Meat-Free Fridays: Time to Try Tempeh

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins. Read the rest of the series here.

So I converted some of you to tofu lovers likers a couple of weeks back. Are you ready for your next assignment?

This week, I’m going to introduce you to tempeh.

What is tempeh (pronounced tem-pay)?

Tempeh is a fermented product made from soybeans that's especially popular on the Indonesian island of Java. Before you wrinkle your nose, know it's not pungent like sauerkraut, kimchi, or natto.

But before we talk about how it's made, let's look at how we eat it. Trust me, it's tasty!

When crumbled or grated, tempeh has the texture of ground meat. Try it in tacos, spaghetti sauce or chili. It has a nutty flavor that pairs well with big, strong flavors like curry, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce and teriyaki sauce.

Sliced thinly, tempeh can be grilled or pan-fried and topped with your favorite sauce. In summer, I marinate tempeh in barbecue sauce that's been thinned with a bit of water, then I grill it alongside zucchini, onions and corn.
SparkRecipes has plenty of tempeh recipes--from Chinese tempeh tacos and tempeh vegetable tagine and tempeh scallopini.

Over at, Kath eats it raw, with pumpkin butter on whole-grain bread.

I've seen several recipes for tempeh croutons lately, too.

It's a surprisingly versatile food. You can even make "bacon" from tempeh.

Now that your mouth is watering, let's get back to how tempeh is made.

Tempeh is made from soybeans that have first been soaked, hulled and partially cooked. An acidic liquid like vinegar is added to create an environment that a certain kind of fungus likes, then a fermentation starter is added. The beans ferment in a warm area for about a day and a half. The beans are bound together, and you're left with a block of protein that's ready to be broiled, baked or steamed.

The fermentation helps break down the oligosaccharides, which are the sugars that make beans musical. The protein becomes more digestible after fermentation, too.

Tempeh costs about $1.69 for a block that's about a pound. It also comes in multi-grain, soy, wild rice, three-grain, smoked and flax varieties. At most grocery stores, it is in the refrigerated section next to the tofu.

Basic tempeh nutrition info:
1/2 cup
230 calories
9 g fat
1 g saturated fat
10 mg sodium
380 mg potassium
16 g carbs
12 g fiber
22 g protein

Do you eat tempeh? How do you prepare it? Are you willing to give it a try?

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I love tempeh, but I've never tried to cook it myself... one of these days I will!

A word of encouragement to the non-vegetarians and picky eaters out there: tempeh is well worth a try if you can find it where you live. Don't be scared off by the idea of fermented soybeans! (I've got to admit, described like that it does not sound appetizing to me either!)
If you don't like tofu because it's bland and squashy... tempeh is neither. It is firm, chewy, meaty and richly flavored on its own. I think it mimics pork products very well (BBQ sandwiches, 'bacon', etc.) It's also a very affordable protein, so if you don't like it, you've only spent about 2 bucks on it - these days you can spend more than that on a restaurant soda! Report
This actually sounds interesting. I recently tried tofu for the first time and didn't care for it becuase of the texture. I think this might be good to try. Report
I would like to tray it Report
Thanks for blogging about tempeh! I love the stuff and usually slice it thing, fry it with green peppers, onions and mushrooms, then have it in a wrap with some vegan sour cream and BBQ sauce. Yum! Report
I love tempeh. I often just cook it briefly in a frying pan with a little oil and soy sauce and then eat it plain or in a salad or sandwhich. The cookbook Veganmonican has some great tempeh recipes that are *so delcious*. Tempeh is more of a whole food, in my opinion, than tofu and so I eat it more than I eat tofu. When eating soy, I always buy organic since non-organic soy is genetically-modified and also environmentally unsustainable. Report
o I don't think so. I eat alot of strange things. When my husband looks at my salad he just thinks I should eat our grass it looks better. Report
I've heard of it before, but never tried it. I'm kind of afraid. Good thing that my boyfriend likes everything, so if we buy a food that I hate he will eat it. :p Though, if something is REALLY bad he won't eat it and I know that it must suck.. Report
I love finding non animal sources of protein! While I'm not strictly vegetarian, I hate the stringy or fatty deposits in meat and find I do better getting my protein from other sources. Thanks for the ideas!! =) Report
It sounds like it would be tasty. I suppose I'll give it a try sometime. Thanks for the suggestions. Report
Never thought about trying it....but I will now!! Thanks for the information. Report
Although I'm not a vegetarian, I have used tempeh for years. I have a recipe for orange beef with snow peas and water chestnuts in which I substitute sliced tempeh. It calls for a zesty marinade which the tempeh soaks up making a very flavorful dish. I think the recipe is from, but the concept will work with any recipe calling for meat. Report
Spark People continues to expand my world! Never heard of tempeh before...I will have to give this some thought; thanks for all the good information and recipes for how to use it. Sure has a lot of potassium. Report
I've been enjoying this series- I'm trying to add more vegetarian meals to my diet! Report
I have never in my life heard of this. And my sister is a vegetarian. Report
There's a place in Philly in the middle of Chinatown that is vegetarian/vegan and they have a general tso's tempeh which is so ridiculously good. My husband doesn't like tofu so much on it's own but I think he'd like tempeh. Report
Although it's a great source of protein, I classify tempeh under processed foods and therefore never buy it. I've had it, never loved it enough to buy it myself. Part of the problem for me is that it's often used as a "fake meat" - I would much rather eat the real thing in moderation and from sustainably raised animals than eat tempeh, but I can see how it's a great product for vegetarians and vegans. Report
I am glad that now I know HOW to prepare it,just not sure that I will :) Report
While there is evidence that overconsumption of isoflavones found in soy can adversely affect thyroid function and interfere with thyroid hormone replacement meds, most studies indicate that adverse effects com from soy in pill supliment form, or from fairly extreme consumtion of soy products, or from malabsorption of HRT when taken at the same time as consuming soy.

