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What’s the Deal With Tempeh? A Nutritionist Explains Why It’s So Healthy, How to Cook It, and More

Health logoHealth 07/10/2019 Julie Upton, RD

If you're interested in a meat-free choice that’s delicious, minimally processed, and packed with protein, you've come to the right place: Tempeh (pronounced tem-pay) is a fermented cousin to tofu, with even more protein than its famous relative. Many people find tempeh tastier than tofu, too. Here, we answer a few FAQs about this versatile food.

a piece of bread on a wooden cutting board

What is tempeh?

A traditional Indonesian staple that dates back centuries, tempeh is made by fermenting partially-cooked soybeans with mold or fungi. Fermenting soybeans enables the beans to bind together in a compressed cake that can then be used to make a variety of dishes. Like tofu, tempeh is also often processed into ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat meatless deli slices and faux bacon and sausage products. (Check out our recipe for homemade tempeh bacon.)

Is it good for you?

Eating more soy-based foods in place of animal-based protein can help reduce risk for several types of chronic diseases, like heart disease and certain types of cancer. Reams of research show that soy foods are generally low in saturated fat, contain no cholesterol, and provide phytonutrients called isoflavones that have anti-cancer properties.

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What does tempeh taste like?

Tempeh has a dry, chewy texture and a slightly nutty, mushroom-like taste. It’s usually combined with grains like wheat, quinoa, or beans to make satisfying savory dishes.

How do you cook tempeh?

Boiled tempe or tempeh in a spicy marinade © Getty Boiled tempe or tempeh in a spicy marinade

Tempeh is often marinated to amp up the flavor. It can be steamed, sautéed, grilled, or baked; and served sliced, diced, or crumbled. You can eat it however you like it best. But some of the most popular ways to enjoy tempeh include using it as a replacement for ground beef in tacos, sloppy Joes, spaghetti sauce, and casseroles.

You can also combine tempeh crumbles with beans or whole grains to make plant-based burgers. Traditional Asian-inspired stir-fries, teriyaki tempeh, and other marinated and sautéed tempeh dishes are also delicious.

Essentially, whenever you want to pack in more plant-based protein into a meal, consider tempeh.

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Tempeh vs. tofu

Compared to tofu, tempeh is nutritionally superior as it packs in more than twice the protein and several times the fiber. And, it’s considerably less processed when you buy blocks or cakes of tempeh. (You’ll immediately notice this, as you’ll see soybean pieces or whole beans in the compressed tempeh cake.)

What’s more, the fermentation process is thought to create beneficial pre- and probiotics, and increase the absorption of calcium present in tempeh. Tempeh also provides more calcium, iron, potassium and B-vitamins than most other soy foods. One caveat: Because it is more condensed, tempeh is higher in calories than tofu.

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