Whether you're transitioning to a plant-based diet or want to try adding a new kind of protein to your meals, tempeh and tofu are delicious meat alternatives to start with.
Loaded with protein and nutrients, both of these superfoods are derived from soybeans creating a flavor and texture that's incredibly versatile. Add tofu to your next stir fry, or crumble tempeh atop your ideal salad. These two ingredients are a favorite among vegans and meat-eaters alike!
Though tempeh and tofu may be derived from the same ingredient, they're pretty different. Knowing when to use each is a vital part of making a healthy and delicious meal. To understand the differences between tempeh and tofu, we must take a closer look at how each ingredient is made, prepared and the many recipes you can create with it. Let's get started!
What is Tofu?
If you're a fan of plant based protein, then you've probably tried tofu before. Whether you choose to order tofu at a restaurant or prepare it yourself at home, knowing where tofu comes from is essential to understanding this superfood's benefits. Tofu's main ingredient is soybeans. A bit different from the fuzzy edamame you'd typically enjoy with soy sauce, the soybeans used to make tofu are mature white soybeans.
To make a block of tofu that can be purchased in stores, the mature soybeans are pressed and turned into soybean milk that is then combined with a coagulant like magnesium chloride and pressed to make a cheese-like compressed soy milk. Then, the block of tofu is now ready for all of your cooking ventures. The length of pressing time determines the firmness of the tofu. The longer a block of tofu is pressed, the more firm it will be.
Types of Tofu
When adding tofu to your at-home recipes, it is crucial that you choose the right type. Various types of tofu can be found on grocery store shelves, and knowing which to choose is the key to creating a great-tasting meal. Before you head to the grocery store to grab a block of tofu, review the different types below and determine which will work best in your recipe.
Now that you know that the firmness of tofu is directly related to the amount of time it's been pressed, you can probably guess that soft tofu has been pressed for the least amount of time. Pressed just enough for the tofu to hold form, soft tofu has a lighter and creamier texture than other types. A smooth block with a texture similar to Jell-O, soft tofu has a mild, milky flavor. It can be added to everything from desserts to smoothies.
An increasingly popular type of tofu, silken tofu, is different from the rest. Instead of mixed with a coagulant, silken tofu is made with soy milk that's thickened without curdling. Its silky appearance and delicate texture require light handling. It is often added to creamy recipes and blended into foods like puddings, salad dressings and dips. It can also be used as an egg substitute for baking.
Medium/Medium Firm Tofu
The most common type of tofu, medium tofu, is rougher in texture than soft tofu. The curds in a block of medium tofu are visible, and its moderate moisture content makes it ideal for recipes that require minimal handling.
Firm Tofu/Extra Firm Tofu
Pressed for a longer time than soft and medium tofu, firm tofu holds up well to frequent handling and can be incorporated into most types of cuisine. Additionally, because it contains less liquid than softer varieties, it cooks much more quickly too!
What is Tempeh?
Now that you know a bit more about tofu, it's time to talk about tempeh. Often overshadowed by tofu's popularity, tempeh is a superfood that boasts impressive benefits of its own. As a plant-based health food, tempeh isn't just for vegans anymore. Its popularity has made it easy to find on grocery store shelves, but what do we really know about this plant-based protein? Here's what the Bob's Red Mill Experts have to say about this beloved meat alternative.
How is Tempeh Made?
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans. However, various other beans, whole grains and flavorings are usually added in as well. To make tempeh, soybeans are first cooked and then fermented and formed into a block. Known for its high protein content, soy tempeh boasts several health benefits. High in vitamins and minerals, soy tempeh is often considered a healthy food and can be found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
If you have a soy allergy, we recommend avoiding traditional tempeh and tofu. However, soy-free options are available and made from non-soy protein sources such as legumes, whole grains and hemp.
Where to Find Tempeh?
Thanks to its growing popularity, tempeh can be found at most major grocery and health food stores. Often kept in the refrigerated section, it's usually placed alongside other vegan and vegetarian ingredients. In addition to different flavorings, several varieties of tempeh are typically available, including soy, barley and flax. Experimenting with each will help you determine your favorite and how to use it in recipes.
Additionally, if you're feeling adventurous, you can also make tempeh at home, using a tempeh starter culture. While it may require a bit more work than purchasing tempeh at the store, it's a rewarding process.
The Difference Between Tofu and Tempeh
Now that we've covered how tofu and tempeh are made, let's talk about the differences between tempeh vs. tofu. While both plant-based proteins are derived from soybeans, they're cooked in significantly different ways. Continue reading to learn more about the differences between each to determine which meets your unique health needs.
Nutritionally tofu and tempeh are very similar. While both would make an excellent addition to your next meal, there are slight differences to consider. Generally, tempeh is higher in protein than tofu. This is primarily due to the additional legumes, grains, seeds and nuts used to make tempeh. If your goal is to incorporate more protein into your meals, we recommend incorporating more cooked tempeh into your recipes.
On the other hand, while tempeh may have more protein, it also has more calories and fat. This makes tempeh a more filling option, but it can also put your meals over the desired calorie threshold. If you're hoping to add protein to your meal without packing on the calories, tofu is the better choice.
How Tofu and Tempeh Are Prepared
Aside from their varying nutritional content, tofu and tempeh are prepared in different ways. While both are an excellent addition to a healthy diet, choosing one over another might come down to what you're craving that day. Both protein sources make a great meat substitution in meals.
If you're craving a heartier taste and texture, tempeh is the best option. For more unique recipes, tofu is likely the better choice. Because tofu is virtually flavorless, it can be added to nearly any dish and offers more uses than traditional tempeh.
Purchasing Tofu and Tempeh
When purchasing tofu and tempeh we recommend choosing a product that is as natural as possible. This is especially crucial when it comes to tempeh. While tempeh can be a part of a healthy diet, many flavored varieties often hold a lot of added sugar and salt. More so, if you're following a gluten-free diet, you'll need to double check that the tempeh you're purchasing is free of wheat.
The Better Option: Tofu or Tempeh?
When deciding whether you should purchase tofu vs. tempeh, it really comes down to the recipe you plan on cooking. While both ingredients are excellent plant-based meat alternatives, tempeh is commonly considered the healthier option as it's less processed than tofu. That being said, tofu is still excellent for you, and when purchasing either, you must choose products from a trusted source.
Suppose you're purchasing a meat alternative to help meet your nutritional needs. In that case, it's important to remember that the nutritional makeup of tofu can vary slightly depending on the type of tofu you purchase. Silken, medium and extra-firm tofu all carry a somewhat different nutrition content. However, they can all be incorporated into a healthy diet. It just depends on the dish you choose to make with them!
Now that you're an expert at all things tempeh and tofu, we encourage you to try cooking with them. From Citrus Pound Cake to Sesame Noodles with Tofu and Almond Sauce, the many dishes that you can make with these plant-based meat alternatives are sure to spice up your family's weeknight meals. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, we wish you a healthy and happy day!
Have a plant-based recipe that you'd like us to try out? We'd love to hear about the meals you make using tofu and tempeh. Let us know your favorite recipes in the comments below.