What is tempeh? A hearty meat alternative made from whole soybeans, tempeh is slightly nutty in flavor and super versatile.
Chances are if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, you probably don’t know much about tempeh. But look out: this meat substitute is on the rise! It’s become a favorite of ours because it’s nutritious, economical, and tastes good too. Alex and I typically don’t like eating foods pretending to be meat, but tempeh is an exception! So what is tempeh, and how to eat it? Here’s everything you need to know about this tasty soy product.
What is tempeh?
Though it’s fairly new to America, tempeh has been around since the 1500s and originated in Indonesia. It’s a compressed cake of whole soybeans, and sometime grains like wheat or barley. To make it, the soybeans are soaked to soften them, then they’re cooked and slightly fermented before being formed into a firm patty or block. Since it’s made from whole soybeans, tempeh has a hearty texture and slightly nutty flavor that makes it an ideal meat substitute.
Because tempeh is so firm, it can withstand being fried or grilled without crumbling. It’s the exact opposite of the jiggly and mushy texture of tofu! It’s bland enough that it soaks up the flavor of marinades, dressings, and sauces, making it suitable for a variety of recipes. It’s best prepared in thin slices versus large chunks, otherwise the chewy texture can be slightly off-putting.
Besides tasting phenomenal, tempeh is a great source of plant based protein. Tempeh has roughly 15 grams protein per serving (enough to satisfy your mom!). It also has lots of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and is free of cholesterol.
According to the Harvard TH Chan 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 eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat!
Where to find tempeh?
It can be purchased at most grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Kroger. If you follow a gluten-free diet, make sure to read the ingredients list before purchasing tempeh to ensure there are no wheat byproducts.
Is there soy free tempeh? Actually, yes! We’ve seen some chickpea and black bean tempeh on the market, but the soy-based version is the easiest to find.
Tempeh vs tofu
Both are made from soy, but tofu and tempeh are completely different! Tofu is made by curdling fresh soy milk and is unfermented. It’s smooth in texture and often quite creamy, which makes it ideal for adding into soups and stews, and blending into smoothies and sauces. Although tofu contains slightly less protein than tempeh, it’s still quite nutritious.
Easy tempeh recipes
Looking to start eating tempeh? Here are a few great places to start:
- Smoky Tempeh Bacon: This one is a great place to start if you’ve never worked with tempeh before! It makes a smoky vegan bacon that’s perfect on sandwiches and salads.
- Vegan BLT Sandwich Recipe: Speaking of sandwiches, this vegan BLT is seriously satisfying.
- Teriyaki Vegetable Stir Fry: Here it stands in for meat in this tasty stir fry with a homemade teriyaki sauce.
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.