amount of protein and less fat than cow’s milk. However, some soymilks are not vegan as they contain the animal protein casein.

Tempeh: A replacement for meat, made from fermented soybeans

Textured Vegetable Protein: Derived from soy flour, TVP is commonly used in vegetarian restaurants as a substitute for ground beef

Tofu: A replacement for meat, eggs and cheese, made from curdled soymilk and pressed into blocks. Tofu can be eaten fresh or cooked in many different ways and is an excellent source of protein.

 Types and uses of tofu:

  • Extra-firm tofu: frying, roasting, grilling or marinating
  • Firm tofu: stir-frying, boiling or to use as filling
  • Soft tofu: pureeing
  • Silken tofu: pureeing, simmering, egg substitution, used in vegan desserts and smoothies

Information provided by Vegetarian Nutrition, a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

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