What Is Tempeh Made Of?

By: Bob's Red Mill | October 26 2022

A staple food across Indonesia, tempeh is a popular plant-based meat alternative used in various cuisines. If you've felt uninspired in the kitchen lately or are looking to incorporate more protein into your diet, tempeh is a great place to start. Derived from soybeans and turned into a fermented cake, tempeh is incredibly versatile.

When cooked, tempeh transforms into a crunchy, nutty-flavored food that can be enjoyed as a snack or worked into recipes as the primary protein source. Keep scrolling to discover answers to common questions like “what is tempeh made out of?” and “how do you make tempeh?” with this complete guide.

What is Tempeh?

Learning more about this vegan meat substitute and where it comes from will help you better work this superfood into your meals. A nutrient-rich plant based protein, traditional tempeh is made mainly from fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a block-shaped cake.

What is the difference between seitan vs tempeh? Tempeh is made of soybeans and sometimes mixed together with brown rice, while seitan is made of vital wheat gluten. Originating in Indonesia, tempeh is now used globally and a celebrated staple in vegetarian and vegan diets.

How is Tempeh Made?

tempeh slices in white ceramic bowls and on a marble table. raw soybean seeds in a white ceramic bowl

The method of making tempeh is valued as more of a tradition than a process. Tempehs unparalleled flavor and nutrients are produced through the process of fermentation. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans and sometimes with brown rice. However, the process of making it is entirely different. To make tempeh, soybeans are first washed and brought to a boil. They are then soaked overnight, hulled, and cooked for about an hour before being drained and cooled. After cooling, the soybeans are mixed with a particular type of fungus that begins the fermentation process.

They are then wrapped in banana leaves (or plastic bags) and fermented for 24-48 hours. The soybeans bind together with the fungus during the fermentation process to transform the tempeh into a firm cake-like creation.

In most grocery stores, both fresh and pasteurized tempeh is available for purchase. Not sure what the difference is? Pasteurized tempeh is made by introducing the mixture to high levels of heat. Doing so stops the fermentation process and keeps it from spoiling too quickly. Fresh tempeh is tempeh that has not been introduced to high heat. Though the fresh ingredients contain a lot of flavor and nutrients, they will need to be enjoyed within 3-5 days, as they won't keep as long as the pasteurized variety.

Does Fresh and Pasteurized Tempeh Taste the Same?

The difference in shelf life between fresh and pasteurized tempeh isn't the only difference between the two—they also have a slightly different flavor. Fresh tempeh is often white and boasts a lively taste similar to that of mushrooms.

It has a creamy and meaty texture that can be added to a variety of dishes. Pasteurized tempeh is often tan in color and flaunts a much more subtle flavor than fresh tempeh. Both tempeh types work well in recipes. However, if you haven't tried fresh tempeh before, we recommend seeking it out. 

How to Prepare Tempeh

Fried tempeh


Ready to start cooking tempeh? Tempeh can be prepared in several different ways depending on the requirements of your vegan tempeh recipe. Keep scrolling to discover the many ways you can begin cooking tempeh today!

Deep-Fried Tempeh

Deep frying tempeh is an excellent way to boost its natural umami flavor. Its savory, meat-like taste works well in multiple cuisines. When enjoyed in Indonesia, tempeh is almost always deep-fried and marinated in traditional spices like coriander and garlic.

Steamed Tempeh

Another popular way to cook tempeh is to steam it. If you're starting your tempeh journey, chances are it will be a bit too bitter for you to enjoy straight out of the package. Steaming your uncooked tempeh is an excellent way to cook it and is great for removing some of the bitterness.

To steam your soy tempeh to perfection, follow these steps:

  1. Begin by placing it in a saucepan and covering it with water. Vegetable broth can also be used to cook the tempeh slices and add a bit of flavor to the dish.
  2. After adding the liquid, bring it to a boil. Once it's at a rolling boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 
  3. Lastly, remove the cooked tempeh and proceed with the flavoring processing by marinating or seasoning it.