I have auto-imune thyroiditis and have been on HRT for 3 years as my thyroid produces no T3 or T4 at all. I use soy milk and other soy products in moderation with no problems whatsoever. I take my daily HRT medication in the middle of the night so as to no inhibit it's absorption. Consuming any calcium or fiber within a couple of hours of taking the medication has the same inhibiting effect that soy does.

The bottom line is that those of use with thyroid disease do not need to totally abstain from soy or anything else. As long as it is consumed in moderation, not taken as a concentrated supplement, and not consumed at the same time as taking your meds, soy is not harmful. Report
will give it a try - love that its a good source of fiber.! thanks for the serving suggestions! Report
I'm going grocery shopping tomorrow, and I'm gonna give it a try....even though it's not Friday....oh well.... Report
I don't eat tempeh; and I'm not willing to try it Report
I love it! It's great to saute up with onions, mushrooms and then add bbq sauce and diced artichokes. We eat it like a sloppy joe. Report
There was a recipe on a package, slice it, toast it with a little oil in a skillet then serve it on top of a spinach salad with Asian sesame dressing. Yummy. Report
I have tried it and really enjoy it. I buy it at Whole Foods. Report
Thanks for the info! Now that I'm a dedicated tofu eater, I'll try the tempeh in our next stir fry...or in one of the other SP recipes! Report
not something i would even try !!! Report
Thank you for the information. I have been wanting to try tempeh but had NO clue as to what to do with it. I hope to try it soon. Here at my fave grocery store it is over 5 dollars a block, but we do have a Whole Foods store that I have never been to, so perhaps it might be less expensive there. I'm excited to try new things and this has been at the top of my list. Thank you again for the great ideas. Report
I like to cut tempeh into strips, brown it in a small amount of oil, and add to a stirfry, soup, etc. Report
i don't know that you are aware that there are those of us with thyroid conditions that can not eat soy of any kind. It slowes our thyroids down and does our body harm....I am not sure that large amounts of soy is good for anyone and should be taken in moderation. Soy is in everything now a can of water packed tuna has soy in it. Our bread, cereals, the list goes on and on. To complicate this further on the list of things to avoid for your thyroid is all corn products, and veggies related to cabbage ie brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Sweet potatoes and lima beans are also on the list. Report
We enjoy meals with tempeh whether I stir fry with vegetables, marinade & grill, use raw in a salad (chowed w/celery and dressing), in chili or make tempeh parmesan with rice noodles. It's so versatile and an inexpensive protein. Whole Foods, Fresh Market, any health food store and some Publix stores. My Publix didn't carry it, but I requested in and it seems to be a good sell for them b/c sometimes they are out of it. Definitely worth trying if you never had. Can't really ruin it. Report
I've never heard of it or need it in any grocery stores I go to. Report
Thank you for the information. I'm just not adventurous enough to try it. I will stick to just veggies during Lent. :) (I do not eat seafood either!) Report
I love Tempeh! ♥ I get the Multigrain/Flax kind. Report
I am willing to give it a try. Sounds like it may be tasty. Report
I am not sure about this one yet! Report
I get the Lightlife brand at Trader Joe's for $1.69, but I've bought it at Whole Foods, too. It's not that much more. Maybe $1.99. At Whole Foods, it's with the tofu in the refrigerated section. Report
Thank you for the information. I am willing to give it a try. Report
Interesting info. I have been contemplating about giving this a try but never have the nerves. I guess it's time to pick up the chopsticks to see if I will be converted. Thanks! Report
I'm willing to try now that I know what to do with it! Report
willing to give it a try and see how I like it. Report
I'd like to try this, but I have no idea where to buy it. What section of the grocery store would this be in? The only health food, vegetarian-friendly store around is Whole Foods- and I'm betting it doesn't sell this for $1.69/lb.. probably double or triple that. Maybe an Asian market would be better? Report
Tempeh tends to pick up the flavors of what's around it - like tofu - so I like to stir fry it with veggies and a little peanut oil and soy sauce. I don't tell my kids it's not chicken, and they pound it down! Even my meat-adoring hubby likes tempeh stirfry! Report
I don't bother much wt soy...maybe b/c I cannot find many varieties here. but i had a vegan friday and i'm proud! I try to observe lent at least Wed & Fri :) Report
I've been a vegetarian for about 30 years now and I tried this for the first time last week at Whole Foods. They had it formed into meatballs and had it in barbeque sauce. I did not like it at all. Maybe it was just the way it was prepared in the barbeque sauce and maybe I should give it another try in a different preparation. The texture of it was what grossed me out. Report
I'll try it! I love tofu stir fry, so this will be something new. The hard part will be getting the rest of the family to like it! Report
I've never heard of tempeh. Even though I'm not a big tofu fan, i'll give it a try. Report
I have tried it before; it's been a while but I would like to try it again. Report
I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years and I've never tried tempeh...I know, it's unheard of...however, this article has encouraged me to go out and get some for dinner tonight..I'll definitely be looking for a recipe in the Spark collection to help me along the way...any suggestions folks? Report
Tempeh burgers are yuuummmy!
Raw tempeh? Blech! Report
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