What are the benefits of tempeh vs tofu? What is tempeh? How to cook with tempeh? Learn all about the differences between tempeh and tofu in this nutrition and cooking guide.
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). You may already be familiar with tofu, and tempeh is yet another traditional soyfood that 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.
What Is Tempeh?
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product originating from Indonesia. In order to produce it, whole soybeans are dehulled to remove their 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 wheat, 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. This is a different process than tofu, which is not fermented. Learn how tofu is made here.
What Does Tempeh Taste Like?
While tempeh is rather mild in taste, it has a subtle earthy, nutty flavor with a fermented twang. It has a firm texture, making it great for many culinary applications to replace animal protein in recipes.
Nutritional Content of Tempeh vs Tofu
Tempeh is a nutrition powerhouse! While both tofu and tempeh are nutritious soyfoods, tempeh 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 fermentation process tempeh undergoes makes it an excellent source of gut-friendly probiotic bacteria. Due to its minimal processing, tempeh is close to the whole food form, which allows it to better retain the soybean’s natural array of nutrition and health benefits. And, like all plant-proteins, there is no cholesterol to be found in this nutritional superstar. In addition to conferring a probiotic quality, tempeh’s fermentation process reduces levels of the mineral-binding compound phytic acid, which is naturally found in soyfoods. Less phytic acid translates into better availability and absorption of the soybean’s health-promoting minerals.
|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|
How To Cook with Tempeh
Like tofu, tempeh is a versatile food product that can be used in a wide array of culinary applications, making a great addition to nearly any dish in which meat or poultry is traditionally used. While commercially produced tempeh can be eaten raw, its flavor and texture may be more favorable when marinated and cooked. Tempeh lends itself well to sautéing, pan-frying, baking, grilling, roasting, or steaming. Sliced tempeh is great in dishes such as stir-fries, fajitas, and sandwiches. It can also be crumbled to add a protein boost and textural variety to dishes like tacos, soups, stews, chili, hash, and pasta dishes. At only two to three dollars per eight-ounce package, tempeh is very affordable and can be found in the refrigerated section of nearly any natural food store. With the rise in popularity of plant-based meat 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 tempeh, consider giving it a try in some of your favorite dishes, or better yet, try out a new recipe featuring tempeh, such as these tempeh recipes. And check out my blog on my top five ways to use tempeh here.
Five Favorite Tempeh Recipes
Learn how to make tempeh bacon in my Instagram Live Video here.
Find out more on how to use tempeh in the kitchen here.
Check out my blogs on plant-based proteins here:
Image: Sesame Roasted Tempeh, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN