Eat Your… Tempeh


Although not as well-known as tofu, tempeh (pronunciation: tem-pay) also makes for a great culinary addition to the vegetarian kitchen. It has a sharp, pungent taste that is immediately identifiable. That’s because its made from the fermentation of soybeans paired with a grey mold, Rhizopus oligosporus. Here are two great articles that detail how to make tempeh. The first is shorter, the second is much more informative.

Too Many Chefs: Homemade Tempeh (howto)

Mother Earth News: Tempeh Down on The Farm (howto/info)


Tempeh is thought to have originated in Indonesia at least several centuries ago but the first written reference goes back only to 1815. Commercial production in Europe and the United States did not begin until after the 1970′s, with tempeh gaining a more wide ranging popularity only after the early 1980s. It is commonly sold as a thin (2 cm) slab about 25 cm long and 10 cm wide. Some companies also market tempeh packaged as either natural or flavored varieties combined with grains, flax, vegetables, or other spices.

Since tempeh is less processed than tofu, it contains more protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It also has more of its own unique flavor, unlike tofu which is generally flavorless. There are many varieties to try, so if you don’t like it the first time, don’t give up. I really enjoy the LightLife Garden Veggie Tempeh, but your preferences will be different, and I have not tried all of the various brands and combinations out there.

What to look for at the market:

LightLife Tempeh (product)

WhiteWave Tempeh (product)

Turtle Island Foods Tempeh (product)

Cooking Ideas

Tempeh is very firm and visually appealing. Little chunks and halves of soybeans can still be seen, giving it a rough, textured look. A slab of tempeh can be cut into strips and pan fried, cubed and added to a salad, or marinated and grilled whole. The only limit is your imagination. For dinner the other night I threw some cubes of tempeh in my small food processor to make a vegan substitute for feta cheese. Of course it didn’t taste exactly like feta, but the pungent flavor was in the ballpark and the texture was just right.

One thing that I love about tempeh is that it excels as the main ingredient in sandwiches and stir fries, two of my favorite types of meals. (Which is funny, because when researching this article I noticed that the packaging for White Wave Tempeh says exactly the same thing!)

With that in mind, here are a few tempeh recipes that look delicious.

Brownie Points: Teriyaki Grilled Tempeh

VegCooking: BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches

FatFree Vegan: Golden Potato + Tempeh Casserole

I Eat Food: Tempeh Reuben Sandwich

Last But Not Least

Finally, here are two pictures of tempeh. The first shows tempeh in its raw, uncooked form, courtesy of The Adventures of SuperWife. The second photo features tempeh as part of a meal, courtesy of Flickr user wockerjabby. Looks delicious!


one local summer 08-04: turnips & tempeh

See you next week!

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Now Playing: Surfer Rosa by The Pixies.

Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).