Marinated Tempeh

While tempeh can be enjoyed straight from the package, it's rather bland on its own. Preparing tempeh takes time, and marinating it is an essential part of the preparation process. The best tempeh marinades are those which pack a flavorful punch. Using ingredients like vinegar, soy sauce, citrus juice, coconut milk, peanut butter, spices, and ginger is sure to boost the flavor of the dish. 

Or, if you're seeking sweet-flavored tempeh, we recommend marinating it with natural sweeteners like agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, or this sweet and spicy salmon rub. Just a dash of these ingredients will work to heighten the flavor of the tempeh and entire meal. Once the tempeh has been properly marinated, cook it by pan-frying it, grilling, or baking it. Plus, you can pair the grilled tempeh with a spicy pineapple sauce for that extra kick.

Blackened Tempeh

Searching for a quick way to spice up your next salad or grain bowl? Try adding blackened tempeh cubes to it. Tempeh can easily be coated and seared with blackening spice, making it a delicious addition to your favorite recipes. Use a traditional seasoning like Cajun seasoning or your seasoning made of your favorite herbs and spices. Once you have your mixture of choice, brush your tempeh cubes with oil, coat it with the spice mixture, and sear it in a frying pan allowing the spices to smoke for 5-10 seconds to blacken.

Crumbled Tempeh

Aside from marinating and steaming your uncooked tempeh, you can also crumble it directly into sauces and stews. Tempeh is an incredibly versatile food as it works to take on the flavor of whatever ingredients you add it to. An excellent way to add extra protein to your meal, try crumbling tempeh into spaghetti sauce, chili, curry soup and stew.

How to Use Tempeh as a Meat Alternative

Fried tempeh with broccoli

Whether you're switching to a plant-based diet or are simply searching for a new Meatless Monday recipe, tempeh is an excellent meat alternative. Before vegan and vegetarian diets became popular, finding a healthy meat alternative wasn't an easy task.

For centuries tempeh has been used in dishes as an alternative, healthy source of protein. It's made from whole grains and legumes, loaded with nutrients and fiber, and is relatively unprocessed. Additionally, it's much easier to digest because it's fermented, allowing your body to absorb those nutrients and antioxidants much more quickly. Enjoy tempeh as a primary source of protein, or add it to your dishes to make them a bit meatier.

How Do You Eat Tempeh?

One of the most valuable qualities of tempeh is that it can be enjoyed in several different ways. Slice it into sheets, strips, cubes, or ground it into a texture similar to ground beef. Tempeh can be added to sandwiches, crumbled into salads, or worked into sauces to thicken them up. Keep scrolling to learn more about the many ways you can enjoy and prepare tempeh and use it in your weekly recipes.

Reasons to Add Tempeh to Your Diet

Looking for a reason to eat more tempeh? Here are a few of our favorites.

Tempeh is Great for Your Gut

Tempeh is a fermented food, and fermented foods are great for your digestive system. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, and consuming them can help fill your body with beneficial bacteria that allow your intestinal flora to flourish. How does it work? The good bacteria creates a defense against harmful bacteria and boosts your overall intestinal flora's health while simultaneously enhancing your immune system.

Tempeh is a Great Source of Protein

An excellent source of plant based protein, tempeh has a meat-like texture which makes it the perfect ingredient to help turn your favorite recipes into vegetarian ones. With nearly 31 grams of protein per cup, it is a protein powerhouse that can be used as a burger substitute or even cut into strips and enjoyed on its own.

Tempeh is High in Fiber

Like protein, tempeh is also an excellent source of fiber. A crucial part of a well-working digestive system, adding more fiber to your diet can boost gut health, keep you regular and keep you fuller for longer.

Tempeh is Loaded with Antioxidants

Tempeh is overflowing with antioxidants. Enjoying foods rich in antioxidants provides your immune system with a boost to help reduce inflammation and protect your cells against free radicals.

The next time you require a bit of inspiration in the kitchen, try reaching for soy tempeh. A soybean cake that is easily adaptable, you can deep-fry it, bake it, or grill it to create a treat overflowing with a crunchy and nutty flavor. We can't wait to see the many recipes you come up with. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, we wish you the best on your tempeh cooking journey.

Have a tempeh recipe that you'd like us to try out? We'd love to hear more about it. Let us know your favorite tempeh dishes in the comments below. 

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *