In an attempt to understand more about meat substitutes and soy products, I’ve stepped way out of my box. Last week I tried Tofu (and still have some leftovers for further experimenting); this week the focus is on Tempeh.
This food wasn’t completely foreign to me; I’ve tried it before at a Vegetarian restaurant close to my office. A former coworker of mine is Vegan, and had to do a little convincing. Between a tasty Tempeh & Jicama sandwich, and some slightly-off but oddly creamy and rich Tofu ice cream, I slowly veered away from my bad attitude towards Soy.
I digress. After picking up a package of “Garden Veggie Tempeh” at Whole Foods, it was time for test.
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is fermented from cooked soybeans; a Rhizobus mold (bacteria) binds the beans into a compact white cake. It is a probiotic food (like yogurt), containing bacteria that are beneficial to the digestive system.
In Indonesia, this food is a staple source of protein and has been around for hundreds of years. More recently it has become a popular Vegetarian meat-substitute, seen in a variety of dishes. Like Tofu, it’s extremely versatile, lending its texture to marinades, seasonings, and various cooking methods (fry, bake, roast, saute, etc).
How is it different than Tofu?
According to a Wellsphere post, by Registered Dietitian Andy Bellatti, the fermentation process reduces the phytate content in tempeh. This makes zinc and iron more “bioavailable” (more easily absorbed by the body). Tempeh is also higher in fiber content, as it is made from the whole soybean (vs Tofu, made from coagulated Soy milk).
The two also vary greatly in texture; tofu is typically soft and spongy, while tempeh is firm and chewy. They are similar when it comes to one thing – each food lends itself to various seasonings/flavors, but lacks any significant taste on its own.
What nutrients does Tempeh provide?
This food is very high in protein, providing up to 40 g per 1 cup serving, according to the list provided by the Vegetarian Resource Group. As mentioned above, it’s also higher in Fiber (~7 g per cup) and essential fats (Omega-3). It is also a good source of calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin B12 (a problem nutrient for vegetarians!). To read more about its nutrient power, check out the page by World’s Healthiest Foods.
If you like the texture of tempeh, it’s hard to go wrong with this food! Clearly it pulls weight with all the nutritional benefits, and it’s relatively inexpensive. I paid ~$2.50 for two servings of the Garden Veggie variety, and paired with the Broccoli-stuffed Sweet Potato.
My mistake? Baking without marinade! I have had good tempeh before, so luckily I knew that the dry, crumbly block on my plate had much more potential than my cooking gave it credit for. I still ate it – no wasting food (or protein!) around here! But the lesson was learned; when all the recipes you browse involve a marinade, and/or basting, or seasoning, etc – there’s a good reason! Listen up, and follow the steps. 🙂 I’ll be back for you, Tempeh. We will have a delicious meal together, I promise.
Have you tried Tempeh? What’s your favorite version?