Tempeh is a popular soy-based food often used as a meat replacement in vegan and vegetarian dishes. But what is tempeh? Is it healthy? How do you make it? Where does it come from? Totally Vegan Buzz brings you the definitive guide to tempeh.
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is a traditional soy based food commonly served as a high-protein alternative to meat. To make it, split soybeans are fermented under controlled conditions to form a cake. Some types of tempeh are made from wheat, other beans, a mixture of grains and beans, pulp of soy, or barley. It has a firm texture and a nutty flavour, and is popular with vegetarians and vegans.
What is the history of tempeh?
Tempeh originated on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is one of the few soy-based products to not have originated in Japan, China or Korea. The name tempeh is thought to be derived from ‘tumpi’, an old Javanese whitish food made from fried batter of rice flour. Other accounts suggest it comes from the term ‘tape’ or ‘tapai’, meaning fermentation.
What does tempeh taste like?
Tempeh has a strong nutty texture with a earthy mushroom flavour. It easily absorbs sauces and spices, making it a versatile ingredient for chilli, stew, sandwiches, pasta, stir-fries and tacos.
Is tempeh the same as tofu?
No. Even though tempeh and tofu are both made from soy and are rich sources of protein, they are completely different . The process of making, the texture and the flavour are entirely different.
To make tempeh, soybeans are fermented and minimally processed. Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the curd to form blocks. Tempeh is firmer with a varied texture from whole soybeans, whereas tofu has a plain, solid, soft and sometimes rubbery texture. The tastes are completely distinct – tempeh is more nutty with a mushroom taste whereas tofu is bland with a subtle flavour.
How does tempeh stack up nutritionally?
Tempeh is used as a meat substitute as it is packed with protein. It is also a source of copper, fibre, phosphorus, vitamin B2 and magnesium. According to Dr. Axe, ‘tempeh is known to reduce cholesterol, increase bone density, decrease menopausal symptoms and promote muscle recovery”. As tempeh is made through fermentation, it contains enzymes which make it easier for the body to process and absorb proteins and other nutrients.
Tempeh is considered a nutritional food for all age groups, and is popular for vegans and non-vegans. A recent report from Persistence Market Research (PMR) predicted the global tempeh market to be worth $5.8 billion by 2026, exceeding the current value of $3.6 billion.
Is tempeh good for you?
Tempeh has numerous health benefits:
- A rich source of plant-based protein which helps vegetarians and vegans fulfil their protein requirements
- Helps lower cholesterol and promotes better heart health. Studies suggest tempeh has soy isoflavones which help decrease cholesterol levels
- Rich in probiotics which are good for the digestive system and boost immunity
- Rich in calcium and copper, both of which are good for bone health
Can tempeh be bad for me?
Tempeh is made with soybeans, so if you are allergic to soy it is recommended not to consume tempeh. Try other vegan protein-rich foods such as seitan, which is made from wheat gluten. If you experience food allergy symptoms such as itching or swelling after consuming tempeh, stop eating it and consult a doctor.
If you are new to eating fermented foods, it is advised to start by limiting consumption to a few servings per week, and slowly increase intake if desired. Soybeans are considered to be a goitrogen, and may interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Though studies reveal soy based products have minimal effects on the thyroid, it may be best to moderate consumption for some people.
Is tempeh gluten free?
While traditional tempeh is gluten-free, some varieties may not be. Some store bought tempeh contains a mix of grains in place of soybeans, which may not be gluten-free. It is best to be read labels carefully before buying tempeh, or to create a homemade version.
Where can I buy tempeh?
Tempeh is mostly available in health food stores as well as grocery stores in the refrigerated section, aside tofu and other meat alternatives. It usually comes in a variety of flavors and grain combinations. Well know tempeh brands include Tofurky, Noble Bean and Lightlife.
How to make tempeh?
To make, soybeans or other beans and grains are soaked overnight until they swell. The skin is then rubbed off and discarded once it floats to the surface of a bowl filled with water. After dehulling, the beans are split in half. They are then lightly pressed with a rolling pin. The beans are then boiled for about 20 minutes, drained and allowed to cool until they are lukewarm.
Tempeh is made by the process of controlled fermentation. The beans are inoculated with tempeh starter culture that contains Rhizopus mold spores (either Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae). The mixture is then wrapped in banana leaves, a plastic bag or foil tray perforated with small holes to ensure air supply for fermentation. This is then left in a warm place where mycelium grows and binds the beans into a dense white cake. Tempeh is then ready after about 24 to 48 hours.
Making your own tempeh gives flexibility to customise by adding different grains and legumes.
What dishes can I make with tempeh?
Tempeh is versatile and can be used in main dishes such as chili, curry or risotto as well as snacks such as chips, burgers and sandwiches.
What are your favourite tempeh dishes? Let us know in the comments section below!
Vegan culture, food, beauty & more
- Totally Vegan Buzz Team
- 23rd July 2019
The wonderful vegan community is filled with individuals from all different kinds of backgrounds and lifestyles, each with their own unique story and path to veganism. At Totally Vegan Buzz we felt it was about time to celebrate how far we’ve come and prove to the world that #AnyoneCanGoVegan! From ex-butchers and hardcore carnivores to …
- Oli Gross
- 18th July 2019
Game of Thrones had viewers around the world well and truly under its spell for the spectacular final season this year. The show, based on George R. R. Martin’s novels, has gripped audiences with its endless plot twists, complex characters, nudity, gore and violence. But despite the show’s abundance of unsavoury characters, the cast is …
All the quizzes you love to binge!
QUIZ: Take this personality test and we’ll reveal if you’re a Junk Food Vegan or a Health Food Vegan
- Marlon Farrugia
- 12th September 2019
For some, it’s a diet. For others, it’s an excuse to load up on carbs. Which kind of vegan are you? Take this Extremely Scientific Quiz and find out. Marlon Farrugia Marlon Farrugia is a freelance writer from Brighton. He has been a dedicated vegan for many years, and animal rights is a strong theme …
- Marlon Farrugia
- 15th August 2019
It’s Vegan Trivia 2! You all liked our first quiz so much that we’ve made this one bigger, harder, and with even more unexpected semi-obscure pop culture references. You know what to do: Marlon Farrugia Marlon Farrugia is a freelance writer from Brighton. He has been a dedicated vegan for many years, and animal rights …
- Marlon Farrugia
- 15th August 2019
Do what you love, so they say, and you’ll never work a day in your life. Tell us what you love, and we’ll tell you what to do. By playing this quiz, you enter into a legally binding contract and agree that you must immediately quit your current job and switch to the one we’ve …