What Is Tempeh? And much more

What Is Tempeh

What is tempeh? Tempeh is a food item that is becoming more and more popular. It is used, among other things, as a meat substitute. But what is tempeh? Is it tasty? How are you? Where is it from? You will find the answers in this article. 

What is tempeh? 

  • Tempeh is Indonesian fermented food, traditionally made from soybeans.
  • It is comparable to beef in percentage of protein.
  • It is high in fiber, low in saturated fat.
  • Its nutty flavor and chewy texture make it ideal for vegan and vegetarian cuisine

Tempeh originated in Indonesia thousands of years ago. Since the 1970s, when it became readily available in the west, tempeh has been a common substitute for meat in vegetarian and vegan cooking.  

In our blog ‘ How to Marinate Tempeh? ‘ you can read all about flavoring tempeh!

What Is Tempeh

Tempeh is cake of soybeans, which are peeled, boiled and then mixed with a tempeh starter. Tempeh starter is a spore culture that causes the soybeans to ferment. For the techies among us; That could be rhyzopus oryzae or a rhizopus oligosporus culture. 


Then the soybeans are pressed to a thickness of 3 cm. Now they have to be stored for 2-3 days at a temperature of about 30 degrees. This is usually done in an incubator where the temperature is a constant 30 degrees. During the fermentation process, enzymes partially break down the soy proteins, oils and carbohydrates, making them easier to digest. This process, similar to making cheese, gives tempeh its delicious flavor and meat-like texture.  

The end product is the well-known form of tempeh, the white cake. 

In Indonesia, tempeh is traditionally made only from soybeans, but in western countries you can find tempeh made with other ingredients, such as vegetables, grains or other beans. 

Is Tempeh Good For You?

Tempeh has numerous health benefits: 

  • It’s a rich source of plant-based protein that helps vegetarians and vegans get enough protein. 
  • Helps lower cholesterol and promote better heart health. Studies suggest that tempeh has soy isoflavones (=plant proteins) that help lower cholesterol
  • Rich in probiotics (= live bacteria) that are good for the digestive system and increase immunity 
  • Rich in calcium and copper, both of which are good for bone health 
  • Tempeh is made from whole soybeans and is therefore a very high fiber food.  
  • The natural tempeh fermentation process also makes the soy more digestible.  

Is Tempeh Gluten-Free?

While traditional tempeh is gluten-free, certain varieties may not. Some store-bought tempeh contains a blend of grains instead of soybeans, which may not be gluten-free. It’s best to read labels carefully before buying tempeh, or making a homemade version. 

What Is The Tempeh Flavor? 

Tempeh has a strong nutty texture with an earthy mushroom flavor. It easily absorbs sauces and spices, making it a versatile ingredient for chili, stew, sandwiches, pasta, stir-fries and tacos. 

How to Store Tempeh?

Store-bought tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator in its original packaging for up to 10 days. Uncooked tempeh can be frozen for up to three months. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. 

How To Make Tempeh Yourself?

To make your own tempeh, soybeans or other beans and grains are soaked overnight until they swell. The flakes/skin of the beans are sieved from the moisture as soon as they float to the surface. Then the beans are rolled between two tea towels to remove the rest of the flakes.  

After drying, the beans are divided in half. They are then lightly pressed with a rolling pin, again between two tea towels. The beans are then cooked for about 20 minutes. After cooking, the beans are placed in a colander where they can drain and cool until they are lukewarm.   

Tempeh is made through the process of controlled fermentation. This requires a tempeh starter, which is Rhizopus fungal spores (either Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae). The mixture is then packed in a plastic bag or cling film which is perforated to ensure the air supply for fermentation. This package is then placed in a warm place, approximately 28-32 degrees. Now the fungi can grow that also connect the beans to each other.   

The tempeh is ready after about 24 to 48 hours and can be used immediately or stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. 

Making your own tempeh has an advantage. It gives you the opportunity to use your own mix of soybeans or legumes and possibly grains.

Tempeh has become so popular that it is also available in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets. Of course, you can also find it in oriental health food stores. So you don’t have to make it yourself.  

How To Prepare Tempeh?

Tempeh is a versatile product that has many applications. It is also easy to include in your diet.  

Tempeh is often marinated or seasoned first before further processing. We have written another blog for this ‘ How to Marinate Tempeh? ‘ for tasty marinades.

Tempeh can then be baked, steamed and fried and added to a dish. Often it is also crumbled before baking.  

It can be used in anything, from a wok dish to a sandwich filling and salad. 

Difference Tempeh And Tofu?

To make a comparison, first some information about tofu. Tofu is a popular soy-based meat alternative. The white blocks range from silky and soft to firm.

Making tofu is a lot like making cheese; Tofu is made by curdling unfermented soy milk to solidify the proteins and then pressing it into a block. The harder it is pressed, the harder the tofu.  

So what’s the difference?  

tofu tempeh
How is it made?  Curdling unfermented soy milk to solidify proteins.  Are soybeans, which are peeled, boiled and then mixed with a tempeh starter. Then the soybeans ferment. 
How is it sold?  In blocks, in five varieties: silken (used for creamy dishes), soft (great for soups), firm and extra firm (the last three are great for stir-fries); packed in water to keep it moist  Flat rectangular pieces about 20 centimeters long 
Appearance  White, smooth and wet.  Brownish in color and dry; you can see whole soybeans. 
Taste  Hardly has a flavor on its own, but when added to recipes, it takes on the flavor of whatever you’re making  Has a light earthy, sweet taste. Sometimes also a mushroom flavor.  
Calories in 100 grams  95  195 
Protein (g) in 100 grams  9 grams  20 grams  
Fiber (g) in 100 grams 

Though a little higher in calories, tempeh is less processed than tofu and it’s healthier overall, as it has more protein and fiber than tofu.  

The above information may differ from what you buy in the store. This is due to the fact that the tofu and tempeh are factory-produced. Each producer has its own process and this also causes a difference in nutritional value per producer.  

Tempeh Black Spots 

Sometimes, when the tempeh is removed from the package, you see black spots. Don’t worry, the black spots are completely normal and edible. 

The black spots are spores, similar to what is on the underside of a mushroom. The black or gray spots are completely harmless and actually indicate that the tempeh has matured to its peak of flavor. In Indonesia, where tempeh originated, some recipes call for overripe or very dark tempeh. 

Orange or green spots indicate that the tempeh has gone bad.  

So, this is everything you need to know about tempeh.  

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