How to Use Tempeh

Are you looking for some new plant protein options beyond common standbys such as tofu, beans, and nuts? Well, maybe it’s time to take a deeper look at the often-overlooked protein powerhouse called tempeh (pronounced temp-ay). This traditional, soy food can enrich the variety and health potential of any diet, whether you’re eating a plant-forward, vegetarian, or vegan diet. Although tempeh may appear a bit unusual at first glance, it has certainly earned its place as a plant-based protein front-runner.

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product originating from Indonesia. In order to produce it, whole soybeans are dehulled to remove the tough outer skin and they are then lightly boiled. After drying, the soybeans are inoculated with a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus. It is not uncommon to find grains and seeds such as rice or flax seed incorporated into the soybean preparation. As the soybeans ferment, they become bound together to form a compact cake, which lends tempeh its characteristic firm and dense texture. The finished product is typically sold as a flat, rectangular block.

While tempeh is rather mild in taste, it has been described to have a subtle earthy or nutty flavor. The fermentation process tempeh undergoes makes it an excellent source of gut-friendly probiotic bacteria. Due to its minimal processing, it is close to the whole food form, which allows it to better retain the soybean’s natural array of health benefits. And like all plant-proteins, there is no cholesterol to be found in this nutritional superstar.

Farmers Market Tempeh Hash

In the world of soy-based proteins, this one shines in several respects. Although it is more caloric than tofu, it boasts an impressive amount of protein, containing even more protein per ounce than extra firm tofu. Plus, it has additional fiber to boot. The nutritional lineup for these two soy staples is as follows:

Nutritional Content of Tofu vs. Tempeh

3 oz. Extra Firm Tofu (Nasoya brand) 3 oz. Tempeh (USDA data)
80 calories 164 calories
9g protein 16g protein
1g dietary fiber 4g dietary fiber

This clearly has much to offer in regards to protein, but its accolades do not end here. In addition to conferring a probiotic quality, its fermentation process also reduces levels of the mineral-binding compound, phytic acid, which is naturally found in soy foods. Less phytic acid translates into better availability and absorption of the soybean’s health-promoting minerals.

This versatile food product can be used in a wide array of culinary applications, making a great addition to nearly any dish in which meat or pouy is traditionally used. While commercially produced tempeh can be eaten raw, it’s flavor and texture may be more favorable when cooked. It lends itself well to sautéing, baking, grilling, or steaming. Sliced tempeh is great in dishes such as stir-fries, fajitas, and sandwiches. It can also be crumbled up to add a protein boost and textural variety to dishes like tacos, soups, stews, chili, and pasta dishes.

Thai Tempeh Noodle Skillet

At only two to three dollars per eight-ounce package, it is very affordable and can be found in the refrigerated section of nearly any health food store. With the rise in popularity of plant-based alternatives, it’s even beginning to pop up at a select number of large supermarket chains, so check with your local grocery retailer for availability. If you are unfamiliar with it, consider giving it a try in some of your favorite dishes, or better yet, try out a new recipe. 

Top 5 Recipes Using Tempeh:

Vegan BLTA Sandwich
Potato Crust Pizza with Tempeh and Greens
Orange Peanut Tempeh with Brown Rice
Zucchini Tempeh Pastry Cups
Sesame Tempeh Buddha Bowl

Learn about how to make tempeh bacon in my Instagram Live Video here.

Learn more about how to use tempeh in the diet here.

Image: Gado-Gado, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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