Using Tempeh as a Protein

Fermented Soy Product for Vegan and Vegetarian Dishes

Grilled tempeh

Lauren Krohn/Getty Images

Tempeh is a soy food that is high in protein. Although it may be new to the West, it has been eaten in Asia (particularly Indonesia) for hundreds of years. It is popular in vegetarian and vegan cooking as a replacement for meat. Although tempeh is made from soy, it has a unique taste and is mildly flavorful on its own, unlike tofu.

What Is Tempeh?

Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans. This fermentation helps make the carbohydrates in soy more digestible, helping avoid problems with indigestion and gas that some people experience with soy.

After fermentation, tempeh is formed into a patty, similar to a very firm veggie burger. It differs from tofu in that the beans are kept whole and pressed together, rather than being ground up. You can see the beans in the patty or loaf, held together by the beneficial probiotic mold used in the fermentation process.

The taste of and texture of tempeh is nothing like tofu. It has a nutty flavor of its own in addition to taking on flavors from sauces or marinades. Tempeh has a very firm texture which doesn't easily crumble like tofu does.

Most commercially prepared brands of tempeh add other grains, such as barley, and there are many varieties available. Because of this, tempeh is very often not gluten-free, so you will need to check labels carefully if you are avoiding gluten, or make your own tempeh.

If you are avoiding soy, you can find tempeh made by the same process using other kinds of beans, such as black beans or chickpeas.

How to Use Tempeh

Try adding tempeh to a stir-fry instead of tofu. As a replacement for ground beef, crumble, finely chop it, or even grate it with a cheese grater and add it to soups or meatless chili. For slabs or cubes, its firm texture requires that you slice tempeh into thinly, no more than 3/4 inch thick. Tempeh will get a nice crisp edge when cooked in a frying pan or grilled.

Many tempeh recipes will call for it to be simmered for about 10 minutes before cooking it or adding it into a dish. This is just to soften it up a bit since tempeh has a very firm texture.

Buying Tempeh

Tempeh can be found in the refrigerated section of most health food stores and in the natural foods aisle of well-stocked grocery stores. Look for it next to the tofu. You will find it in different flavors and with the addition of various grains.

Nutritional Value of Tempeh

Tempeh is a high-protein, relatively low-fat and cholesterol-free food. Depending on the brand, one serving of tempeh (100 grams) provides around 200 calories, 18.2 grams of protein, and 11 percent of the RDA for calcium, 21 percent of the RDA for iron, and is an excellent source of vitamin B2, B3, B6, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. It also contains much more fiber than tofu, with more than 4 grams in a serving compared with less than half of a gram for tofu.