Here’s What You Should Know About Tempeh

(Image credit: Emily Han)

I would describe myself as an inquisitive, open and adventurous eater, who believes in trying everything at least twice. Yet there’s one food that has always been a mystery to me — tempeh. When it comes to meat alternatives, I’ve been all too happy to stay within my comfort zone of tofu and vegetables.

But all of that is about to change! Curiosity has finally gotten the best of me. I decided to really learn the basics of tempeh, how it’s made, and how to cook it. Here’s what I learned, and what you should know about this nutty protein.

What is tempeh?

Tempeh is a soy-based meat alternative. It’s made from whole soy beans which are softened by soaking. Then they’re cooked, slightly fermented and formed into a firm patty or block.

And actually, while tempeh is traditionally made with soybeans, it can actually be made with any type of bean, like black beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas. Some kinds of tempeh also include grains, like brown rice, barley or millet, or seeds.

Is tempeh the same as tofu?

No! While tempeh and tofu are both high protein meat alternatives made from soy, they’re actually totally different from one another.

The first big difference is that tempeh is minimally processed using whole soybeans, while tofu is made by coagulating soy milk, then pressing the curd into blocks. Tofu has a soft texture, and is sold in varying degrees of firmness, from silken to extra firm. Meanwhile, tempeh is hearty and firm with a varied texture from the whole soybeans.

Also, the texture and flavor of these products are nothing alike. Tempeh has a much stronger flavor than tofu. It’s savory and nutty, and many people describe it as having an earthy, mushroom-y taste. Tofu, on the other hand only has a subtle flavor and is pretty bland.

(Image credit: Emily Han)

What does tempeh taste like?

Tempeh is firm and textured with a savory, nutty taste. If you don’t care for tofu and its soft, sometimes rubbery texture, consider trying tempeh. It has a completely different texture and taste.

Where to find tempeh

You can buy tempeh in any health food store, as well as most grocery stores. Look for it in the refrigerated section, near where tofu and meat alternative products are sold. You can also make your own tempeh at home!

Making your own tempeh gives you the ability to customize it to your taste, including adding grains, seeds or other flavors.

More on making tempeh: How to Make Tempeh

(Image credit: Emily Han)

How to eat tempeh

Tempeh is a super versatile food, and there’s no shortage of ways to eat it. Use tempeh the same way you would any type of meat or tofu — as a burger, in salads, stir fries, soups and stews.

Before we get to the cooking, keep in mind that since tempeh is firm, it’s best to slice it into thin slices or cubes before preparing it.

To add more flavor, consider marinating the tempeh before cooking. Tempeh is commonly sliced thin then pan-fried or grilled, until the edges are crispy. It can also be baked, steamed, crumbled into soups and stews, or added into stir-fries.

Try these favorite tempeh recipes

Have you ever tried tempeh? What’s your favorite way to prepare it?