Tempeh is not a word you hear very often. Most people would be hard-pressed to describe what it is. Yet Tempeh is a superfood second to none, used in cooking across Asia, and considered a delicacy by many. Made from soybean, it has an earthy mushroom-like aroma, but its taste and versatility in tempeh recipes only tell half the story. For Tempeh is one of the best prebiotics that one can find, packed full of good bacteria to ensure a healthy gut. Given that so many diseases and ailments stem from unbalanced gut bacteria, it’s a small wonder why we have not discovered the health benefits of Tempeh or tried some surprisingly good tempeh recipes before.
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is a product similar to tofu in that it is made from soybeans and is frequently eaten by vegetarians as a meat substitute. Tempeh, however, differs from tofu in that tempeh is created through a process of fermentation, whereas tofu is not. This fermentation affords tempeh a number of health benefits not found in tofu. Tempeh has protein content comparable to that of meat and contains many important vitamins and minerals. It has a relatively firm texture and, like tofu, tends to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with and as such, one can use tofu recipes when looking for inspiration for tempeh recipes.
How is Tempeh Made?
Like tofu, tempeh begins its life as a soybean. When setting out how to make tempeh, soybeans are soaked in water to soften them. Then they are skinned and partially cooked. A fermentation starter made of either Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae is added to the partially cooked soy (1). Also added to the partially cooked soy is some sort of acid, often vinegar, to create an environment that encourages the growth of the particular mold needed to create tempeh.
This mixture is then spread to create a thin layer and allowed to ferment for 24 to 36 hours. In fermentation, tempeh may develop gray or black spores on the surface of the tempeh. Although unattractive, these spores are not harmful, nor do they affect the quality of the tempeh (2). In fact, the appearance of these spores is an indicator that the tempeh is mature and ready to be used.
In Indonesia, thought to be the home of tempeh, tempeh is traditionally fermented in hibiscus leaves. TheRhizopus oligosporus fungus. The partially cooked soybeans are pressed into the undersides of these leaves, then stored and allowed to ferment. Using this method allows for salt-free aerobic fermentation of the tempeh (3).
It is this specific process of allowing the soy product to ferment that sets tempeh apart from its near cousin, tofu. Additionally, the fermentation of tempeh is what gives it some of its unique benefits, making it a healthier alternative to tofu.
The difference between tempeh vs tofu
Because tempeh is fermented, many people find it easier to digest than tofu. Specifically, some of the simple sugars in tofu can cause indigestion, gas and bloating, but these are greatly reduced in tempeh through the fermentation process.
Additionally, the fermentation process reduces soy’s natural phytic acid which can inhibit the absorption of minerals (). This means that when you eat tempeh, your body is able to absorb more of the natural goodness found in soy.
The most significant difference between tempeh vs tofu is not the fact that it is more easily digested, but more because of the presence of probiotics. Research into gut bacteria is still in its infancy, but it is now clear that the body as a whole cannot function properly if the gut bacteria are out of whack and is susceptible to a range of diseases. While we believe that prebiotics (fibrous food for good bacteria) are more important than probiotics, (good bacteria supplement) probiotics are still important to maintaining existing good bacteria cultures in your gut.
While the main difference between tempeh vs tofu is due to fermentation and probiotics, there are also many similarities. As Tempeh is made from soybeans as well, it is frequently eaten by vegetarians as a meat substitute.
Similarly, both ingredients are interchangeable in cooking: tofu recipes can be switched to tempeh recipes at will. As both tempeh and tofu have a relatively firm texture, they tend to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked and therefore is ideal for marinades in tempeh recipes.
Given its earthy but versatile taste, pleasing texture and high concentration of protein and other nutrients, it’s no wonder that tempeh is increasing in popularity with tempeh recipes finding their way into people’s diets.
What Are the Health Benefits of Tempeh?
Tempeh offers many health benefits and is a wonderful staple to include in your diet. In addition to being high in protein and containing many important vitamins and minerals, tempeh supports health and wellness in a number of other ways.
1.Fermentation Itself Has Benefits
The very fact that tempeh is a fermented food means it offers a number of health benefits such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup to name but a few.. Fermented foods, such as tempeh, are excellent probiotics. The microflora that results from the fermentation process introduces healthy bacteria into the digestive tract and fights pathogenic factors.
Fermented foods generally strengthen the immune system, are effective anti-inflammatories and can even help control your appetite. There are many reasons to choose fermented foods, and tempeh is a good option (5).
2.Tempeh Reduces Cholesterol
A number of studies suggest that tempeh can be helpful in reducing cholesterol, something that many in the Western world struggle with (6). It’s believed that it’s the naturally occurring niacin in tempeh that supports cholesterol control (7). Additionally, tempeh is rich in isoflavones (more on that later!) which have been associated with significant reductions of triglycerides and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, while increasing HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
3.Tempeh Supports Healthy Bones
Tempeh contains calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K, all necessary for healthy bone density. Additionally, tempeh contains copper. Studies suggest that copper supports bone health by supporting the healing of bones (8). In addition, copper deficiency has been linked to brittle bones.
4.Tempeh Provides Significant Amounts of Protein
Tempeh provides just as much protein as many types of meat, with a single serving from a tempeh recipe providing about 37% of an adult’s recommended daily intake. Additionally, because tempeh is fermented, the digestive system can convert protein to useful amino acids more easily than many other protein sources (9). As you probably know, protein is necessary to building and maintaining muscle, and high-protein foods, such as tempeh, can promote weight loss.
