Everything You Need to Know About Tempeh

If you do a lot of plant-based cooking you probably know about tempeh. But how well do you really know tempeh? We’re taking a little journey beneath the surface of this popular plant-based protein, exploring its origins, benefits, and culinary applications.

What is Tempeh?

Tempeh is a plant-based protein made from cooked, fermented soybeans that are formed into loaves and incubated in containers at a low temperature until set. The resulting cake or loaf can then be sliced and then served fried, baked, or steamed. Tempeh is believed to have originated in present day Indonesia more than three centuries ago, and it remains one of the only major soy-derived substances not invented in Japan or China, but some historians believe it may have been around for at least a thousand years. 

Tempeh vs. Tofu

Both tempeh and tofu are soy-based proteins, but there’s a few key differences between the two products. Tofu is made from dried soybeans that have been soaked in water, crushed, and boiled. The resulting liquid (soy milk) is coagulated into curds and pressed into blocks of varying textures, ranging from soft and jiggly to firm. Tofu is pretty flavorless on its own, but it absorbs sauces and marinades very well, and can become crispy when properly pressed and fried. Tempeh on the other hand is made using whole soybeans, which are pressed into a cake and lightly fermented, giving it a chewier texture and nutty flavor.

Tempeh Nutrition

A 3-ounce portion of tempeh has 140 calories, 16 grams of protein (a typical 3-ounce serving of beef contains 22 grams of protein), and 7 grams of fiber, which is 28% of the DV. Tempeh also contains B-vitamins, minerals like iron, calcium, and potassium. The soy protein in tempeh is also easier on the digestive system because of the light fermentation process.

Cooking with Tempeh

Now the important part: How do you cook with tempeh? You’ll be glad to know that tempeh is simple to use and easy to prepare. When sliced thin and fried, it develops a nice crust and a soft interior. Since it takes so well to marinades and seasonings, baking, grilling, and even steaming tempeh will yield tasty results. And because of its hearty texture and satisfying chew, tempeh can also be a great substitute for taco meat, cold cuts, jerky, bacon, or meatballs.  

Check out the Meatless Monday recipes below for more creative ways to use this incredibly healthy plant-based protein.

Bell Pepper Tempeh Fajitas

To add extra zip to these fajitas, tempeh is sliced and marinated in lime juice, soy sauce, and seasonings before hitting the grilling or cast iron. When cooking the tempeh toss in some sliced onions and bell peppers for a quick one-pan weeknight meal.

 For the Bell Pepper Tempeh Fajitas recipe, click here.

Kung Pao Tempeh Stir-Fry

Create your own healthier version of takeout with this kung pao tempeh stir-fry. Although the recipe calls for bell peppers and bok choy, you can add any fresh vegetables that you have on hand. The homemade kung pao sauce uses soy sauce, vegetable broth, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, red pepper flake, and a touch of cornstarch to bring it all together.

 For the Kung Pao Tempeh Stir-Fry recipe, click here.

Sesame Tempeh with Green Beans

Tempeh goes well with Asian flavors like tamari, garlic, sesame, and fresh ginger. This recipe is a quick, plant-based alternative to sesame chicken that’s lighter on the tummy and loaded with crisp green beans and juicy cherry tomatoes. 

For the Sesame Tempeh with Green Beans recipe, click here.

Tempeh Bacon

The best thing about tempeh bacon is you’re not left with a pan full of bacon grease. Just give the sliced tempeh a quick sauté and then pour in the soy sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke mixture until slightly caramelized. The result is a crispy, savory, and smoky snack that’s perfect for salads, sandwiches, or breakfast platters.

 For the Tempeh Bacon recipe, click here

Tempeh Reuben Sandwiches

Thanks to its inherent chewiness, tempeh makes a great alternative to cold cuts or sliced meats. Using a wide variety of spices, like ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, and coriander infuses the tempeh with a complex flavor that mimics the rub you’d find on pastrami. A topping of coleslaw and vegan Russian dressing rounds out the sandwich.

 For the Tempeh Reuben Sandwich recipe, click here.

Tempeh Taco Meat

Dicing or breaking the tempeh up into crumbles mimics the texture of ground beef or taco meat. All you need to do is add tempeh crumbles to a hot pan with chopped onions and cook until done. Add some taco seasoning and water, and you’re ready to start building your burrito, tacos, or nachos.

 For the Tempeh Taco Meat recipe, click here

Thai Tempeh Tacos

These Thai-inspired tacos use a combination of sweet potatoes, roasted tempeh, quick-pickled cabbage, and a tangy peanut sauce. Culinary fusion at its best.

 For the Thai Tempeh Taco recipe, click here

Vegan Hot Chick’n Tempeh Sandwich

You can enjoy the vinegary heat of a Tennessee hot chicken sandwich using tempeh instead of chicken. This recipe comes to us from one of our Meatless Monday culinary ambassadors, Chef Ayindé, and uses an intense marinade of pickle juice, tamari, habanero pepper (spicy, spicy), and seasonings to infuse tons of flavor into the slices of tempeh.

 For the Vegan Hot Chick’n Tempeh Sandwich recipe, click here.


Click here for more Meatless Monday recipes. When posting pictures of recipes to your social media network, tag @MeatlessMonday use #MeatlessMonday to show the plant-based community your creation.