Tempeh for Beginners 

 February 23, 2021

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What is tempeh?

By tradition, tempeh is a food made out of whole soybeans (a legume) that have been fermented. 

The result of this fermentation is a thin cake which can be sliced, crumbled and cubed. All the soybeans are visible and stuck together as a result of the fermentation. While most tempeh is made out of soy, tempeh can be made with any legume or grain. This is usually differentiated by adding the name of the legume on the packaging, for example, garbanzo, lentils or black bean tempeh.

In this article, we will be focusing on tempeh made mainly from soybeans.

Is tempeh vegan?

Yes! Tempeh is a vegan food and is much loved by vegans as a high protein food source.

The only ingredients are soybeans, rice vinegar and a starter. This starter is made from live microorganisms, but like yeast, they are considered vegan.

What does tempeh taste like?

Tempeh is described as tasting nutty, earthy chewy and savory.

Tempeh has a much stronger flavor than bland tofu which is down to the fermentation process.  As it is made from whole soybeans, it has a chewier texture. It has a unique flavor.  Most people describe it as earthy, savory or nutty.

Is tempeh a raw food?

Tempeh is not considered a raw food as the soybeans need to be boiled and cooked before they are made into fermented and made in to cakes. Strict raw foodists would not consider tempeh to be a raw food despite it being nutrient dense.

Tempeh vs Tofu

While there are some similarities, there are a lot of differences too.




Made from cooked soybeans

Originated in Indonesia

Originated in China

Are considered minimally  processed soy products

Made through fermentation

Made by coagulating soy milk

Can be marinated, fried, turned into burgers etc

Less processed than tofu

Slightly more processed than tempeh

They can be made at home with some effort

Contains halved soybeans

Higher in water content

High in protein per calorie

Lower in water content

higher in water content

Tempeh vs Seitan

As with tofu, there are some similarities and differences with seitan as well.




High in protein

Originated in Indonesia

Originated in China

Commonly used as a meat substitute

Made from whole soybeans that are cooked and fermented with a starter

Made from vital wheat gluten (the protein from wheat)

Can be prepared in many different ways.

Higher in fibre

Lower in fibre

Minimally processed

Gluten-free unless made from grains that contain gluten

Contains gluten and Soy-free (although some seitan is flavoured with soy sauce

Tofu vs tempeh vs seitan

Tofu vs tempeh vs seitan

What are the different types of tempeh?

While tempeh can be made from all grains and legumes, most varieties we find in the supermarkets are made from soybeans. Sometimes tempeh can be made from a blend of different beans, grains and seeds and even herbs and spices. 

Noble bean quinoa and tempeh

How do you cook tempeh?

Tempeh can be prepared in very similar ways to firm tofu. It can be marinated a thousand different ways and then baked grilled or fried. It can be sliced and cubed and used to make salads and curries more filling and substantial.

Where does tempeh originate?

Tempeh was first made on the island of Java in Indonesia, probably about a thousand years ago or more, and is still widely eaten in Indonesia today.  It was (and still is) considered a very cheap and nutritious food that is available in all wet markets. While most tempeh is fermented in plastic bags in the west, in Indonesia the soybeans are fermented in banana leaves instead.

Which cuisines traditionally use tempeh?

Tempeh was invented in Indonesia.  For hundreds of years it was considered peasants food and was eaten by a large amount of the Indonesian population. It is usually stir fried with Kecap Manis (a sweet soy sauce), served with a peanut satay sauce or sliced very thinly and turned in to crackers.  These days, tempeh has become popular outside of Indonesia especially as a meat substitute and has been integrated into a lot of dishes instead of meat.

Temph in cuisine

Where to buy tempeh?


Tempeh is now available at most grocery stores in the refrigerated section and is usually placed near the other vegan protein sources like tofu, seitan and other vegan meats. It is sometimes kept in the frozen section, especially if there is not a high turnover in the store.

Tempeh at the supermarket

Health Food Stores

Because of its health benefits you will often find tempeh in health food stores, in the refrigerated or frozen section.


Some of the big online retailers will sell tofu, but you might also find that there could be a local producer of tempeh close to you. They will often make different types and flavors of tempeh. Many people make tempeh as a home business. 

Convenient tempeh

You might find tempeh in the store that has already been marinated to save the consumer some time in the  kitchen. You can even find tempeh that is already marinated, cubed and fried to quickly add to salads curries. Some tempeh is flavored with certain herbs and spices.

Tempeh Nutrition

Is tempeh healthy?

Tempeh is considered to be a nutrient dense food. It is low in sodium and cholesterol and high in protein. It has a lot of prebiotics and is an excellent source of fibre. 

calories per 100g

protein per 100g

fat per 100g

carbohydrates per 100g

193 calories

19 grams

11 grams

7.6 grams

Nutritional Information Tofu vs Tempeh




Calories per 100 grams



Protein per 100 grams



Fat per 100 grams



Carbohydrate per 100 grams



Fibre per 100 grams



Low carb

Soy free


X Unless made from a different legume or grain)

Rich in

Calcium, isoflavones

Prebiotics, iron potassium

*Note, tempeh is generally higher in macronutrients due to having a much lower water content than tofu (more of the weight of the tofu is made up of water).

