Tempeh can be a bit unapproachable. Unlike tofu, another popular vegetarian protein source, it has a distinctive, somewhat funky taste and texture. To get it tender and tasty requires some expert knowledge.
Even if you’re more of a carnivore than a vegan or vegetarian, it’s worth getting to know the ins and outs of tempeh, a fermented soy product that’s high in protein, probiotics, and a multitude of vitamins and minerals.
Let’s explore tempeh nutrition facts, nail down the differences between tempeh and tofu, and then, once you’re convinced you need to add tempeh to your diet, we’ll share 11 of our favorite tempeh recipes.
Tempeh, according to a study published in Critical Reviews in Microbiology, is “one of the most widely accepted and researched mold-modified fermented products.”
In less jargon-y terms, tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from soaked, cooked, and fermented soybeans that are then pressed into a compact block. Tempeh, or tempeh-like products, are sometimes made from other bean varieties or from a mixture of beans and grains.
The fermentation process results in a dense, somewhat dry feel and a nutty, earthy, somewhat bitter flavor. Thanks to its high protein content and rich stores of nutrients, tempeh is a popular source of plant-based protein among vegans, vegetarians, and those simply seeking to reduce their meat intake.
Tofu and tempeh are both made from soy, both contain plenty of protein, and both serve as popular meat replacements for vegans and vegetarians. But it’s worth doing a head-to-head comparison of tofu vs. tempeh because there are some important differences between the two foods.
Sara Courter, a Northern California-based holistic health practitioner, delved into the distinctions between tofu and tempeh when her father adopted a vegetarian diet and came to her for advice about meat alternatives. “He’s still in the “make me think it’s meat” stage of this new lifestyle, craving the texture and heartiness that meat once provided,” Courter explained. For those looking to replace meat, tofu and tempeh are two of the top options.
If you’ve dabbled at all in the the world of meat-free proteins, you’re probably familiar with tofu. But how much do you know about where this spongy, smooth food comes from? Turns out, tofu is made by mixing the pulp left behind after soy milk has been made with a coagulant. Super appetizing, right? If you’ve ever had tofu made right though, you know that the end result of that process can be quite delicious.
One of the selling points of tofu is its versatility. Typically sold in block form and often stored in water to prevent it from drying out, tofu comes in a range of consistencies, from super-soft silken to extra-extra firm. And whatever the consistency, it has a remarkably mild flavor, meaning it can be seamlessly incorporated into dishes of all flavors: savory, spicy, sweet, you name it!
Tofu is rich in iron, calcium, and protein, but according to Courter, since it contains phytates, your body may not be able to fully absorb all the nutrients it contains. “Fermentation releases those phytates and makes the food more bioavailable,” she explains.
As you may recall, tempeh is fermented! It has a hearty, chewy texture and more innate flavor than tofu, but still soaks up marinades and sauces well. Tempeh is a complete protein and provides more than double the protein found in tofu. Because it’s fermented, its digestibility and absorbability are increased. Tempeh is a great way to add healthy protein to your diet while simultaneously boosting your intake of fermented foods!
Tempeh has a pretty impressive nutrient profile. According to SELF Nutrition Data, a reliable source for detailed nutrition information, a 100-gram serving of tempeh offers up the following nutrients.
Because tempeh has a more compact structure than tofu and other meat alternatives, it delivers more protein per gram. In comparison to tempeh’s 18.5 grams of protein per 100-gram serving, the same size serving of tofu only gets you 8.2 grams, or just over 44% of the protein.
Tempeh is also a superb source of calcium. Compared to the 276 milligrams of calcium in a cup of milk, tempeh has 184 milligrams in a cup, or about 2/3 of milk’s calcium content.
One of the best-known uses for this versatile, nutritious protein is to turn it into tempeh bacon! But there are numerous ways to cook with tempeh. It’s delicious crumbled, backed, steamed, and sautéed.
To infuse it with the most saturated flavor, you’ll want to use a tempeh marinade prior to cooking, season it while it’s cooking, finish it with a sauce, or some combination of the three. To get you started, here are 11 of our favorite tempeh recipes.
Tempeh makes a wonderful addition to salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, burger patties, and even soups! Feel free to tinker with these recipes to make them your own. Some general tips to keep in mind are that tempeh should not be eaten raw and that steaming it prior to other cooking methods helps reduce its bitterness.
This is one of those tempeh recipes you’ll come back to again and again. Dana Schultz, a recipe developer, content creator, and food photographer shares her delectable recipes on her site Minimalist Baker as well as in her cookbooks.
