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What are the differences between tempeh vs tofu? Is one healthier? Here’s what you need to know before planning your meals.

Tempeh vs tofu
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Tempeh vs tofu: what’s the difference? Is one a better choice? First things first: these two plant-based soy proteins are both part of a healthy diet. In fact, they’re a much better choice than many of the processed meat alternatives out there today! What are some of the major differences? Here’s a breakdown in definition, nutrition, and flavor.

Recipe: Scroll down for a tasty stir fry using either tempeh or tofu!

Tempeh vs tofu: an overview

First up, let’s discuss the definition of each. Tempeh and tofu are both soy products that are a great stand-in for protein in a vegetarian or vegan meal. The difference is in the production process:

  • What is tempeh? Tempeh is a compressed cake of whole soybeans. It can sometimes include seeds like millet or grains like wheat, rice, or barley (many brands are gluten-free). The soybeans are soaked to soften them, then cooked and fermented before being formed into a firm patty or block. Tempeh originated in Indonesia in the 1500s, and is common in Southeast Asian cuisine. It has a hearty texture and slightly nutty flavor that makes it an ideal meat substitute.
  • What is tofu? Tofu is a soy milk that’s turned into curds, similar to cheesemaking, and pressed into blocks. It originated in China about 2,000 years ago. It’s very popular in Asia and it’s becoming more prevalent in the US. Tofu is flavorless and the texture is soft and jiggly, so it requires flavoring and cooking to define its flavor. There are several textures of tofu available: soft or silken, firm, and extra firm.

Bottom line: Tempeh is a pressed cake of whole soy beans with a hearty, chewy texture and a nutty flavor. Tofu is made from soy milk that’s processed into blocks, and is flavorless with a soft texture. Both are ideal plant-based proteins that can be served in many ways. Keep reading for some recipes…

Tempeh vs tofu
Tempeh is a pressed soy bean cake

Tempeh vs tofu: nutrition breakdown!

Tempeh vs tofu: which is healthier? Both soy-based products are part of a healthy diet. Per to the Harvard School of Nutrition, soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week. It’s likely to provide health benefits, especially when you eat it as an alternative to red meat and processed meat. (Go to Straight Talk About Soy and Is Tofu Good for You? for more details.)

What’s the nutritional breakdown between the two? Here’s a comparison of 100-grams of tempeh vs tofu:

Tempeh195 cal20 grams7.6 grams9 grams11 grams
Tofu83 cal10 grams1.2 grams1 grams5.3 grams

Data sources: Tempeh nutrition, Health benefits of tempeh, Tofu nutrition

Tempeh is very high in plant-based protein and fiber, with double the protein of tofu (20 grams vs 10 grams). In fact, one serving of tempeh has 40% the recommended daily intake of protein and 44% of the recommended daily fiber. In contrast, tofu has less calories and half the fat of tempeh, but it has half the protein and almost no fiber. As noted above, both are part of a healthy diet! Plan to consume soy products a few times per week, not every day.

Flip the tofu with chopsticks
Pan frying tofu gives it a crispy exterior

Ways to cook tempeh vs tofu

When it comes to cooking tempeh vs tofu, there are several differences! Tempeh has a firm texture and a nutty flavor, whereas tofu is bland with a soft texture.

For more: Go to 25 Tasty Tofu Recipes or 20 Tempeh Recipes.

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Tofu stir fry

Stir Fry with Tempeh or Tofu

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


This tasty stir fry recipe is our go-to for healthy plant based dinners: and you can use either tempeh or tofu! It’s got the best stir fry sauce and lots of colorful veggies.



For the stir fry sauce

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon miso
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder

For the stir fry

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh broccoli, stem on (about 3 large heads or 6 heaping cups florets)*
  • 1 red bell pepper (or half red and half orange)
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 14-ounces firm or extra firm tofu or 1 8 ounce package tempeh
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoons sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds


  1. Start the rice: If serving with rice, start the rice.
  2. Make the sauce: Whisk together the stir fry sauce ingredients in a medium bowl, or make the sauce in advance and refrigerate until cooking.
  3. Chop the veggies: Chop the broccoli into florets. Thinly slice the pepper. Remove the shiitake stems and thinly slice them, if using. Thinly slice the green onion. Peel and grate the ginger.
  4. Cook the tempeh: Slice the tempeh into 1/4-inch rectangles. In your largest skillet, heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil over medium high heat. Add the tempeh in a single layer, sprinkle with a few pinches kosher salt, and 2 to 3 minutes per side until lightly browned. Remove from the pan.
  5. OR, cook the tofu: Cut the tofu into bite sized pieces (1-inch squares, 3/8-inch thick and pat it dry with a towel. Add the oil to a large non-stick pan and add the tofu cubes and a few pinches kosher salt. Turn on the heat to medium-high. Cook 5 to 6 minutes until lightly browned on the bottom. Briefly remove the pan from the heat to reduce spitting. Flip the tofu with chopsticks (the easiest method!) or tongs. Return the heat to medium-high and cook 5 to 6 minutes until browned. Remove the tofu to a bowl and set it aside.
  6. Stir fry the veggies: Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Add the broccoli, pepper, and shiitake mushrooms and two pinches salt and cook 6 to 7 minutes until just starting to brown on edges, stirring occasionally. In the last minute, add 1 tablespoon water and allow the vegetables to steam.
  7. Turn down the heat to low. Add the green onion and ginger and cook 1 minute. Turn off the heat. Add the tofu or tempeh and sauce and stir until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Serve immediately. Store leftovers up to 3 days refrigerated.
  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Stir fry
  • Cuisine: Asian inspired
  • Diet: Vegan

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. frederic kotas says:

    How can you suggest that tofu is “tasteless.” I have been eating it for years, after spending many years in Japan, where it is eaten uncooked as “hiyayakko,” and it is delicious. Wonderful taste!

  2. Tim Page says:

    I have yet to find a way to make tempeh taste good…I have put in the effort. It’s just not eatable.

  3. Roy Wolf says:

    When do you add the sesame seeds? Thanks

    1. Sonja Overhiser says:

      At the end as a garnish: we’ve updated the recipe accordingly!