A fermented food, tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food product generally prepared using soybeans. However, sometimes people also use other ingredients, including whole grains as well as other varieties of beans. Tempeh is a staple food in its country of origin. In addition, people in many other Southeast Asian nations have also adopted this soy product well. These days, cooks in the West are increasingly experimenting with tempeh as well as other soy foods. Currently, fresh as well as frozen tempeh is readily available in several markets. If you don't want to use fresh tempeh any time soon, you can store it in a frozen condition. In fact, experimental cooks can also make their own tempeh at home.

When cooks choose tempeh for consumption, they should essentially try to find a dense cake having a whitish bloom. They can, however, also opt for tempeh with veining or black flecks, but when tempeh has any other color, it is an indication that the product has gone bad. At the same time, consuming slimy tempeh or products that have a potent ammonia smell is not good for one's health. When tempeh goes bad, it not only smells and has a bad flavor, but it may also result in adverse gastrointestinal reactions. On the other hand, the aroma as well as flavor of superior quality tempeh is somewhat nutty and musty.

The first step of making traditional tempeh involves blanching as well as peeling soybeans. Subsequently, the semi cooked soybeans are blended with a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus for fermentation. The resultant product is a solid cake that is rich in protein content, but has low levels of fat. Fresh tempeh has a white musty bloom. In case, the process leads to the formation of real mold, cooks cut it off prior to cooking.

Different from other soy products such as tofu, tempeh can be digested very easily since the fermentation process involved in making the product breaks down the makeup that actually makes it difficult for our body to process. Moreover, fermentation also breaks down the chemicals that are responsible for gas formation in the stomach after consuming soy beans.

In the traditional Indonesian way of cooking, people use tempeh in various different foods. In fact, vegetarians around the world also use tempeh as a substitute for meat and, hence, it can be found in stir fries, veggie burgers as well as a variety of vegetarian breakfast foods. Similar to any other soy products, tempeh has a somewhat bland flavor, unless you ferment or flavor this product with other foods. In fact, tempeh easily takes on the flavors of the foods or condiments it is cooked with. This is the main reason why many vegetarian cooks prefer the extremely absorbent tempeh while making stir fries or any similar dish.

Aside from slicing the solid tempeh cake into thin pieces or dice those into small cubes for stir frying, it can also be baked, grilled or even broiled. Unless you cut or crumble the thick chewy cake manually, tempeh will retain its shape well. Moreover, this soy product is also good for dressing and marinating. Aside from serving it hot, you can also use tempeh cold for making sandwiches and box lunches, provided you chill the food quickly after cooking in order to prevent growth of detrimental organisms on the food.

Tempeh has its origin in present day Indonesia and this soy product is particularly a favorite of people in Java Island, where it is a staple protein food. Similar to tofu, another soy product, tempeh is also prepared from soybeans. But tempeh is considered to be a whole soybean product having an entirely different nutritional features as well as texture properties. The fermentation process involved in making tempeh as well as the resultant product retaining the entire bean gives this food a relatively higher protein content, vitamins and dietary fiber content. Tempeh has an earthy flavour, while its texture is firm. The earthy flavour of this soy product becomes more distinct as it matures.

Usually, tempeh is prepared in the kitchen by slicing the dense cake into thin pieces, immersing them into salty sauce or brine and subsequently frying them. You can eat cooked tempeh alone or use this soy product in stir fries, salads, soups, stews, chili and sandwiches.

Tempeh is known to have a complex flavour, which many have described as meaty, nutty and even like that of mushroom. This soy product remains viable for a long time when stored in a frozen state and currently it is readily available in several supermarkets in the West. In addition, you can also purchase this soy product from ethnic markets and stores health foods. You can shred tempeh in a cheese grater and subsequently use it as a substitute for ground beef like in tacos. When you deep fry thinly sliced tempeh in oil, it obtains a golden hued crisp crust, while the interior remains soft. Since tempeh has a spongy consistency, it is excellent for marinating. Dehydrated tempeh, both raw and cooked, is easier to carry and it does not perish easily.

