Originally devised in Indonesia, tempeh is made from cooked soya beans that are then fermented in sliceable, oblong patties in which you can see whole beans. It is a very important full protein dietary source, equivalent to meat, milk and eggs, and thus is a vital choice in vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as being a useful alternative in a varied meat-based diet.
Weight for weight, tempeh is higher in calories than tofu but is also higher in protein. It is much less processed than tofu.
For many, the unadulterated flavour is somewhat difficult, a combination of nuts and mushrooms with an underpinning of bitterness and perhaps also a challenging cheesiness. Like tofu, tempeh is rarely eaten by itself but is incorporated into other dishes and readily absorbs those flavours to mollify and disguise its own.
Read our guide on the health benefits of fermenting.
Often found in bigger supermarkets but more commonly in health and specialty stores and by internet. It can be bought and stored frozen.
Choose the best
Ideally, tempeh should be bought pasteurised, because the unpasteurised version can develop more unusual flavours even though remaining safe to eat. The most important thing to be certain about is whether the tempeh has been cooked or not; if nothing is said, tempeh must be cooked before being used in any way. Cooking reduces the strength of flavour, especially the bitterness, and also helps tempeh more readily absorb other flavours.
Adhere rigidly to any date restrictions or other advice given. Freezing is an excellent way to store it, cooked or uncooked.
If tempeh needs to be cooked before being eaten, it should be steamed, boiled or fried for at least 20 minutes.
Tempeh can be the basis of a meal, after marinating or being added to something like a vegetable stew, giving both bulk and protein; there are very few flavours with which it will not marry. Otherwise it is a useful side dish – again marinated, perhaps with Asian flavourings and ingredients – or sprinkled as a last-minute addition in small cubes to ensure good protein content in a vegetarian or vegan meal.