Tempeh: The ‘Better Than Tofu’ Soy Product

Tempeh The Better Than Tofu Soy Product
Tempeh The Better Than Tofu Soy Product

Tempeh is a soy food made by controlled fermentation of cooked soybeans with a Rhizopus molds (tempeh starter). This fermentation binds the soybeans into a compact white cake. It is one of the few soy foods not originating in China, Japan, or Korea. Instead, tempeh is believed to have first been prepared on the island of Java in Indonesia, at least hundreds of years ago.

Tempeh has a firm texture and a nutty mushroom flavour. It is very versatile and can be used in recipes in different ways. Normally it is sliced or cut in cubes and fried until the surface is crisp and golden brown. You can also grate it like cheese. and often used as ingredient in soups, spreads, salads and sandwiches.


Although Tempeh is a little high in calories, it is less processed than tofu, and is healthier in general because it contains more protein and fiber than tofu. Depending on the brand, one serving of tempeh (100 grams) provides around 200 calories, 18.2 grams of protein (that’s even more protein per gram than tofu!), and 10% of the RDA of both calcium and iron. The fermentation process in Tempeh, actually helps in digesting the amazing nutrients and making them far more readily available for your body to use. It is made with the whole soybean with very little processing, unlike tofu which is very processed.

Health Benefits of Tempeh

Tempeh is very nutritive and contains many health promoting phytochemicals such as isoflavones and saponins. Tempeh fermentation produces natural antibiotic agents but leaves the desirable soy isoflavones and most of the saponins intact. It is a complete protein food that contains all the essential amino acids.


Isoflavones have many health benefits: they strengthen our bones, help to ease menopausal symptoms, reduce risk of coronary heart disease and some cancers. Tempeh has all the fiber of the soybeans and gains some digestive benefits from the enzymes formed during the fermentation process.

A recent study from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has provided us with some fascinating results about the bioavailability of calcium from tempeh. In this study involving postmenopausal women, calcium from tempeh was determined to be as equally well absorbed as calcium from cow’s milk. Due to the higher concentrations of calcium in cow’s milk versus tempeh, however, four servings of tempeh were needed to bring the total amount of calcium absorbed from tempeh up to the same level as the total amount of calcium absorbed from fresh cow’s milk. Still, the excellent bioavailability of calcium from tempeh was an important research finding in this study, since many women (as well as men) would benefit from increased intake of calcium from non-dairy foods, and tempeh clearly performed very well as a calcium source in this study


Weight Control: Some of the unique peptides (protein breakdown products) in soy that have been associated with obesity prevention and treatment. Some of these peptides have shown the ability to decrease synthesis of SREBPs (sterol regulatory element binding proteins), thereby helping decrease synthesis of certain fatty acids as well as the depositing of these fatty acids in fat cells. Since fermented soy foods like tempeh have increased concentrations of bioactive peptides (versus non-fermented soy foods), tempeh may turn out to be premier forms of soy with respect to obesity management.

What Is Mixed Tempeh?

Tempeh is traditionally made with soybeans only. As tempeh was introduced in Western country tempeh makers started to experiment with the fermentation of other grains, beans and cereals. You can make endless combinations which results in unique flavors. Some claim that combining soybeans and cereals enhances the nutritional value because of protein complementarity, but since most people eat tempeh with rice or bread this argument is not valid. Check out some recipes here.


Cooking With Tempeh

Fresh tempeh has a nice mushroom and nutty flavour, but in recipes it will readily absorbs flavours of other ingredients. Often, tempeh is marinated before cooking to give it a stronger and savoury taste. In Indonesian tempeh is deep-fried in vegetable oil until golden brown and crispy. But you can use in other ways, namely boiling, steaming, baking, microwaving, stir-frying or grilling.

There are basically two types of tempeh you can get: Fresh (or fresh frozen), and Vacuum-sealed and found in the refrigerated section of your store. Vacuum-sealed and pre-packaged tempeh is almost always pasteurized. This is not in all actuality “pre-cooking” but a way to ensure it will be shelf-stable when packaged and sold in stores. These are ready-to-eat and usually do not have to be pre-cooked. Still, it is recommended that you cook the pre-packaged tempeh before using it in your recipes as it removes some of the flavor, moistens it and makes it more accepting to whatever flavor you might add to it, like marinating, for example.


You can also steam it by using the following steps:

Simply remove tempeh from package, place in your favorite steamer, and let it cook for the required amount of time
Simply bring 1 cup of veggie broth (or water) to a boil in a small pot, add your tempeh (if it doesn’t fit in your pot, simply cut in half — or use a bigger pot if desired), place a lid on the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Set the timer for 10 minutes.


Note: If you have purchased pre-cooked tempeh (always buy organic soy!) (most tempeh you buy in stores is pre-cooked), then you do not have to cook your tempeh before using it; however, it is highly recommended that you steam it for 10 minutes.

If you have purchased raw tempeh which has not been pre-cooked (such as at an outdoor market), then you should steam your tempeh for a total of 20 minutes before eating or adding to any dish that requires no further cooking (such as a cold tempeh salad). You can also make tempeh at home by following these instructions.


How to Choose Tempeh

Look for tempeh that is covered with a thin whitish bloom. While it may have a few black or grayish spots, it should have no evidence of pink, yellow, or blue coloration as this indicates that it has become overly fermented. In general, choose tempeh in which the soybeans and grains appear tightly bound. Also choose tempeh that tends to have a drier outside surface. High-quality, plain soy tempeh often has an aroma that would best be described as mushroom-like.

Uncooked, refrigerated tempeh can keep in the refrigerator for up to ten days. If you do not prepare the whole package of uncooked tempeh at one time, wrap it well and place it back in the refrigerator. Uncooked tempeh will also keep fresh for several months in the freezer. If you freeze tempeh and then unthaw it, you can keep the thawed tempeh in your refrigerator for about 10 days.

Differences Between Tofu And Tempeh

Process of Making: By curdling fresh, hot soy milk with a coagulant By fermenting cooked soybeans with a mold
Sold: Five-inch-size blocks, in five varieties: silken, soft, firm, and extra firm; packaged in water to help it stay moist Flat rectangular pieces about eight inches long
Appearance White, smooth, and wet Brownish in color and dry; can see whole soybeans
Consistency Soft, smooth, and spongy Firm and chewy
Flavor Has hardly any taste on its own, but when added to recipes, takes on the flavor of whatever you’re making Has a slight earthy, sweet taste
Calories in 1/2 cup 97 160
Protein (g) in 1/2 cup 10.1 15.4
Fiber (g) in 1/2 cup .5 3.5