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What is Tempeh and how to make it?

What is Tempeh and how to make it?


What is Tempeh and How to Make It?

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a compact cake. It has a distinctive nutty, earthy flavor and a firm, dense texture that makes it a popular meat alternative in vegetarian and vegan cuisines.

But what exactly is tempeh, and how can you make it at home? Let's dive in.

The Origins of Tempeh
Tempeh originated on the island of Java in Indonesia, where it has been a dietary staple for centuries. The exact origins are unclear, but it's believed tempeh was first created as a way to extend the shelf life of soybeans, a common crop in the region.

The fermentation process that creates tempeh was likely discovered by accident, as soybeans left to sit would naturally become inoculated with the tempeh mold (Rhizopus oligosporus). This mold binds the soybeans together into a compact cake, transforming the texture and flavor.

The Health Benefits of Tempeh
Tempeh is considered a nutritional powerhouse. It's high in protein, fiber, and probiotics from the fermentation process. Tempeh also contains important vitamins and minerals like manganese, magnesium, riboflavin, and copper.

Some of the key health benefits of tempeh include:

  • Improved gut health due to the probiotic content
  • Reduced inflammation from the anti-inflammatory properties of the soy isoflavones
  • Potential cholesterol-lowering effects
  • Increased bone density from the high mineral content

Can you make Tempeh without Soybeans?
The answer is yes, you can.

soy-free tempeh Foodcraft

At Foodcraft, we offer a variety of soy-free tempeh options, including:
Organic Chickpea Tempeh
Organic Mung Bean Tempeh

These alternative tempeh varieties are just as delicious as the traditional soy-based tempeh. Of course, the flavors will differ since the main ingredients are different types of beans. Changing the beans will result in a different taste and texture, as each bean has its own unique characteristics.

For instance, soybeans tend to have a heartier consistency compared to the lighter-bodied mung beans and the creamier chickpeas.

You can even experiment with making tempeh using a mixture of different beans. We teach this in our Tempeh making classes.

Can you make Tempeh without Soybeans?

If you're new to fermentation, it's best to start the process with guidance from an experienced person. This will help you fully understand the fermentation technique. Fermenting can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it's important to learn the proper methods.

Can you make Tempeh without Soybeans?

The Key for Preparing Beans for Tempeh Making
Soaking the beans is a crucial step in the tempeh-making process that you cannot skip.

You must soak the beans before cooking them. This step is important not only for reducing the cooking time, but also for enhancing the nutritional benefits. By soaking your legumes, you can remove the enzyme inhibitors that are difficult to digest and can potentially block the absorption of certain nutrients.

The soaking duration should be adjusted based on the size, age, and type of beans you are using. Older beans, for example, may require a longer soaking time compared to younger beans.

Taking the time to properly soak and prepare the beans is an essential part of making high-quality tempeh. This simple step helps to optimize the nutritional profile and digestibility of the final product.

The Key for Preparing Beans for Tempeh Making

Do the Beans Need to be Cooked?
Yes, the beans do need to be cooked for tempeh making.

We've had customers who follow a raw food diet ask if they can make "raw" tempeh. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Soaking and cooking the beans is an essential step in the tempeh-making process.

For those on a raw food diet, it's important to note that some fermented, cooked foods are still considered "living foods." The fermentation process can provide valuable health benefits, even if the base ingredients have been cooked.

So while raw tempeh is not an option, incorporating fermented, cooked foods like tempeh can be a great way for raw foodists to diversify their diet and gain additional nutritional advantages from the fermentation.

Why do you need to add vinegar to tempeh making recipes?

The vinegar plays an important role in creating the ideal conditions for the tempeh fermentation to occur, while also enhancing the flavor and texture of the final product. The amount of vinegar used is usually fairly small, but it makes a noticeable difference in the quality of the tempeh.

Vinegar is often added to tempeh recipes for a few key reasons:

  1. Acidification: The addition of vinegar helps to lower the pH of the tempeh mixture, creating an environment that is more favorable for the growth of the tempeh culture (Rhizopus mold). The acidic environment inhibits the growth of unwanted bacteria.
  1. Flavor enhancement: Vinegar adds a subtle tanginess and complexity to the flavor of the finished tempeh. This can balance out some of the earthier, mushroom-like notes of the tempeh.
  2. Texture improvement: The acidity from the vinegar can help the tempeh develop a firmer, more cohesive texture as it ferments. This gives the final product a better mouthfeel.
  1. Food safety: The acidic environment created by the vinegar helps to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms, increasing the shelf-life and food safety of the tempeh.

How to Make Tempeh at Home

While you can find tempeh in many grocery stores these days, it's also easy to make at home. Here's a simple step-by-step guide:



  1. Soak the dried soybeans in water for 12-24 hours, until softened. Drain and rinse the beans.
    soak the soy beans before boiling
  2. Steam or boil the soaked soybeans until cooked through but still firm, about 30-40 minutes. Drain and allow to cool completely.
    boil soybeans for tempeh making
  3. In a bowl, mix the cooked soybeans with the apple cider vinegar and tempeh starter culture until evenly distributed.
  4. Transfer the inoculated soybeans to a perforated container*, such as a tempeh fermentation tray or a loosely woven basket. Press the mixture down firmly to compact it.
  5. Cover the container and let the tempeh ferment at around 88°F (31°C) for 24-36 hours, until the beans are bound together into a solid cake and have a slightly earthy aroma.
  6. Once fully fermented, the tempeh can be sliced, cubed, or crumbled and used in your favorite recipes.

Homemade tempeh will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Enjoy its unique flavor and texture in stir-fries, curries, sandwiches, and more!

Tempeh Making Tools

Many homemade tempeh recipes recommend using a Ziploc bag to ferment the tempeh cake. While this is a common method, some prefer to avoid single-use plastics, as those Ziploc bags cannot be reused.

At Foodcraft, we opt for a more sustainable approach - we use sushi molds to ferment our tempeh. These versatile tools allow you to make not only the classic tempeh cake, but also tempeh nuggets and tempeh sausages.

If you don't have access to sushi molds, don't worry. You can look around your home for other containers that allow proper airflow during the fermentation process. The key is to find vessels that facilitate the necessary air circulation for successful tempeh making.

By exploring alternative tools and methods, you can enjoy homemade tempeh while reducing waste and adopting more eco-friendly practices.

Tempeh Making Tools

*Traditionally, tempeh was made by wrapping the inoculated soybeans in banana leaves. The leaves provided natural ventilation and humidity for the fermentation process. Today, many home cooks use perforated containers like trays or woven baskets to achieve a similar effect.

What is Tempeh and how to make it?

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