What Is Tempeh?

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian plant-based food made from fermented soybeans. After the fermentation process, tempeh is formed into a firm, dense, cake-like substance. Since tempeh is plant-based, it is both vegan and vegetarian-friendly, making it a common food to include in alternative diets. Below we’ll cover everything you need to know about this unique food, including how to cook and use tempeh, and how it compares to similar plant-based food options.

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What Is Tempeh Made Of?

Close up showing texture of tempeh

Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans that are formed into a cake-like substance. When you look at tempeh, you can actually see the soybean shape in the patty. Many people appreciate the texture that this adds to the cake.

Upon further inspection, you may see slight discoloration that looks grey or black. This coloring is completely natural and is a result of the fermentation process that tempeh goes through.

What Does Tempeh Taste Like?

Tempeh is known for its bitter, nutty flavor. However, this flavor can easily be drawn out through the cooking process. Tempeh doesn’t have a strong taste, meaning it's great in tandem with other ingredients in dishes like stews, chilis, and curries.

Benefits of Tempeh

Tempeh is plant-based, which means its ingredients provide a lot of nutritional value. The food feels especially healthy when compared to the meats tempeh often replaces. Below, we've listed some of the most commonly cited health benefits of tempeh:

Tempeh vs Tofu

Tofu and tempeh on wooden background

Tempeh is higher in calories, protein, and fiber compared to tofu. Tempeh also has a firmer texture than tofu. Although tofu is also a soybean-based protein, it is higher in sodium and contains a lower amount of calories than tempeh.

We've outlined a detailed list of the two foods' differences below:


  • Production - Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans.
  • Taste - Tempeh is known for its nutty, bitter taste
  • Serving Size - A typical serving size of tempeh consists of 140 calories.
  • Protein - On average, tempeh contains more protein than tofu.
  • Fiber - Tempeh is a great source of fiber and contains more fiber than tofu.
  • Calcium - Despite being full of nutrients, tempeh has less calcium than tofu.


  • Production - Tofu is made from condensed soy milk.
  • Serving Size - One serving size of tofu is around 80 calories, making it less calorie dense than tempeh.
  • Protein - Although a good source of protein, tofu contains less protein than tempeh.
  • Fiber - Tofu can offer some fiber to your diet, but it does not contain as much fiber as tempeh.
  • Calcium - Tofu is a fantastic source of calcium and contains more calcium on average than tempeh.

How to Cook Tempeh

Fried tempeh with rice and broccoli

Tempeh can be prepared and eaten in a variety of different ways. One rule of thumb for how to cook tempeh is to cook it like you might cook meat. Below we cover a few of the most common methods of preparing tempeh:

  • Blanched or steamed with veggie broth
  • Marinated, cooked, and cubed
  • Battered and fried

How to Eat Tempeh

Temph’s flavor pairs well with various foods, making it a versatile ingredient that can be used in many ways. Depending on how it’s prepared, tempeh can be utilized as a topping or as the main ingredient in dishes. With the correct knowledge, you can add new tempeh dishes to your menu and even alter existing dishes to create vegan-friendly alternatives. Here are some of the most common ways tempeh is utilized:

  • Tempeh Bacon - When sliced into thin strips and marinated, tempeh can be used as a great bacon substitute. Tempeh bacon contains less cholesterol than real bacon and is a good source of protein and fiber, making it a great option for health-conscious consumers.
  • Tempeh Crumble - Cooking tempeh and then crumbling it into small pieces makes for a great topping. This option is great as a finishing touch on salads, grain bowls, and other healthy dishes containing seasonal vegetables.
  • Tempeh Curry - Cooked tempeh is a great plant-based option for curries. Mixing tempeh with vegetables and curry paste is a great way to make a delicious vegan dish.

Tempeh FAQ

Below we cover some of the most common questions regarding tempeh:

Can You Eat Raw Tempeh?

Tempeh should be cooked before being eaten and should not be eaten raw. Prior to being cooked, tempeh has almost no nutritional value and doesn’t have a very pleasant taste. Before adding tempeh to anything you should cook it to ensure you get the most flavor and nutrition out of your food.

What Does Tempeh Look Like?

Tempeh resembles a block of firmly packed beans before its prepared and cooked. When using tempeh, you should always double-check your tempeh’s appearance to make sure it hasn’t gone bad. Rotten tempeh can have mold spots and a mushy texture, signaling that it isn’t suitable for use.

How Long Does Tempeh Last?

When refrigerated correctly, tempeh should last around 2-3 weeks. If frozen, tempeh can last over a month. If you don’t plan on immediately using your tempeh in a recipe, then it’s best to store your tempeh in the freezer. Doing so preserves your tempeh’s freshness, ensuring it’s ready for use when thawed.

As veganism continues to gain popularity, understanding plant-based foods like tempeh is a necessity for restaurants and other food service establishments. Understanding tempeh allows you to create a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, giving you the potential to greatly expand your menu. You can also use tempeh as a meat substitute, creating vegan recipes from dishes you already serve. With this knowledge, you can target new consumer bases, potentially gaining new customers and boosting profits.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Angalena Malavenda
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