What is Tempeh: Everything You Need to Know

What is Tempeh: Everythings you need to know
17 min reading time

Are you someone who loves to cook and experiment with different ingredients? If so, then you’ve likely heard of the mysterious food called tempeh. Tempeh is a high-protein food that has become increasingly popular among vegans, vegetarians, and people looking for a healthy source of plant protein. But what exactly is tempeh? Where does it come from? What are its health benefits?

In this blog post, we explore what is tempeh, where it comes from, how it’s made, how to eat it, and more – all in one comprehensive read. So let’s dive right into the details of what makes this amazing food item so unique!

What is Tempeh? How is it Made?

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian fermented soybean product made from cooked and slightly-mashed soybeans that are formed into patties or cakes and then left to ferment for one to two days. The resulting product has an earthy, nutty flavor. It is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats.

Tempeh is traditionally made by soaking dry soybeans overnight before boiling them until soft enough to mash with a mortar and pestle or food processor. Then the mashed beans are combined with a starter culture called Rhizopus oligosporus (white mold) which helps the fermentation process. As the tempeh ferments over time, it binds together into cake form due to proteins such as mycoprotein produced by R. oligosporus which form strong networks between individual bean particles making it possible for tempeh to be sliced without crumbling apart like uncooked beans do. The dough-like consistency of the mixture allows it to be formed into any shape desired before steaming it at 85-100°C (185-212°F) for 30 minutes until completely set after fermentation completes within 24 hours at room temperature although longer fermentations can enhance its flavor characteristics further if desired but require more precise temperature control during the incubation period of up 2 days usually ranging 18 – 28 °C (64 – 82 F).

Tempeh has gained popularity in recent years as many people seek out plant-based dietary alternatives which provide vegan sources of protein without relying on animal products. It can be prepared in many different ways including slicing it thin and frying in oil, marinating slices or cubes in sauces, grilling, etc.

How is the Taste & Texture of Tempeh?

Tempeh boasts a distinct flavor profile that sets it apart from other soy products. Its taste is often characterized as nutty, earthy, and slightly savory, with a subtle hint of umami. The fermentation process lends tempeh a mild tanginess, while the presence of white mycelium growth during fermentation can impart a mushroom-like flavor to some palates.

The texture of tempeh is firm and somewhat chewy, making it an excellent meat substitute in a variety of dishes. One of the key features of tempeh is its ability to absorb flavors from marinades, sauces, and spices, which enhances its versatility in cooking. This allows tempeh to be successfully incorporated into a wide range of recipes, adapting to different cuisines and flavor profiles with ease.

Raw Tempeh or Tempe sliced and cut in cubes

Nutritional Information of Tempeh

Tempeh is prized for its high protein content, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. Tempeh is a popular plant-based protein source for vegetarians and vegans due to its rich nutritional profile.

A 100-gram serving of tempeh typically contains the following nutrients:

NutrientAmount per 100g
Calories193 kcal
Protein20.3 g
Total Fat10.8 g
Saturated Fat2.2 g
Monounsaturated Fat3.0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat4.7 g
Carbohydrates9.4 g
Fiber4.5 g
Sugars0.6 g
Sodium9 mg
Potassium412 mg
Calcium111 mg
Iron2.7 mg
Magnesium81 mg
Phosphorus253 mg
Zinc1.8 mg
Vitamin B10.07 mg
Vitamin B20.4 mg
Vitamin B32.2 mg
Vitamin B60.22 mg
Folate24 µg
Vitamin K48 µg
Nutritional Information of Tempeh

Fresh Tempeh vs. Pasteurized Tempeh

Fresh tempeh and pasteurized tempeh each have their own set of characteristics that may influence your choice depending on your preferences and needs. Fresh tempeh is typically found in local markets or health food stores and is made from freshly fermented soybeans. It has a more vibrant flavor, with its earthy, nutty, and slightly tangy taste being more pronounced. Fresh tempeh also has a higher concentration of live probiotics due to the active fermentation process, which can be beneficial for gut health. However, fresh tempeh has a shorter shelf life and must be consumed within a few days of purchase or kept frozen to maintain its quality.

Pasteurized tempeh, on the other hand, undergoes a heat treatment process to kill any potentially harmful bacteria and extend its shelf life. This process makes pasteurized tempeh more widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores, as it can be stored for longer periods without spoiling. While pasteurization may slightly reduce the intensity of tempeh’s flavor and the number of live probiotics, it still retains most of its nutritional content and offers similar health benefits. Pasteurized tempeh can be a more convenient option for those who don’t have easy access to fresh tempeh or prefer a product with a longer shelf life.

