Even though tofu still seems to get all the attention as a great soy based protein option for vegetarians, I actually prefer its cousin – tempeh. Tempeh is also made from soy beans, but differs from tofu because the whole bean is included rather than just the milk. To make tempeh, cooked soy beans are pressed together into a patty and fermented. You can usually find it in the grocery store in the same aisle as the tofu and other vegan/vegetarian options.
When comparing tempeh to tofu, you’ll find that they do have similar nutrient profiles with one exception. Tempeh has 7 grams of fiber to 0.5 grams in a serving of tofu. In addition to fiber, a single 3 ounce serving of tempeh has 140 kcals, 7 and 16 grams of protein! As a plant based protein, tempeh offers many of the same benefits of other beans. The fat profile is relatively balanced between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. The fermentation process that is unique to tempeh also provides some probiotics which support gut health. In general, studies looking at vegetarians who consume a plant based diet that incorporates protein rich foods like tempeh have a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer.
Cooking with Tempeh
Some may find that tempeh has a slightly bitter flavor, but you can remove some of this flavor by steaming your tempeh before using it in a recipe. Since it is made from whole soybeans, tempeh can be easily crumbled and added to dishes. Even after cooking, it retains a pleasant chewy texture. Tempeh has a relatively mild flavor, so you can spice it up as much as you’d like! I find that it adapts well in recipes that normally call for ground meat. I love sautéing crumbled tempeh in taco seasoning for a healthy, simple taco night. You can also chop it into cubes and sauté these whole in a stir fry.
Next time you head to the supermarket, pick up a package of tempeh and try it out. You’ll be surprised at how tasty and versatile it can be when cooking.
Check out some of Debbie’s tempeh creations:
or see this video from our friends at DiabetesEveryday making Meri’s Tempeh Stir Fry from the Glycemic Index Cookbook for Dummies.
Deborah Davis MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian who practices clinical dietetics in Chicago, Illinois. She shares practical nutrition tips and healthy recipes on her personal blog, Dietitian Debbie Dishes. In her free time, you’ll likely find Deborah in the kitchen, camera and spatula in hand, developing recipes for her blog and freelance pieces. You can also connect with Deborah on Twitter and Instagram.