What is Tempeh?


Close up picture of a bowl of tempeh with sesame seeds and cilantro sprinkled on top

Have you ever heard of tempeh? To be honest, I hadn’t until a few years ago. I remember seeing it on the menu at a restaurant, not really knowing what it was, but for some reason thinking I should try it. I’m glad I did, because that was when I learned I liked this strange little plant based protein that packs quite the nutritional punch.


What is tempeh?

  • Tempeh is a plant based protein made out of fermented soybeans and is considered a staple food in Indonesia (1). While tempeh is usually made of soybeans, I have also seen it made from other beans and grains. Tempeh has a dry, firm, and chewy texture with a slightly nutty taste. Tempeh is a common protein source used by people on a vegan or vegetarian diet.

  • Compared to beef, tempeh contains a similar protein content with less total and saturated fat, more carbohydrates, and more fiber (1). Seems like a win/win - you get the same protein but with less of the not so great stuff (saturated fat) and more of the good stuff (fiber)!

What is the difference between tofu and tempeh?

  • Although tempeh is similar to tofu in that they are both made from soybeans, the texture of tempeh is much more dense and chewy which makes it a more “realistic” meat substitute in recipes. Tempeh is also ~2x higher in protein than tofu (1/2 cup tofu = ~8g; 1/2 cup tempeh = ~16g protein) (2,3).


Tempeh Nutrition Information for 3oz of tempeh (~1/2 cup) (2):

  • 140 calories

  • 16g protein

  • 4.5g fat


Where do you buy tempeh?

You can typically find tempeh in the grocery store refrigerated section near where the tofu is sold. I normally find this by the dairy section. I have been able to buy it at all the major grocery stores in my area (Trader Joes, Ralphs, and Whole Foods).


Tempeh Health Benefits


Heart Health

  • Tempeh contains isoflavones, which have been shown to significantly decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the not so good kind of cholesterol) (4).

  • Isoflavones are compounds that act as antioxidants and help to fight free radicals, which have been linked to chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (5). The fermentation process that tempeh goes through actually increases the isoflavone content to where fermented soy products contain more isoflavones than non fermented soy products (1,6).


Gut Health

  • Another reason to consider giving this plant based protein a try is for it’s gut health benefits. Tempeh consumption has been shown to increase beneficial bacteria in our gut (1). The probiotics in tempeh help to keep our guts happy with plenty of beneficial bacteria has been linked to just about every health condition but specifically our immune system and mental health (7).

  • Tempeh is also an excellent source of prebiotics, which feeds and keeps the healthy bacteria in our gut happy (8).

See below for my current favorite baked tempeh recipe.


Tempeh Buddha Bowls with Spicy Ginger Peanut Sauce


Bowl of tempeh, sweet potatoes, red bell pepper, green, radish, with sauce and chop sticks. Greens, ginger, and radishes are in the background of the picture


Bowl Ingredients

Quinoa

Greens

Sautéed red bell pepper

Oven roasted sweet potatoes (bake at 425 degrees F until golden brown)

Radish, thinly sliced

Tempeh (recommend this tempeh recipe: Minimalist Baker marinated peanut tempeh recipe)

Cilantro (for topping)

Sesame seeds (for topping - optional)

Peanut ginger sauce (see below)


Sauce Ingredients

1 ½ tablespoon peanut butter

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari

1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar

Dash of garlic powder

1 ½ teaspoons garlic chili paste

1 tablespoon water (add more if you need to thin the mixture)

1 ½ tablespoons. toasted sesame oil

1 tsp fresh grated ginger


Sauce Instructions

Combine all ingredients. Adjust as needed (you can make it more spicy by increasing the garlic chili paste)


To assemble your bowl:

  1. Start by putting quinoa in the bowl (~1/2 to 1 cup)

  2. Next add on all the veggies (greens, bell pepper, radish, and sweet potato)

  3. Top with the peanut sauce, sesame seeds, and cilantro

  4. Enjoy!


Bowl of tempeh with vegetables, sesame seeds, cilantro, and spicy peanut ginger sauce


Sources:

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12710?af=R

  2. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174272/nutrients

  3. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/411177/nutrients

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17413118/

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4310837/

  6. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19476337.2016.1197316

  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969996119303894

  8. http://www.pjm.microbiology.pl/archive/vol6222013189.pdf