Tempeh vs. Tofu

Tempeh and tofu are both soy-based products, but they have key differences in terms of production, texture, taste, and nutritional content. Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans, which are then pressed into a dense, compact cake. The fermentation process gives tempeh a distinct, slightly nutty flavor and a firm, chewy texture. On the other hand, tofu is produced by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds into a soft, smooth block. Tofu has a mild, neutral taste and a delicate texture that ranges from silken to extra-firm, depending on the level of water content.

Nutritionally, tempeh has a higher protein content compared to tofu, as well as more fiber due to the presence of whole soybeans in its composition. Tempeh also contains probiotics, which result from the fermentation process and can promote gut health. While tofu is lower in calories and fat, it’s an excellent source of calcium and can be a versatile ingredient in various dishes due to its ability to absorb flavors from seasonings and sauces. Both tempeh and tofu are valuable plant-based protein sources and can be used in a range of recipes, offering different textures and culinary experiences.

How to Make Tempeh at Home? (Step-by-Step Instructions)

Making tempeh at home is a surprisingly simple process and with just a few steps you can make your own homemade tempeh in no time!

To begin, gather the following ingredients: 250g of raw soybeans (or whatever type of beans you want to use), 1/4 teaspoon of vinegar, and 2-3 tablespoons of natural tempeh starter culture. You will also need access to a steamer & some cheesecloth or muslin fabric for wrapping the beans.

  • Step 1: Soak the Beans – Start by soaking 250g soybeans (or another bean) overnight in plenty of cold water. The next morning, drain and rinse with fresh water.
  • Step 2: Cook the Beans – Now that you’ve finished soaking your beans, it’s time to cook them! Put them into a pot covered by two inches of boiling water and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes or until soft enough to mash easily between two spoons. Be sure not to overcook them as this will negatively affect their texture later on when making Tempeh. Once done cooking, strain any excess liquid from the cooked beans, then set aside until they cool off completely before continuing onto the next step.
  • Step 3: Preparing the Tempeh Starter Culture – Before adding your starter culture mix together 4 parts warm filtered water with one part unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in a non-metallic bowl or jar. This acidic mixture will act as an inhibitor against any unwanted organisms developing during fermentation while maintaining beneficial bacteria which actively stimulate beneficial microbial activities within tempeh production! Pour ¼ teaspoon of this mixture over top of your cooled cooked bean mix & stir gently until all are evenly coated before proceeding to step 4 below;
  • Step 4: Adding Tempeh Starter Culture – Add 1-2 tablespoons (depending upon how much tempeh you’re preparing) of readymade Indonesian style starter culture directly into acidic prepped bean mix stirring gently to ensure each grain is equally coated before moving onto the next step.
  • Step 5: Wrapping & Fermentation Process – Wrap prepped bean mix into cheesecloth /muslin fabric ensuring each grain is fully encased within fabric whilst allowing air circulation around the edges too Next place the wrapped template either inside an incubator box filled with warm medium temperature between 25C–30C OR If using standard open-air atmosphere conditions simply cover container loosely foil paper wrap allow sit room temperature 24 hours fermenting protected drafty location away direct sunlight. After 24 hours fermentation process has been completed remove the tempeh and cook it as per your choice.

What are the Health Benefits of Tempeh?

raw tempeh placed on a wooden platter

Here are 6 remarkable health benefits that you might not know about tempeh:

1) Rich in nutrients: Tempeh is an excellent source of plant-based protein, plus fiber, vitamins B2 and B3, manganese, and other minerals. One 3 to 4-ounce serving of tempeh provides around 15 grams of high-quality protein that helps to curb appetite and enhance satiety.

2) Improves digestion: The fermentation process used in creating tempeh allows natural probiotic bacteria to form among the cooked beans. This means that tempeh can help with digestion as well as improve gut balance by restoring beneficial flora in the digestive tract.

3) Low glycemic index: Unlike many other protein sources like white rice or potatoes which have a high glycemic index (GI), tempeh has been found to have a lower GI ranking of around 30 compared with 65 for potatoes and white rice at 80–90! This lower GI rank can help manage blood sugar levels making it ideal for those suffering from diabetes or pre-diabetes conditions.

