What is Tempeh & How to Cook it

In today’s world of plant-based diets, it’s essential to explore alternatives that not only provide various health benefits but also maintain the sustainability of the food chain.

Long before the popularization of modern meat substitutes, tempeh, an Indonesian plant-based food made from fermented soybeans, held its reputation as a nutrient-rich meat alternative. This article will introduce you to the world of tempeh, discussing its nutritional value, flavors, and the various ways you can incorporate it into your daily meals.

Key Takeaways

  • Tempeh is a nutritious, plant-based food made from fermented soybeans
  • It offers a unique taste and texture, making it versatile in various recipes
  • This article provides guidance on how to prep, cook, and incorporate tempeh into your diet

What Is Tempeh?

Originating from the Island of Java in Indonesia, tempeh has an extensive history going back to the early 1800s, although it’s presumed to be even older. A popular staple in Indonesia, tempeh is often enjoyed fried, paired with a variety of spicy sauces.

To create tempeh, base ingredients like soybeans or grains undergo a unique process. They are partially cooked, cooled, and then introduced to a fungal culture that instigates the fermentation process, sharing similarities with the way yogurt and cheese are made. As fermentation progresses, the mycelium, a white, thread-like structure, grows around the beans, forming a solid cake.

It is essential to note that tempeh must always be cooked before consumption, as it is not suitable for eating raw. While doing so deactivates the culture, rendering it non-probiotic, tempeh is rich in prebiotics, such as fiber, which helps nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut and supports a healthy digestive system.


What Does Tempeh Consist Of?

Tempeh is a nutritious, fermented plant-based food, usually crafted using soybeans. Other beans, grains, seeds, and even vegetables can be incorporated into tempeh. Adventurous chefs may also experiment with seaweed and seasonings to customize their tempeh creations.

Is Tempeh Good for You?

Tempeh, a flavorful and satisfying meat alternative, is beneficial for both vegetarians and those seeking nutrient-dense foods. Crafted from whole legumes or grains, tempeh is abundant in fiber and other essential nutrients. Its fermented nature enhances digestibility, facilitating the absorption of nutrients and antioxidants.

A 4-ounce serving of tempeh offers 19 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber, and a mere 167 calories, as per the USDA Agricultural Research Service. This makes tempeh comparable to salmon in protein content, but with fewer calories and additional fiber, making it an excellent choice for a healthy diet.

Is Tempeh Gluten-Free?

In general, tempeh is gluten-free when made traditionally. However, always examine labels carefully, as some commercial producers may include grains that contain gluten.

Where to Buy Tempeh

You can find tempeh in most health food stores, natural food stores, and well-stocked conventional grocery stores. It’s usually located near the tofu in refrigerated cases, or sometimes even in the frozen section to prolong its shelf life. There are various popular tempeh products such as tempeh bacon and pre-marinated, pre-baked tempeh.

Keep an eye out for local tempeh makers in your area, as they may offer unique and fresh options. Brands like Lightlife, Westsoy, and Tofurky distribute tempeh widely. Additionally, you can explore making tempeh at home for a personalized touch.

What Is the Flavor Profile of Tempeh?

Tempeh boasts a slightly nutty, mushroom-like taste and a chunky texture. As a fermented protein, it’s rich in umami, which imparts a savory meatiness. Unseasoned tempeh contains no salt, so adding soy sauce as a marinade enhances its meaty essence.

How to Prepare and Cook Tempeh

Ensure your tempeh appears like a beige and white cake with pressed beans and is free from black or colorful molds. Cooking tempeh is essential, so start by steaming it to eliminate the culture and introduce moisture. Afterward, you can cube, slice, or grind it based on your desired dish and texture.

For a ground beef-like consistency, put the cubes in a food processor and pulse until reaching a chunky texture. Finally, sauté the tempeh for various dishes such as chili, spaghetti sauce, or any other recipes that call for ground beef.

Tempeh Recipes to Explore Today

Dive into the world of tempeh with these fantastic recipes, or feel free to craft your own culinary delights. Discover the nutritious and delicious nature of tempeh through cooking and experimentation.

tempeh recipes

Easy & Delicious Marinated Tempeh

This tempeh recipe for deliciously marinated tempeh is a fantastic and easy way to serve tempeh. The maple balsamic sauce delivers some serious flavor making your tempeh irresistible!
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 12 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6
Calories 218 kcal


  • 2 8- oz packs of tempeh
  • ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup of maple syrup
  • 2 Tsp of olive and avocado oil
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce low sodium tamari, or coconut aminos
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 Tbsp Olive or avocado oil for cooking


  • Open and remove the tempeh from both packages. Cut both blocks in half width-wise, then cut all four halves into a star pattern to create 32 small triangles, or 16 per package.
  • Using a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, minced garlic, and 2 Tsp of oil. Next, you'll need a shallow dish that has a large surface area. Place your tempeh triangles in the dish, then pour the marinade over each piece before tossing them to ensure each has a nice coat of marinade. Allow your tempeh to marinate inside your refrigerator for 1-24 hours. If possible, while marinating, you want to stir your mixture a few times.
  • To pan-glaze, the tempeh, begin by heating up 1 Tbsp of oil in a large-size pan over medium heat. After the oil is hot enough, add tempeh pieces (but don't pour in the marinade). Cook until both sides are golden brown, which should take about 4-5 minutes for each side. After searing all the tempeh, pour the remaining marinade into the pan and allow the tempeh to simmer for another 5-7 minutes. You want to simmer just long enough for the marinade to reduce, creating a delicious glaze on your tempeh. Toss your tempeh pieces a few times while cooking.
  • After your sauce is thick enough and all the tempeh is glazed, your dish is ready to serve. I recommend serving marinated tempeh over rice, such as brown or cauliflower, along with your favorite veggie.


Calories: 218kcalCarbohydrates: 22gFat: 6g
Keyword easy tempeh, marinated tempeh, tempeh recipe
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is tempeh a healthy food choice?

Yes, tempeh is considered a healthy food option. It is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium. Moreover, tempeh is also a great source of probiotics, which supports your digestive system.

Are there any health risks associated with tempeh?

While tempeh is generally safe for consumption, some potential health risks may arise if it’s not properly prepared or stored. Always ensure that the tempeh is cooked thoroughly and stored in a clean, dry environment to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination.

Can vegans incorporate tempeh into their diet?

Absolutely! Tempeh is an ideal choice for vegans because it’s a plant-based protein source made from fermented soybeans. It is also versatile and easy to cook with, making it a great addition to a vegan diet.

What are some easy-to-cook tempeh recipes?

  • Tempeh Stir-Fry: Sauté tempeh cubes in oil, then add your preferred vegetables and sauce.
  • Tempeh Sandwich: Grill or pan-fry tempeh slices and use them as a protein-packed filling in your sandwich.
  • Tempeh Salad: Crumble or cube tempeh, then mix with your choice of salad greens, veggies, and dressing.

How does tempeh bacon differ from traditional bacon?

Tempeh bacon is a plant-based alternative to regular bacon. It is made by marinating and baking or pan-frying thinly sliced tempeh. While it may not taste exactly like traditional bacon, it offers a smoky, savory flavor and can be used in similar dishes as a healthier substitute.

Is tempeh gluten-free?

Tempeh is usually gluten-free, as it is made from fermented soybeans. However, it is important to read the packaging labels carefully, as some tempeh products may contain added ingredients derived from wheat or other gluten-containing sources.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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