What is Tempeh? A definition and how to cook it

Grilled tempeh
Grilled tempeh photo by Lauren Krohn/Getty Images

Definition: Although it may be new to the west, tempeh is a vegetarian soy food that has been eaten in Asia, particularly Indonesia, for hundreds of years and is popular in vegetarian and vegan cooking as a stand-in replacement for meat. 

What Is Tempeh?

Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans and formed into a patty, similar to a very firm veggie burger. Many commercially prepared brands of tempeh add other grains, such as barley, and there are many varieties available with also add spices and extra flavors.

Although tempeh is made from soy, it has a unique taste and is mildly flavorful on its own, unlike tofu.

See also: The best vegetarian tempeh recipes to try

If you aren't fond of tofu, tempeh is also very high in protein and calcium, as well as beneficial isoflavones, but, tempeh actually tastes nothing like tofu and the two have very little in common. Tempeh has a textured and nutty flavor with a very firm texture which doesn't easily crumble, like tofu does. Many vegetarian and vegan recipes use tempeh as a meat substitute when making make stir-fries, sandwiches or chili. 

How to Use Tempeh

Because it is a low-fat and high-protein food, many vegetarians choose to include tempeh in their diet on a regular basis. Try adding some to a stir fry instead of tofu, or crumble or finely chop it up and add it into soups or meatless chili. Because of its firm texture, you need to slice tempeh into small dices or cubes, not more than 3/4 inch thick, and, many tempeh recipes will call for the tempeh 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.

Tempeh can be found in the refrigerated section of most health food stores and in the natural foods aisle of well-stocked grocery stores. Here's a few vegetarian and vegan tempeh recipes to get you started.

Is Tempeh Healthy? What is the Nutritional Value of Tempeh?

Is tempeh healthy? A resounding yes!

 Tempeh is a high-protein, relatively low-fat and cholesterol-free food perfect for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone looking for a low-fat and heart-healthy source of protein. 

What is the nutritional value of tempeh? Depending on the brand, one serving of tempeh (100 grams) provides around 200 calories, 18.2 grams of protein (that's even more protein per gram than tofu!), and 10% of the RDA of both calcium and iron. Tempeh is a naturally cholesterol-free food, as are all vegan foods.

See also: Protein for vegetarians

Tempeh Recipes:

Looking for some simple vegetarian and vegan tempeh recipes to try? Here's a few recipes to browse to get you inspired in the kitchen:

See also: More vegetarian tempeh recipes to try