Making tempeh at home is quite easy. First, you need to de-hull or unpeel the soybeans that are soaked in water overnight. Subsequently cook the soybean for roughly 30 minutes and blend it with a tempeh starter, which actually contains Rhizopus oryzae or Rhizopus oligosporus, for fermenting. Following an incubation of anything between 36 hours and 48 hours, you will obtain fresh, appetizing tempeh. Making tempeh at home helps you to save substantial money because home-made tempeh is approximately five times cheaper compared to the ones you purchase from stores.

Health benefits

It has been found that tempeh encloses phytochemicals like saponins and isoflavones, which help to promote our health. Therefore, the nutritional value of this soy product is very high. The fermentation process involved in making tempeh actually produces several natural antibiotic agents, while retaining the beneficial soy isoflavones as well as the majority of the saponins contained by the vegetable. Precisely speaking, tempeh is a whole protein food enclosing the entire essential amino acids. Isoflavones offer several health benefits, including strengthening the bones, alleviating symptoms related to menopause, lessen the chances of developing coronary heart diseases and also some forms of cancer. In addition, tempeh also encloses the entire dietary fibres contained in the soybeans. It also offers a number of digestive advantages owing to the enzymes that are formed as a result of fermenting the soybeans.

Tempeh is loaded with proteins, which offer the added benefit of lowering the level of LDL or low density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in the blood stream. These proteins are different from those obtained from animal sources. In fact, proteins from animal sources raise the levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the body. Hence, tempeh is a wonderful substitute for meat. As a result, regular consumption of tempeh helps in reducing the chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

At the same time, tempeh contains the essential mineral magnesium that has a crucial role in promoting the health of our cardiovascular system. Magnesium also plays a vital role in over 300 enzymatic reactions. This mineral is essential for a number of reactions such as regulating protein synthesis and production of energy inside the body.

Similar to many other soy foods, tempeh also contains substantial amounts of dietary fiber that helps to bind cholesterol and fats, thereby preventing their rapid assimilation into the body. In addition, the dietary fiber also attaches the bile salts and assists in eliminating them from the body. Since, dietary fiber helps to organize the bile it results in the stimulation of the liver, which then converts additional cholesterol into bile salts. In this way, consumption of tempeh helps to considerably reduce the levels of cholesterol in the body.

It has been found that regular consumption of tempeh also helps to reduce the chances of developing colon cancer. This property of tempeh is attributed to the dietary fiber contained by it. The dietary fiber helps to bind the toxins responsible for cancer and dispose them off. This attribute of dietary fiber also helps to prevent some other forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Tempeh is also beneficial for women, especially those who are in the menopausal stage. Consumption of this soy product helps to ease the symptoms related to menopause. Tempeh contains isoflavones that attach to estrogen receptors, thereby alleviating the painful symptoms associated with the decrease of natural estrogen in the body. At the same time, tempeh also helps to lessen bone loss that usually occurs following menopause.

Tempeh also contains adequate amounts of a number of trace minerals such as copper and manganese. These trace minerals have a very vital role in several physiological functions. At the same time, they also form the cofactors for superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme.

This soy product also contains rich amounts of riboflavin - an essential nutrient necessary for transfer reactions that work to generate energy for the functioning of the mitochondria. At the same time, riboflavin is the cofactor for regenerating glutathione (amino acid).

Tempeh also contains a compound called genistein that has a vital role in reducing the hazards of developing prostate cancer in men.

It has been found that tempeh is highly beneficial for people suffering from diabetes. This soy product possesses cholesterol and blood sugar lowering properties, which are extremely helpful for people with diabetes. At the same time, consumption of tempeh also helps to lower the levels of triglyceride in diabetic patients.

Side effects and caution

The various health benefits of consuming tempeh notwithstanding, this soy food should always be used with caution, because it may result in allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. This soy product contains minute quantities of oxalates and when they accumulate inside our body, they may lead to various health issues. Owing to the presence of oxalates, it is advisable that people with gall bladder and kidney problems should stay away from consuming tempeh.


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