What is tempeh?
Tempeh is a traditional soya product, originally from Indonesia, and is made from cooked fermented soya beans.
Traditionally to make tempeh, the soya beans are first soaked overnight and then de-hulled to remove their outer layer. The beans are then cooked and cooled, before being mixed with a starter culture that contains rhizopus mould spores, and left to ferment at a warm temperature until the beans are bound into a cake-like substance – a process which takes just a few days.
Tempeh is not typically found in major supermarkets at the moment, but you can buy it from health food shops or online. Alternatively, you can make it yourself at home.
Nutritional profile of tempeh
Depending on the brand you buy, tempeh typically has around 170 calories per 100g. It is best known for its high protein content at around 19g per 100g. Tempeh is also an excellent source of fibre with 9g per 100g, which is almost one third of your recommended fibre intake.
Tempeh is low in carbohydrate (around 4g per 100g), of which a very small fraction is sugar (0.5g per 100g). It does contain about 6g of fat per 100g portion, but this is largely unsaturated fats made up of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The saturated fat content is typically very low – around 1-3g per 100g. Check the labels, as the nutritional profile will vary from brand to brand.
Tempeh contains some B vitamins which we need to help us break down and get energy from our food, as well as support our nervous system, and a good selection of minerals including calcium which we need for strong bones and teeth, magnesium and phosphorus which are both needed for the health of our bones, and zinc which is involved in wound healing.
As a fermented food, does tempeh have probiotic or prebiotic qualities?
Tempeh is typically cooked before eating, and some of the more commercial products are also pasteurised which means they will contain minimal probiotics (beneficial bacteria found in our digestive system) despite being a fermented product.
However, tempeh is rich in prebiotics which is the type of fibre that ‘feeds’ the beneficial bacteria, and has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and may help with cognition, as well as supporting digestive health.
What is a healthy portion size of tempeh?
A healthy portion size is around 100g per person, and can easily fit into a balanced diet as a vegan meat alternative for dishes such as mince, burgers and stir-fries.
How to buy the best tempeh
The fresher the better ideally, and you may need to look into the individual brands to understand how they make their tempeh, unless of course you make it yourself. This is because the more commercial brands will use de-hulled soya beans that may have sat in storage for some time, compared to other, often smaller, brands that use whole beans and then remove the hulls at the time of manufacturing which provides a fresher product.
As always, check the labels of any pre-made tempeh and make sure there are no added extras such as wheat, gluten, sugar or other additives. Brands that are labelled smoky maple bacon, for example, will typically have more ingredients added but may well be less beneficial nutritionally. Ideally, tempeh will be just tempeh and nothing else. You may also find a few brands that have simply added sea vegetables or hemp seeds for extra nutritional value.
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This article was published on 5 April 2019.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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