“I didn’t use to like tempeh,” Schultz admits. “Now, I do, thanks to easy, foolproof recipes like this. Look at that saucy caramelization! Any of you tempeh haters out there, prepare to be converted.”
Making homemade veggie burgers can be challenging, so when you come across a tried and true recipe, you’ll definitely want to stash it away! This one comes from Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox, the sisters behind May I Have That Recipe where they share Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian, kosher, and gluten-free recipes.
Their vegan Tempeh and Black Bean Veggie Burgers combine organic, 3-grain tempeh with classic hamburger seasoning and healthy, whole-food vegan binding agents, plus a few flavor boosters. Get the recipe here.
Sarah Bond, who shared this glorious recipe on her blog, Live Eat Learn, says these tempeh tacos are “a unique, refreshing, and ultra-tasty meat-free way to celebrate taco Tuesday (or taco Everyday).”
The savory, smoky tempeh taco filling is beautifully complimented by the creamy, acidic, vitamin-C rich kiwi and avocado salsa Bond dreamed up. Get the recipe here.
This oil-free, gluten-free, nut-free, and completely vegan hash is a tasty and colorful way to start your morning. It contains plenty of protein to power you up for the day ahead, plus sweet potatoes and other fresh vegetables like cherry tomatoes and spinach.
And to really make your tastebuds sing, recipe creator Vaishali Honawar, a former journalist turned animal rights activist and vegan blogger, adds a generous dash of “good old curry powder,” which she says adds a wonderful flavor. Get the recipe here.
Brittany Mullins, a health coach and personal trainer, shares wholesome recipes focused on real food on her cheekily named site Eating Bird Food. Her recipes tend to be compliant with vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or keto diets.
This one for lemon-garlic tempeh is vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free. Oh, and a super delicious way to add a filling, protein-rich component to just about any meal. Get the recipe here.
Done in a mere 30 minutes, but with the kind of rich flavor that can take a full day to develop, this is a perfect, satisfying weeknight meal.
Recipe creator Katie Trant uses her science background (she’s a university-trained nutritionist) to help people”make informed decisions about what to eat in order to become your healthiest and happiest selves.” Part of that work includes sharing delightful recipes on her site Hey Nutrition Lady.
Her hearty, comforting tempeh bolognese relies on nutritional yeast for a rich, umami flavor. Get the recipe here.
Registered nutritionist and dietician Rachael Hartley shared this simple, yummy recipe on the recipe site Oh My Veggies.
In keeping with her restriction-free, holistic approach, this recipe is all about healthy indulgence. The tempeh filling tastes good enough to eat all on its own, but when combined with roasted sweet potatoes and an addictively good peanut sauce, it’s seriously next level! Get the recipe here.
A vegan take on a classic dish that’s perfect for colder weather, or any time you feel the urge to make a meal that will “stick to your ribs.”
Recipe creator Gena Hamshaw, a certified nutritionist, cookbook author, and vegan food educator who shares inventive, amazing recipes on her site The Full Helping, says she has a weakness for soups so thick, you can stand your spoon up in them. And to add a textural contrast, she tops this hearty split pea soup with crisp, savory tempeh croutons. Get the recipe here.
Spicy, saucy pan-fried tempeh stars in these flavorful wraps, with creamy avocado and crisp greens playing the supporting roles.
Created by Alissa Saenz, an intellectual property lawyer who shares plant-based recipes on her blog Connoisseurus Veg, this recipe is her vegan rendition of the central flavor of Korean barbeque. It’s deeply delicious and packed with protein. Get the recipe here.
According to Sala Kannan, who dreamed this creation up, it’s more of an idea than a recipe.
“Once you learn how to marinate and cook the curried tempeh, you can vary this grilled cheese however you like,” explains Kannan, who runs the vegetarian recipe blog Veggie Belly. Unless you’re in a major hurry, she recommends taking the time to marinate the tempeh for maximum flavor payoff. Get the recipe here.
Kathy Patalsky, founder of the popular, blogger-fueled site Finding Vega, author of two cookbooks, and creator of the blog Healthy. Happy. Life., where this recipe comes from, has been a vegetarian since high school and a vegan since 2001.
This recipe involves several components, all of which can be made ahead and mix-and-matched as you desire. And the miso-dipped chipotle tempeh logs are a true “bonanza of deliciousness” all on their own. Get the recipe here.