Is tempeh gluten-free

If the tempeh is made from a non gluten grain, then it will be gluten-free. A small amount of tempeh is made from a blend of different legumes or grains.  If you are very sensitive to gluten, then make sure your base beans or grains blend are not glutinous.

Is tempeh soy-free?

Most tempeh is made from soybeans, in which case this tempeh is not soy-free. Choose a tempeh made from a different bean or grain such as garbanzo beans (chickpeas).

Is tempeh considered a low carb food?

A low carb or carbohydrate diet  is usually defined as a diet that contains less than 100-150 grams of carbohydrate a day. Tempeh (like tofu) is considered a low carbohydrate food as there is approximately 7.6  grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams.

Is tempeh a highly-processed food?

Like tofu, tempeh is not considered to be a highly processed soy product indeed, it is considered to be less processed than even tofu. This is because the tempeh is made out of whole soybeans (that have only been dehulled, split and boiled) This is a very different level of processing to some isolated soy proteins you might find in refined and processed foods.

Is tempeh genetically modified?

Soybeans are a crop that is commonly genetically modified however, most tempeh producers are aware that this is a source of concern for some consumers. Most tempeh is produced with organic soybeans or certified as GMO free. This will be clearly labelled on the packaging.

Zero waste tempeh

Most tempeh is usually sold in sealed plastic or made in plastic bags with holes in it. You can avoid this by making your own tempeh and wrapping the cooked and dried beans in banana leaves instead of a zip-lock bag. Other people have experimented with using glass containers instead of plastic bags with varying degrees of success.

How is tempeh made?

The principles of making tempeh are easy, but can require some time, effort and perhaps some trial and error. Firstly, soybeans are soaked for 10-12 hours. There are a number of different methods for splitting and dehulling soybeans ranging from agitating them in water so that the skins come off. This can take a long time. There are a number of hacks available online which can be used with mixed success. If you want to skip this step, you can find soybeans that have already been split and dehulled

After dehulling, the soybeans need to be boiled for up to an hour, drained and dried well. Vinegar is added to the beans followed by the starter and mixed well. When incorporated, the tempeh is placed into some sort of container that allows for a small amount of airflow. Many people use ziplock bags with some holes poked through them. Tempeh needs a temperature of 29°C - 32°C (85°F - 90°F) to get started, but once the fermentation is underway, it starts to generate its own heat. After 12 hours you should start to see some white mycelium growing on the beans. 

After 24-48 hours, the mycelium will continue to grow over the beans and help stick all the beans together into a cake form.  When the tempeh is firm all the way though you can stop the fermentation process, allow it to cool to room temperature. The tempeh is now ready to use.

tempeh ready to use

 If not using straight away, you can store in the refrigerator (7 days) or the freezer (up to 12  months).

Tools and ingredients you need to make your own tempeh

You will need a number of ingredients to make your own tempeh:


You need something to incubate your tempeh to get the fermentation process started. You can use a dehydrator, or you can make one very cheaply.

There are lots of workarounds for incubators available for those that do not have something that will keep the tempeh at the correct temperature.  However these methods might take a bit of trial and error.

Can tempeh be frozen?

Yes. Once tempeh is made or purchased, you can put  it in the freezer for up to 12 months. It should be in a freezer-safe bag. When you want to use it, you can put it on the counter for several hours or steam it to thaw it.

How is tempeh stored?

If you purchase it frozen you can thaw it in the refrigerator and use it within a week. Once the package is opened, it should also be used between 5-7 days.

What are the black spots on tempeh?

Some small spots of the tempeh may have small black or grey spots on it. This is normal.

How do I know if my tempeh has gone bad?

Look for the following signs to know if your tempeh has gone bad:

  • The white of the mold has turned to a more yellow color.
  • The tempeh smell becomes much more pungent.
  • It gets a slimy coating on the outside and the structure of the tofu is limp.

Why do I need to steam tempeh?

Many recipes call for the tempeh to be steamed for 10-15 minutes before proceeding with the recipe. The tempeh expands just a little bit and becomes more porous which is ideal for marinades.  It also can remove some of the bitterness.

steam tempeh

Marinating tempeh

Tempeh can be marinated in all of the usual marinades that we might use for tofu or even meat. 


Curries and stews

You can use tempeh simply cut in chunks instead of meat in curries and stews. 

Indonesian tempeh curry

What’s the price of tempeh?

Tempeh is usually about twice the price of tofu, usually about $3.50 for 250 grams. We don’t really know the reason for this, but suppose that it might be because there is less water in tempeh than in tofu and the customer demand for tofu is much higher.

Learn more about tempeh

If tempeh has captured your imagination, you might be interested in some of these books that focus specifically on these foods.

Let's Discuss!

We'd love to hear from you!  Do you have any questions?   Want to share your favorite tempeh tip, trick or recipe?  Write it down in the comments below!

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