Tempeh is a fermented and widely eaten food native to Indonesia. Indonesians make it primarily with soybeans, but they also prepare it with a variety of legumes and seeds including sword beans, velvet beans, and pigeon peas.
Tempeh is usually made by initially soaking soybeans for 8-14 hours. It is then boiled for around 30 minutes then drained and patted dry. The soybeans are treated with different strains of Rhizopus bacteria and left to incubate at room temperature for 24-48 hours. This fermentation process causes beneficial nutritional changes in the soybean.
Nutritional Benefits of Tempeh
1| Higher soluble protein
The amount of soluble protein in tempeh increases dramatically, meaning that when you eat it, you absorb more of the protein available. The amount of fat reduces because the bacteria use some of the fatty acids as a source of energy during the fermentation process.
2| Higher iron bioavailability
The iron in soybeans is usually bound to protein and other organic compounds, making them a little difficult to absorb when you eat soybeans. However, the fermentation process breaks down the bonds between iron and protein making the iron free and more accessible to absorb.
3| Source of vitamin B12
4| Lower phytate content
Phytates are compounds that are typically found in seeds and grains. They are commonly referred to as anti-nutrients because they bind to minerals, particularly calcium, zinc and iron, and stop you absorbing them properly from food. The Rhizopus bacteria contains phytase enzymes that break down phytates in soybeans during the fermentation process. This releases the minerals and makes them more available for absorption.
5| Reduces bloating and flatulence
Oligosaccharides especially raffinose are present in abundantly in legumes. While functioning as great prebiotics, legumes usually cause bloating and flatulence when eaten. The quantities of these oligosaccharides are much less in tempeh (due to fermentation) than in unfermented soybeans, and as such, it doesn’t cause as much flatulence or bloating when you eat it.
Tempeh is very versatile, you can use it in any recipe where you’d otherwise use beef or chicken. You can serve it in salads, sandwiches, burgers, sauces or soups. To get a firm texture without oil, you can either pan-roast tempeh in a non-stick pan, air-fry or bake it. If you don’t mind oil, you can shallow-fry or deep-fry it.
Overall, tempeh is a great addition to your plant-based diet. It is much easier to digest than regular unfermented soybeans, it is a source of vitamin B12, and you can absorb more protein and iron from it.
Looking for recipes with tempeh? Check out my:
- oven roasted potatoes with tempeh in tarragon sauce
- tempeh and beetroot curry
- tempeh and broccoli in red braising sauce.
- Edward R. (Ted) Farnworth 2003 Handbook of fermented functional foods. CRC Press
- Astuti M. et al. 2000 ‘Tempe, a nutritious and healthy food from Indonesia.’Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr 9(4): 322-325
- Bohn L. et al. 2008 ‘Phytate: impact on environment and human nutrition. A challenge for molecular breeding.’ J Zhejiang Univ Sci B 9(3): 165-191