4) Great antioxidant source: Tempeh contains higher concentrations of antioxidants than other non-fermented soy products such as tofu due to its production process involving using live cultures during fermentation allowing these compounds to form naturally without being added synthetically later on; this makes it more desirable from a health perspective since antioxidants play an important role in protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals linked with premature aging processes like atherosclerosis (heart disease).

5) Reduces cholesterol levels: Studies suggest that eating two portions per day of cultured whole foods like tempeh may reduce LDL cholesterol levels while increasing HDL cholesterol which could potentially lead to improved cardiovascular system function overall! Moreover, its low saturated fat content further supports heart health by preventing arteries from clogging up with fatty deposits leading to hypertension issues too.

6) Anti-inflammatory properties: Poor inflammatory response has been associated with certain diseases such as asthma or type 2 diabetes so finding ways to reduce inflammation is key when implementing preventative measures against their onset; luckily enough studies suggest that eating fermented foods like tahini are known for their anti-inflammatory abilities thanks largely due to these aforementioned probiotics involved during processing time – another great benefit!

How to Buy Tempeh?

When buying tempeh, look for vacuum-sealed packages in the refrigerated section of health food stores, supermarkets, or Asian grocery stores. The tempeh should have a firm texture with even white mycelium growth, indicating proper fermentation. Check the expiration date to ensure freshness and consider choosing organic tempeh to avoid synthetic chemicals and GMOs. Flavored or marinated tempeh options are available for convenience, but be mindful of additives and preservatives in the ingredients list.

How to Cook Tempeh in Different Ways?

Tempeh, a protein-rich soy product, can be cooked in various ways to suit different dishes and preferences. Here are some popular methods for preparing tempeh:

  • Pan-frying: Cut tempeh into thin slices or cubes, then heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook the tempeh until golden brown and crispy on both sides. This method is ideal for adding tempeh to salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries.
  • Baking: Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Slice or cube tempeh, then toss with a marinade or seasoning of your choice. Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown and slightly crispy.
  • Grilling: Marinate tempeh slices for at least 30 minutes to absorb flavors. Preheat the grill to medium heat and lightly oil the grates. Grill the tempeh for 3-4 minutes per side, basting with extra marinade if desired, until grill marks appear and the tempeh is heated through.
  • Steaming: Place tempeh slices or cubes in a steamer basket over boiling water. Steam for 10-15 minutes to soften the texture and remove any bitterness. Steamed tempeh can be used in various dishes or marinated and cooked further using another method, like pan-frying or baking.
  • Stir-frying: Cube tempeh and stir-fry it with your choice of vegetables, aromatics, and sauces. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, then cook the tempeh until browned before adding other ingredients. Stir-frying allows the tempeh to absorb flavors from the sauce and develop a pleasant texture.

Experiment with these cooking methods and a variety of seasonings, marinades, and sauces to create delicious and versatile tempeh dishes.

How to Store Cooked Tempeh?

To store cooked tempeh, allow it to cool down to room temperature first. Then, place the tempeh in an airtight container or wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent air exposure. Store the cooked tempeh in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days. For longer storage, you can freeze the cooked tempeh in a freezer-safe container or resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months. Remember to label and date the container before freezing.

How to Store Uncooked Tempeh?

To store uncooked tempeh, keep it in its original vacuum-sealed packaging and place it in the refrigerator. Ensure the temperature is below 40°F (4°C) to maintain its freshness. Consume the tempeh before the expiration date printed on the package. If you need to store it for a longer period, transfer the unopened tempeh to a freezer-safe container or resealable plastic bag and freeze it for up to 6 months. Mark the container with a label and date to quickly identify its contents and keep track of freshness.

Can I Eat Raw Tempeh?

Although tempeh is a fermented product and can technically be consumed raw, it is generally not recommended to eat it without cooking. The main reason for this is that raw tempeh can have a bitter taste and an unappealing texture when compared to cooked tempeh. Cooking tempeh not only improves its flavor and texture but also enhances its digestibility, making it more enjoyable and easier on the stomach. Moreover, cooking tempeh helps eliminate any potentially harmful bacteria or pathogens that may be present, ensuring that it is safe to consume.

Can Eating Tempeh Alone Meet the Daily Protein Requirements Without the Consumption of Animal Protein?

