- Culinary uses of tempeh
- Purchasing - storage
- Ingredients - nutritional values - calories
- Health effects
- Ecological footprint - animal welfare
- Worldwide occurrence - cultivation
- Additional information
Tempeh or tempe, (organic?) is a fermentation product from Indonesia. It is produced by inoculating cooked soybeans (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) with molds belong to the genus Rhizopus (e.g., Rhizopus oryzae, Rhizopus oligosporus).16
What is tempeh? or How does tempeh taste? The fermented product made from soybeans has a mild nutty and mushroom-like taste. Depending on the degree of ripeness, a pronounced bean-like aroma is also present. The mold used for inoculation forms a hyphal network that stretches around the soybeans, creating a compact block.16 The texture is mushroom-like and provides a firm yet delicate bite.
How do you eat tempeh? Tempeh can be used like tofu and is often used as a high-protein, vegan meat substitute. It can be roasted, grilled, steamed, smoked and baked. Its porous surface is ideal for picking up seasoning and sauces (e.g., soy sauce (tamari) or sambal oelek) and spices (e.g., curry powder, paprika, or coriander). Marinating with garlic, ginger and a little maple syrup is also recommended. Tempeh goes well in all kinds of vegetable dishes, rice, casseroles, and salads (raw food). Tempeh can be cut into pieces and used in spicy soups. As a vegan skewer, it looks great on the grill; the skewer tastes wonderful when served with a chili sauce.
Can you eat raw tempeh? Soybeans are boiled during the process of making tempeh. Therefore, tempeh is never raw and cannot be considered as raw food. However, you can eat tempeh without cooking further or without frying it - e.g., as a vegan cold cut in sandwich.
How to make tempeh
Ingredients: 500 g soybeans (dried, preferably soaked for 12-15 hours and rinsed), 5 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp tempeh starter (calculated on the dry weight of the beans).
Procedure: Boil the (soaked and rinsed) soybeans in a large pot with plenty of water and cook for about 45-60 minutes till it is tender but firm. Then drain the water and return the soybeans to the pot. Place the pot on the still hot stovetop so that the remaining moisture can evaporate.
When the cooked soybeans are dry, add the apple cider vinegar, stir well and allow to cool to 32 °C. Now stir in the starter. Transfer the mixture into bags (about halfway) and poke several air holes in the bags. Form compact loaves and close by folding tightly.
Let the loaves mature for 24-48 hours in a warm place (30-35 °C) until a white fungus has evenly coated the tempeh. You can put the bags in an oven with the light on next to a hot water bottle (refill the bottle with hot water every 12 hours). Leave the oven door open for air circulation (e.g., by inserting a chopstick in between). The tempeh is ready when it is completely covered with a white film.
Note: If homemade tempeh has reddish or slimy patches on it, discard it. This happens when the soybeans are not completely dried after cooking. Also, you shouldn't marinate tempeh while you're making it, you should marinate it afterwards. The liquid can cause unwanted mold to form on the tempeh.
Tempeh can also be made with lupine seeds (lupine tempeh), black beans, chickpeas or other legumes such as split peas.13
Vegan tempeh cabbage rolls with mustard sauce recipe
Ingredients (for 4 people): 400 g tempeh (organic), 1 savoy cabbage, 2 onions, 1 tsp ground cumin, some rapeseed oil, some salt and pepper, 1 shallot, 200 ml oat cream (vegan), 300 ml vegetable broth, 1 tbsp mustard, 1 tbsp mustard powder. Alternatively, you can make your own tempeh, see "How to make tempeh".
Procedure: Blanch the large savoy cabbage leaves in boiling salted water for approx. 3 minutes, rinse in cold water and drain. Cut what is left of the cabbage into strips. Peel the onions and cut them into rings. Grate tempeh (neutral or smoked) into coarse pieces.
Heat some rapeseed oil in a large pan and fry the onion rings until translucent. Add the cabbage strips and cumin. Let everything seep for approx. 10 minutes with the lid closed. Now add the tempeh pieces and season with salt and pepper. Let the pan cool down. Fill the large savoy cabbage leaves with the tempeh preparation and roll into roulades. Heat briefly before serving.
To prepare the mustard sauce, finely chop the shallot and sauté in a little rapeseed oil until translucent. Add the mustard powder, deglaze with vegetable stock and let simmer. Stir in the oat cream and simmer until you get the desired consistency. Finally, add the mustard and season with salt and pepper.
To find vegan recipes with tempeh follow the reference: "Recipes that have the most of this ingredient".
Health food stores and online shops offer a selection of tempeh varieties, and they are often organic. Here are some stores listed: Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, Target, Albertsons and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, Real Canadian Superstore and Goodness Me (Canada); and Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia).