5.Tempeh Contains Manganese, an Essential Mineral
Tempeh contains a significant amount of manganese per serving, nearly 65% of the daily recommended value. Manganese is an essential mineral that, among other things, helps to naturally balance hormones. Additionally, manganese has been demonstrated to help fight diabetes by naturally increasing insulin production while improving glucose tolerance (10). If you are facing diabetes or pre-diabetes, tempeh could be an important addition to your diet.
6.Tempeh Supports the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer
Studies demonstrate that the isoflavones found in soy products, including tempeh, may help prevent cancer (11). In fact, these same isoflavones have been demonstrated to help treat cancer (12). Isoflavones are a type of phytochemicals found only in plants. They resemble human estrogen to some degree. Soybeans have a higher concentration of isoflavones than most other legumes and offer many disease-fighting benefits (13).
7. Tempeh Is an Important Anti-Inflammatory
The isoflavones found so abundantly in tempeh also function as an effective anti-inflammatory. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many ailments, and tempeh has the potential to support healing from conditions related to inflammation.
8. Tempeh Can Treat Menopausal Symptoms
Because the isoflavones found in tempeh mimic human estrogen, tempeh and other soy products work as a kind of natural hormone replacement therapy, providing relief from many uncomfortable menopausal symptoms (14).
In addition to the important benefits outlined above, tempeh also provides:
- vitamin B2
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
- and zinc
These are all essential vitamins and minerals in which many individuals are deficient (15).
In providing so many benefits in a tasty, low-calorie package, tempeh is, indeed, a superfood, one that many of us would benefit from adding to our diet. But another important benefit is that tempeh is readily available and easy to prepare in a variety of ways.
Ideas for Tempeh Recipes
Because of the versatility of tempeh, tempeh recipes are equally diverse. As it can function as a meat substitute, almost all meat recipes can be reworked into tempeh recipes.
9. Raw tempeh
Because tempeh is popular, it can generally be found in all major grocery stores and supermarkets, as well as health food stores and some ethnic markets. Certainly, tempeh can be eaten raw and has an earthy, mushroom-like flavor, but its taste when raw is certainly acquired.
10. Salted Pan-Fried Tempeh
Tempeh is delicious when soaked in brine, then seasoned and pan fried, creating a delicacy that is crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Prepared this way, tempeh can certainly be eaten alone or atop a salad. Pan fried tempeh can also be used in chili, soups, stews and sandwiches.
11. Tempeh as a meat substitute
Tempeh can be easily prepared in a number of ways and is a versatile meat substitute. Like tofu, it typically takes on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with.
Tempeh is firm enough to stand up to a cheese grater, and grated tempeh makes a wonderful substitute for ground beef in tacos, bolognese, and other recipes. To give the Tempeh a meat-like flavor, try marinating the Tempeh gratings in yeast extract before cooking. (Try Marmite if you want a brand)
12. Lemon Zinger Tempeh Marinade
Tempeh’s firm texture lends itself to holding up well to marinades, and many enjoy tempeh marinated and then pan-fried. Indeed, as Tempeh is as versatile as meat, we found that the most interesting tempeh recipes are when you marinade. So we’ve compiled a short list of our favorite:
- 60ml soy sauce
- 100ml olive oil
- 70ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 5 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 5 Basil leaves
- 10 chopped spring onions
- 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper sauce
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
13. Chinese BBQ Marinade
This s a great marinade if you like sticky BBQ flavors.
Ingredients for 500-800grms of tempeh
- 2 tsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp plum sauce
- 2 tsp peanut oil
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
14. Indian Tikka Marinade
Ingredients for 500-800grms of tempeh
- 240g natural yogurt
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated root ginger
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
There are almost no limits to tempeh’s versatility in the kitchen.
15. Spicy Tempeh Chile
Tempeh works great in curries. Originally Indonesian, you could argue it was born to be spiced up. Here a more Mexican take on spicing up. Enjoy
- Tempeh (crumbled)- 8-ounce
- Canola Oil- 2 tbsp
- Green Bell Pepper- 1 (seeded and diced)
- Onion (medium-sized)- 1 (diced)
- Black Beans- One 15-ounce can (drained and rinsed)
- Red Bell Pepper- 1 (seeded and diced)
- Serrano Pepper- 1 (seeded and diced)
- Pinto Beans- One 15-ounce can (drained and rinsed)
- Chilli Powder- 1 tbsp
- Water- 4 cups
- Pepper and Salt to taste
- Cumin- 2 tsp
- Garlic Powder- 1 tsp
- Crushed Tomatoes- 1 cup
- Shredded Cheddar Cheese and Diced Avocado (for serving)
How to Prepare?
Heat canola oil and saute tempeh in it for 5 minutes until it begins to brown. Add green and red peppers to it; sprinkle salt and pepper according to your taste. Saute these ingredients for another 7 minutes. Now, add spices, beans, crushed tomatoes, and water to it. Stir it properly. Simmer it for 20-25 minutes until flavors are blended. Top the soup with avocado and cheddar cheese. Serve and consume while hot!
In addition to offering many health benefits, tempeh is readily available, inexpensive, easy to prepare and, quite honestly, delicious. There’s sure to be some tempeh recipes or preparation method to suit any palate. Given the little difference between tempeh vs tofu in texture, why not switch your tofu recipes to tempeh recipes and enjoy all the add health benefits of tempeh in the process? The real question is, why aren’t you already eating tempeh?