Discovering Tempeh: What It Is and How to Use It

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian fermented soya bean ‘cake’ that can be used in a variety of South Asian dishes. It’s firm texture also makes it a fantastic meat substitute in plant-based adaptations of popular Western recipes like chilli and bolognaise.

How is it different to tofu?

Whilst both tempeh and tofu are made from soya beans, tofu is made from soya ‘milk’ and set with an agent like nigari (Japanese seaweed) or calcium carbonate. This means that tofu has much of the bean fibre removed, although it does retain other beneficial properties. Tempeh on the other hand uses the whole bean. Therefore, most of the fibre is retained. This contributes to its texture and makes it very filling.

How is tempeh made?

Dried soya beans are soaked and part boiled to make them soft. As with all fermented foods, a starter culture is needed to kick off the process. A type of fungus is used for tempeh – traditionally found on the furry side of Hibicus leaves. The beans would be wrapped in the leaves and left to ferment for 48 hours. I’m sure most shop-bought tempeh skips the leaf wrapping bit though and just use the starter. During the fermentation process, the mould creates a white web that binds the beans together, forming a firm ‘cake’.

To prevent unwanted organisms thriving during fermentation, vinegar or some kind of acid is often added to the culture so that you get the good bugs, not the bad.

Can people with IBS eat tempeh?

Yes, tempeh can be more digestible for people with IBS or other gut issues. The fermentation process and soaking of the beans remove about 50% of oligosaccharides and other fermentable sugars, which are common culprits for gas and digestive discomfort.

Is tempeh suitable for people with yeast sensitivities or overgrowth?

People with candida or yeast problems should avoid tempeh during the acute stage since it is made using a fungus starter culture. For those with yeast sensitivities, reactions can vary. It’s best to introduce tempeh slowly into the diet in small amounts to see how your body reacts. Some people, like myself, find it tolerable when consumed a few times a month.

Is tempeh nutritious?

Yes, definitely! Soya is a good source of plant protein; 100g of tempeh contains around 19g of plant protein which is the equivalent of two eggs! It also has a good serving of fibre and has a selection of B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, calcium and iron in reasonable amounts. All will contribute to your overall intake during the day.

Where can I buy it?

As plant-based eating is increasing in popularity, products like tempeh are becoming more readily available, which is good news. Most large supermarkets stock it in the chiller plant-based section and many independent health food store will have some in the fridge. There are a couple of UK based companies now making their own tempeh – Tofoo and Better Nature. They’re both good and priced at under £3 for a 200g pack, it’s an affordable source of plant protein (and cheaper than meat or fish!). Each brand has a slightly different flavour; I personally prefer Better Nature Tempeh, but have a try of the different types to see which one your tastebuds prefer.

How do you cook with tempeh?

Compared to tofu, tempeh has a more unique, slightly funky flavour although it’s not strong. However, like tofu it absorbs other flavours well. Tempeh chunks soaked in my smoky marinade is popular in our house. The firm texture means it holds its shape well and can be sliced, cubed, crumbled or grated, making it a flexible meat alternative. Many recipes involve deep frying. However, for a healthier option, use an air fryer instead.

Tempeh can be used:

  • On skewers for BBQ kebabs
  • The star of curries
  • Crumbled and used instead of mince in chilli, bolognaise, Shepherd’s pie etc
  • Sizzling in fajitas
  • Thinly sliced, marinated and grilled as vegan ‘bacon’
  • In a stir fry
  • With noodles

And many more options. I’ll be adding some tempeh recipes onto the website soon but in the meantime why not check out Better Nature Tempeh’s website for some tasty ideas.

Published by

Leave a Reply