To make the soy product yourself, you need to buy a tempeh culture (tempeh mushroom culture starter). These are easiest to find in online stores (tempeh recipes are usually included for free).
Homemade soy tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. Since purchased products are usually pasteurized or preserved in the pack, they can be stored longer in the refrigerator unopened (see pack information).
Can you freeze tempeh? Tempeh freezes well and can be stored in the freezer for about six months. Pasteurized tempeh can be kept in the fridge for about 10-14 days. You can boil it in a water bath and then drain it well, or bake it in the oven at 100 °C for 20 minutes.
Tempeh contains 192 kcal per 100 g, of which only 7.6 g are carbohydrates. The fat content is slightly higher and amounts to 11 g/100g. It contains 20 g/100g proteins, which accounts for 40.6 % of the daily requirement. Tempeh is a protein-rich food comparable to sunflower seeds (21 g/100g).1
The protein-rich fermented product contains many essential amino acids in large quantities, including threonine (0.8 g/100g) which accounts for 86 % of the daily requirement. Similar levels of threonine are found in raw mung beans (0.78 g/100g) and roasted peanuts (0.81 g/100g). Peeled hemp seeds contain 1.3 g/100g of threonine and clearly exceed the daily requirement of threonine.1
The amino acid tryptophan is also very well represented with 0.19 g/100 g (78 % of the daily requirement). Raw buckwheat (0.19 g/100g) and bulgur (0.19 g/100g) contain similar amounts of tryptophan. Hulled hemp seeds also contain a high amount of tryptophan (0.61 g/100g).1
Tempeh contains 0.88 g/100g of the amino acid isoleucine which is 71 % of the daily requirement and is comparable to flaxseed (0.9 g/100g). Dried pumpkin seeds have 1.3 g/100g and are therefore extremely rich in isoleucine.1
Tempeh also contains vitamin B12 (cobalamin). This is present at 0.08 µg/100g (3 % of the daily requirement) and is therefore comparable to the cobalamin content of baker's yeast (0.07 µg/100g). Yeast flakes are good sources of vitamin B12 with 2 µg/100g.1
You can find the total ingredients of tempeh, the coverage of the daily requirement and comparison values with other ingredients in our nutrient tables above.
Soy tempeh is rich in protein and vitamins and is also cholesterol-free. The consumption of soy protein can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by lowering blood lipid levels.3 Due to the high protein and fiber content, tempeh fills you up well and for a long time. Thus, consumption is suitable for a weight management diet. In addition, tempeh is gluten-free and therefore suitable for people with celiac disease.
The isoflavones present in soybeans (plant-based active ingredients that are similar to the sex hormone estrogen) can compensate for the hormone deficiency that occurs during menopause and thus reduce menopausal symptoms (e.g., hot flashes, sleep disorders). In addition, isoflavones are believed to have a protective effect against hormone-dependent cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. Isoflavones also have a positive effect on the skin, making it more elastic and preventing wrinkles.4
Can tempeh cause bloating? Legumes such as soybeans can be difficult to digest, causing some people to experience abdominal pain and bloating. However, the fermentation process, i.e. the pre-processing by the fungus Rhizopus, make the soybeans in the fermentation product easily digestible.2 Soy tempeh has an antibacterial effect due to inoculation with the mold fungi.5 However, the digestive tract and the intestinal flora are supported. This leads to a reduction in gastrointestinal discomfort.15
Dangers - intolerances - side effects
Some sources state that phytoestrogens (including the isoflavones) found in soy products have a feminizing effect, thereby inducing a change in sex-associated behavior. However, according to a scientific article by Jargin, this feminization is minimal in individual cases and only statistically detectable in large populations.6 On the other hand, the results of another meta-analysis show that isoflavones and soy protein do not affect the concentration of reproductive hormones in men and therefore no feminization takes place.7 Further research should provide clarity.
There are also assumptions that soy products with their phytoestrogen content could impair the thyroid gland and its hormone production. According to a meta-analysis by Otun, soy products have no effect on thyroid hormones. Although a slight increase in the TSH level (measures function of the thyroid gland), i.e., a slight stimulation of hormone production, would be possible. However, the clinical significance of this increase is unclear
Is tempeh unhealthy? Tempeh has a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (16:1). Therefore when tempeh is consumed, one takes in too much omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids. A consistently high ratio can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids promote the formation of substances that cause inflammation, and can have a negative impact on chronic inflammation (e.g. arthritis, intestinal diseases).9
As a fermented food, tempeh has a high histamine content and is therefore not suitable for people with histamine intolerance.