While plant-based proteins like tempeh have historically been considered inferior to animal proteins due to their lower digestibility, recent research indicates that well-prepared plant proteins can be just as digestible and nutritionally valuable as animal proteins. By incorporating tempeh into a balanced diet that includes a variety of other protein-rich plant foods, individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets can easily meet their protein requirements without consuming animal products. Additionally, tempeh offers other health benefits, such as being high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, making it a nutritious and versatile protein option for people of various dietary preferences.

Are There Any Health Risks of Consuming Tempeh?

There are a few potential health concerns associated with tempeh consumption that should be noted.

Firstly, tempeh is made from soybeans, which are a common allergen. People with a soy allergy should avoid consuming tempeh to prevent allergic reactions. Secondly, tempeh contains compounds called isoflavones, which may have estrogenic effects on the body. While some studies suggest that these compounds can provide health benefits, such as supporting heart health and bone density, others raise concerns about their potential impact on hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer. However, the overall evidence is still inconclusive, and moderate consumption of tempeh is unlikely to pose significant risks for most individuals. Lastly, improper production or storage of tempeh can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria or mold, posing a risk of foodborne illness.

Some Interesting Recipes with Tempeh

Bowl with homemade Indonesian sambal tempeh goreng close up

Here are some unique tempeh recipes that you can try to add diversity and excitement to your meal plan.

  • Tempeh Tacos: Marinate thinly sliced tempeh in a mixture of lime juice, soy sauce, chili powder, cumin, and garlic for 30 minutes. Pan-fry the marinated tempeh until golden brown and crispy. Serve the cooked tempeh in corn tortillas with your favorite taco toppings, such as avocado, salsa, shredded cabbage, and lime wedges.
  • Tempeh and Vegetable Stir-Fry: Cube tempeh and sauté it in a pan with a bit of oil until browned. Set aside the tempeh and stir-fry your choice of vegetables (e.g., bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots) in the same pan. Mix together a sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup, and cornstarch, and pour it over the vegetables. Add the cooked tempeh back into the pan, stirring to coat with the sauce. Serve over rice or noodles.
  • BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches: Slice tempeh into thin strips and simmer them in your favorite barbecue sauce for about 20 minutes. While the tempeh cooks, prepare coleslaw by combining shredded cabbage, carrot, vegan mayonnaise, and apple cider vinegar. Toast some burger buns, then layer the cooked BBQ tempeh and coleslaw on top to create a delicious sandwich.
  • Tempeh Stuffed Peppers: Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Sauté crumbled tempeh with diced onion, garlic, and your favorite spices (e.g., cumin, paprika, and chili powder). Stir in cooked rice and tomato sauce to create a flavorful filling. Cut the tops off of bell peppers, remove the seeds, and stuff them with the tempeh mixture. Bake the stuffed peppers for 30-40 minutes, or until the peppers are tender.

These unique tempeh recipes showcase the incredible versatility of this plant-based protein source. By incorporating tempeh into various dishes, you can create delicious and satisfying meals that cater to different tastes and preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is tempeh vegan?

Yes, tempeh is a vegan food product. It is made from fermented soybeans. Traditional tempeh does not contain any animal-derived ingredients, making it suitable for those following a vegan diet.

Is tempeh gluten-free?

Traditional tempeh, made from fermented soybeans and a starter culture, is naturally gluten-free and suitable for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. However, it’s essential to be cautious when purchasing commercial tempeh products, as some may contain additional ingredients that include gluten, such as grains like barley or wheat.

Are all tempeh products vegan?

Most traditional tempeh is vegan, as it’s made from just soybeans and a fermentation culture. However, some commercial tempeh products may contain additional non-vegan ingredients or be processed in facilities that handle animal products.

What are some alternative tempeh products?

In addition to traditional soy-based tempeh, there are alternative tempeh products made from other legumes or grains, such as chickpea tempeh, black bean tempeh, or even quinoa tempeh. These options cater to those with soy allergies or individuals looking for unique flavors and textures in their tempeh dishes.

Bottom Line

Tempeh has so many wonderful benefits, and it can be a great addition to any diet. Not only is it packed with nutrition, but it’s also tasty and versatile. Whether you prefer to buy your tempeh pre-made or make your own, there are multiple ways to add it to your diet. Of course, like most foods, there are risks that come with eating tempeh but overall it is an amazingly versatile food with numerous nutrient-rich qualities. From health benefits and nutritional properties to methods of cooking and storage advice – we’ve learned what is tempeh and how it is a special addition to your diet.

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