Despite originating over 300 years ago, Tempeh (pronounced ‘tem-pay’) is relatively unknown here in the UK. I personally hadn’t heard of it until recently. That, despite it seemingly being a perfect choice for my lifestyle and diet.
Tempeh is billed as an alternative to meat, much like Tofu. Personally, I’ve never liked Tofu, despite trying it numerous times. Unfortunately, a lot of other meat alternatives contain ingredients such as wheat, which I avoid. Tempeh, on the other hand, is not only Vegan, but also Gluten-free and diary-free. Despite this, it still packs a punch with both fibre and protein.
Tempeh originates from Indonesia and is traditionally made using fermented Soya Beans. It can, however, be made using any legume, such as black beans or chickpeas, grains or seeds.
There are a few things that make Tempeh somewhat special though. Firstly, it’s less processed than alternatives such as Tofu. The texture and flavour of Tempeh is very different to Tofu too, even when both products are made with Soya.
From an ecological standpoint, Tempeh would appear to be the answer to a sustainable and healthy source of protein.
How is Tempeh made?
Soya Tempeh is made with whole soya beans, softened by soaking. They’re cooked and slightly fermented before being formed into blocks. Traditionally, in Indonesia, the beans are fermented inside a banana leaf. Fermentation of Soya beans helps to break down the phytic acid, making the starches easier to digest.
The beneficial bacteria used in the fermentation process helps bind everything together, leaving a firm ‘patty’ like texture that doesn’t crumble easily.
The fermentation, live-culture and retention of the whole bean (or grain, or seed) also give it a higher concentration of protein, fibre and vitamins.
What does it taste like?
Unlike Tofu, which I find bland and tasteless, Tempeh has quite a unique flavour. I’d best describe it as having a ‘mushroom’ taste, though I’ve heard others refer to it as nutty. As Tempeh readily soaks up flavours from sauces or marinades, it’s very versatile. My first experience with it, however, was to simply pan-fry it in olive oil and add it to a salad. Personally, I found that to be delicious in its own right, which surprised me. With most other meat substitutes, I’ve found the need to mask the blandness with other flavours.
Where to Buy Tempeh
This is where it gets a bit trickier! Specialist health food stores, and perhaps Asian food stores, are the best places to look for now. But, expect it to become much more widely available in the near future. Startups such as Better Nature – who recently scooped numerous awards – are launching a range of products soon. These include ready to cook Tempeh and Tempeh Crisps(!). You can follow Better Nature on Instagram to see their progress and learn more. I fully expect to see a raft of other startups in this sector over the coming years. Especially as the public, in general, is beginning to better appreciate the need for healthy and sustainable food.
This is where Tempeh really shines, and why I was so surprised not to have come across it until recently. 100g contains on 1.9g of saturated fat, 2g of carbohydrate and 184 calories. More importantly, it contains a staggering 19g of protein and 6.5g of fibre. It’s also an excellent source of vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B12.
The Plant-Based Trend
There’s certainly been a huge increase in exposure and interest in ‘Plant Based’ foods recently. We’ve already seen the huge rise in popularity for Kale, which can now be found in many guises. Tempeh hasn’t yet had this viral moment. Perhaps because it’s less prominent right now. But, I expect to see it in a lot more places soon.
I certainly hope so – I’ve developed a taste for it now!