Traditional medicine - naturopathy
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), tempeh is said to help tonify the blood and helps with Qi (life force).10
Tempeh is used as a protein-rich vegan meat substitute, and has a significantly smaller ecological footprint than meat.12 The amount of CO2 produced depends, among other things, on the origin of the soybeans and the transport routes. Ideally, when purchasing tempeh, make sure that it is organic tempeh made from from local, organic and non-GMO soybeans.2 It is important to ensure that there is no clearing of tropical rainforests for growing the soybeans. Sourcing local soybeans makes sure that the greenhouse gases emitted during transport are lower than with imported products from other continents. You can also look for special regional types of tempeh made with other legumes such as black beans or chickpeas.14
It takes more time and resources to produce, transport, and sell tempeh than soybeans; therefore it also has a higher environmental footprint (this statement applies to soybeans produced in Europe).17,18 However the foorprint is lower compared to tofu.19 The by-product (okara) produced during the production of soy milk or tofu can also be used to produce tempeh.12 This could be an emission-saving, effective way of production.
The production of tempeh involves soaking, hulling, cooking and fermenting the soybeans.12 Out of all these steps, the cooking process has the highest global warming potential (in the case of locally produced tempeh) due to the released CO2.18
It is believed that tempeh originated in Indonesia (more precisely on the island of Java) many centuries ago. Soybeans are an important part of the diet in the surrounding countries like China, Japan, and Thailand, but tempeh is relatively unknown. In Indonesia, tempeh has long been one of the protein-rich staple foods and one of the most popular fermented foods. This Indonesian soybean dish is eaten there almost every day as a main meal in a wide variety of variations – including fried as a snack. Many households in Indonesia still produce their own tempeh.2,11
Tempeh also meets the needs of western tastes well. Its popularity continues to spread in Europe and the US.11
Tempeh variants are made by substituting soybeans with various legumes such as lentils, black beans or chickpeas.
We come across the spellings ‘Tempe’ or ‘Tempeh’ - we almost never find: Tempé. In Indonesian, the variant tempe is widespread. However, ‘témpé’ is used in older literature.16
‘Tampeh’ and ‘Tempech’ are wrong.
USDA United States Department of Agriculture.
Pini U. Das Bio-Food Handbuch. Ullmann Verlag: Potsdam; 2014: 733.
Craig WJ. Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2010; 25(6): 613-620.
Messina M. Soy and health update: evaluation of the clinical and epidemiologic literature. Nutrients. 2016; 8 (754): 1-42.
Roubos-van den Hil PJ, Dalmas E, Nout MJR, Abee T. Soya bean tempe extracts show antibacterial activity against Bacillus cereus cells and spores. J Appl Microbiol. 2010; 109(1): 137-145.
Jargin SV. Soy and phytoestrogens: possible side effects. GMS Ger Med Sci. 2014; 12: Doc18.
Hamilton-Reeves JM, Vazquez G, Duval SJ et al. Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis. Fertility and Sterility. 2010; 94(3): 997-1007.
Otun J, Sahebkar A, Östlundh L et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis on the effect of soy on thyroid function. Scientific Reports. 2019; 9(1): 3964.
Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002; 56(8): 365-379.
Draxe.com Tempeh: A Fermented Soybean with Many Probiotic Benefits.
Nout MJR, Kiers JL. Tempe fermentation, innovation and functionality: update into the third millenium. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2005; 98(4): 789-805.
Ahnan‐Winarno AD, Cordeiro L, Winarno FG et al. Tempeh: A semicentennial review on its health benefits, fermentation, safety, processing, sustainability, and affordability. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2021; 20(2): 1717-1767.
Smarticular.net Tempeh selber machen: einfaches Rezept mit regionalen Schälerbsen.
Tempehmanufaktur.net Schwarze Bohne: Exotisches auf Allgäuer Bio-Feldern.
Kuligowski M, Jasinska-Kuligowska I, Nowak J. Evaluation of Bean and Soy Tempeh Influence on Intestinal Bacteria and Estimation of Antibacterial Properties of Bean Tempeh. Polish Journal of Microbiology 2013; 62 (2): 189–194.
Soyinfocenter.com Soy from a Historical Perspective. History of Tempeh. 2004.
Donausoja.org Donau Soja provides life cycle assessment datasets for its soybeans. 2022.
Supartono W, Fiwa AS, Sinthia ID et al. Implementation of Life Cycle Assessment on Tempeh Production at "Tempe Ibu Sujati", Yogyakarta. Agroindustrial Journal. 2020; Vol 7: 496-500.
Reinhardt G, Gärtner S, Wagner T. Ökologische Fussabdrücke von Lebensmitteln und Gerichten in Deutschland. Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung Heidelberg. 2020.