What is Tempeh?

If you have questions about tempeh then you’ve come to the right site. Read on to discover the answers to the most common questions including:
  • What is tempeh?

  • Is tempeh good for you?

  • Where can you buy tempeh?

In answer to the first and most common question, tempeh (also sometimes spelled tempe) is a fermented food, which originated in Indonesia several centuries ago. Traditionally this food is made by adding a yeast-based starter culture to beans (legumes).

What is Tempeh?

Soy-based tempeh remains the most popular tempeh in Indonesia. However in western countries whole grains, vegetables and other types of beans are also often used to make tempeh.

During the fermentation process, the yeast starter binds with the base ingredients giving the tempeh a cake-like form. Tempeh has a nutty flavor and is chewy in terms of texture. It can be sliced or diced and is very versatile in terms of use. It is usually eaten cooked, either fried, steamed or baked. Some people however do eat their tempeh raw.

Is Tempeh Good for You?

Given that tempeh is usually based on beans, it provides an excellent source of fiber. Additionally soy tempeh is a fantastic source of protein, comparable to meat and animal milk but with and no cholesterol and none of the saturated fat associated with many health problems. The ability of tempeh to supply such good quality protein makes it popular among vegetarians and vegans as a substitute for meat.

Soy tempeh also supplies good amounts of magnesium, manganese, calcium and iron. Have a look at our table below to see the exact amount of these minerals contained in 100g of cooked tempeh1:

Mineral % of Daily Value (DV)
Calcium9.6
Iron11.8
Manganese64.2
Magnesium19.2

Tempeh is also a good source of soy isoflavanones, which are plant-based estrogens. These are thought to ease menopausal symptoms, strengthen bones, and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. However some medics believe that soy foods may create hormonal and metabolic problems. The key here is balance. Tempeh is an excellent food when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

As well as being a good source of various nutrients, tempeh is an excellent probiotic food. The beneficial organisms in tempeh have numerous health benefits, notably in terms of digestion. See our page on probiotic foods for more information in this regard. Additionally the beneficial fungus used to make tempeh is thought to produce a natural antibiotic, which is effective against certain harmful bacteria.

Homemade or Store-Bought Tempeh?

So now we have answered your question regarding what is tempeh, let us now consider the advantages of disadvantages of both homemade and commercially bought tempeh.

Store-bought tempeh is convenient. If you are time-poor, then this is for you. No time spent in the kitchen. Just simply select your tempeh from the shelf and buy! It tends however to include ingredients such as grains that are not common in traditional tempeh.

Commercial tempeh also often contains additives and/or preservatives. It is also highly likely to be pasteurized and this process destroys the beneficial or probiotic bacteria in the product.

Store-bought tempeh can taste slightly bitter. It is also more expensive than homemade tempeh.

Making your own tempeh will save you money. It does take a little time and effort (especially in terms of temperature control) but the process is relatively easy once you get the hang of it.

Making your own tempeh at home also has the advantage that you know exactly what ingredients have gone into the product.

The finished product will also be unpasteurized and thus the probiotic bacteria contained in the product will be live, viable and ready to help you!

In terms of its nutty flavor, we think homemade tempeh wins over store-bought versions too!

Where to Buy Tempeh?

Of course if you want commercial tempeh, you may be wondering where to buy it. Store-bought tempeh is available from health and Asian food stores as well as in the larger grocery stores. You will find this product in the refrigerated, frozen or fresh sections of the store. Look specifically for tempeh made with organic (organic tempeh) or non- genetically modified (non GMO).

References

1.USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23 (2010)


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