Tempeh is a fermented, protein-packed, plant-based food made from whole soy beans. It's very versatile and can be used in everything from salad and sandwiches to tacos and stir-fries. I've included some of my favorite vegan recipes, too!
What is Temeph?
When people hear the word “soy,” they often think of tofu, edamame or even meat analogs, but there’s another tasty food made with soy that’s not quite as popular yet – tempeh. Pronounced “TEM pay,” this soybean patty is a traditional Indonesian food. It probably originated on the island of Java, where it is still very popular today. The earliest known reference to it was in 1815, making it a much newer food than tofu and seitan. It is a staple source of protein for the Indonesian people. Interestingly, it’s the only traditional soy food that did not originate in China.
What is Tempeh Made Of?
Tempeh is made by culturing soybeans. The soybeans are partially cooked, soaked, and hulled. A fermentation starter is mixed in with beans, which are then spread into a thin layer and left in a warm area (usually around 88 degrees) for 24 to 48 hours. In Indonesia, it is traditionally wrapped in a banana or hibiscus leaf to ferment, but most home tempeh makers here in the U.S. use zip-lock bags. The fermentation process binds the beans together to form a patty or a cake.
Sometimes cooked whole grains such as rice or barley are added to the beans before the fermenting process. If you follow a gluten-free diet, make sure your tempeh doesn't include glutenous grains.
Because it’s fermented, it can have discolored spots that almost look moldy. It’s perfectly safe to eat, though.
What Does Tempeh Taste Like?
Since tempeh is made with whole soybeans it has hearty, meaty texture. People often refer to the flavor as smoky, nutty and even “mushroom-like”. It can have a bit of a fermented flavor, but that can be taken care of by steaming or simmering it before using it in your recipe.
The Health Benefits of Tempeh
Unlike tofu, tempeh is a whole soy product. That means it has more minerals, vitamins, and, yes, protein than those white blocks of tofu. A cup of cooked tempeh contains 30 grams of protein, which is about half of what the average person needs in a day. It’s also loaded with calcium, B-vitamins, iron and fiber.
Another advantage over tofu is that tempeh is easy to digest. The fermentation process produces enzymes and beneficial bacteria that make tempeh easier on the tummy than other soy products.
Where to Buy Tempeh
If you’re looking for tempeh, it can usually be found in the same area of the grocery store as the tofu. It’s usually sold in a “cake”, but you can also find tempeh "bacon" as well as marinated strips that can be quickly cooked and added to sandwiches or soups. The two brands I usually buy are Lightlife and Soy Boy.
How to Cook Tempeh
Health coaching clients have told me that they don’t really like tempeh, because it tastes a too fermented. To get rid of that fermented taste, you can steam it before using it a recipe, or you can simmer it a bath of broth for about half an hour. Doing this also can open up the pores of the tempeh, so it can absorb sauces and marinades better.
It can be marinated before cooking it, to give it extra flavor, or you can cook it with a flavorful sauce. It does tend to absorb sauce as it's been cooked, so you might need more liquid than you might think.
There's really no wrong way to cook it! You can grill it, roast it, sauté it, or pan fry it. It can also be crumbled and added to stews and chilis, and it's great in sandwiches and sloppy joes.
Some of my Favorite Recipes Include:
Break out the grill, because you’re going to want to make this salad, with is hearty enough for a meal.
This craveable salad is so good that you’ll find yourself wanting more! You may want to make a double batch.
Fajitas have always been a favorite of mine, and this dish has everything I like about them in the form of a salad.
Sandwiches and Handhelds
Mix things up this Taco Tuesday! These tacos come together quickly, making them a great meal option for any busy weeknight!
Grab a napkin, because things are about to get messy! These Sloppy Joes are a grown-up version of a childhood favorite.
This salad can be enjoyed on it’s own as a snack, or on bread in a sandwich. It’s also great mixed into a green salad. It’s perfect for taking with you for a picnic in the park, too.
These wraps are perfect for lunch, and they make a great appetizer or light dinner.
Bursting with flavor, this dish comes together quickly, so it makes a great dinner on busy weeknights.
This is a delicious and warming dish for a cold winter’s days. It’s a meal on it’s own, but it pairs well with mashed potatoes or brown rice.
Lemony vegan piccata is a great dish to serve on date night or for a dinner party, but it’s easy enough for weeknights too.
An old childhood favorite gets a vegan makeover in this recipe! Full of mushrooms, onions, peppers, and tomato sauce, cacciatore is the perfect dish to get you out of a dinner rut.
Packed with protein and rich in flavor, this dish just might be your new go-to comfort food meal.
This dish is bursting with flavor, and it’s a fun twist on the usual stir-fry.
This recipe from Fast and Easy Vegan Cookbook by JL Fields is on the table in 30 minutes flat!
The classic marsala dish gets a vegan update with this delicious recipe.
In this dish, tempeh is drenched in salsa verde and baked to perfection in a cornmeal crust.
This is one of my go-to meals for busy weeknights, and it's cooking class favorite, too!
This dish is easy to make, but it looks like it took longer than it actually did, so it's great for both busy weeknights and weekend dinner parties.
This is the perfect companion to your Saturday tofu scramble. It’s also delicious crumbled on top of a salad or baked potato, as well as in a BLT (or TTLA) sandwich!
What's your favorite way to cook tempeh?