If you’ve never tried tempeh before, you may wonder, “What’s the big deal?”
Understanding tempeh nutrition is important since many vegetarian meat alternatives have a reputation for being boring and bland. Thanks to the power of plant foods, the benefits of tempeh stretch far beyond taste and texture to include a world of tasty possibilities.
Read on for tips on how to use tempeh, especially if you’re new to this meat-free protein.
Nutritional Benefits of Tempeh
Tempeh is a special soy protein used commonly as a vegetarian meat replacement. However, it does more than provide an alternative to animal-based protein. It’s also linked to numerous nutrition and health benefits.
A Special Source of Protein
Tempeh is a very unique, sustainable source of plant protein. It contains adequate amounts of all essential amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of protein.
A 100-gram portion of tempeh, equivalent to about ⅔ cup, contains 20 grams of protein. Typically, similar to meat, a 3 oz portion (about 85 grams) is considered one serving.
Thanks to the soybeans used to make it, tempeh has a protein profile comparable to animal-based protein sources. Interestingly, tempeh even contributes nutrients like vitamin B12 to the diet, which are more commonly obtained from animal-based foods.
Relatively Rich in Fiber
Since tempeh is made from soybeans, it also contains an impressive amount of dietary fiber. The fiber in tempeh also acts as a prebiotic, which acts as fuel for prebiotics (the “good” bacteria in the gut). In other words, tempeh benefits digestion in more ways than one.
Isoflavones Act As Mild Antioxidants
Tempeh contains soy isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen. As their name implies, phytoestrogens are estrogen-like substances, meaning they act like estrogen in the body. They are thought to have many implications for human health and chronic disease, including:
• Cholesterol levels
• Heart health and heart disease
• Hormone balance
• Weight loss
Experts believe one of the reasons isoflavones have broad applications is thanks to their antioxidant activity. Antioxidants help to relieve damage at a cellular level, essentially helping to heal the body. The fermentation process that happens when making tempeh is thought to improve antioxidant activity.
Health Benefits of Tempeh
Not only does tempeh have an impressive nutrient profile, but it also boasts a host of health benefits.
Good for Gut Health
As with other fermented foods, tempeh does a great job of promoting a healthy gut. Tempeh contains probiotics, which promote a healthy balance of “good” bacteria in the gut. As mentioned above, tempeh also contains prebiotic fibers, which act as fuel for the probiotics.
Regularly consuming pre- and probiotic-rich foods is known to help with intestinal issues. In other words, incorporating tempeh into the diet may be able to improve digestion.
May Boost Brain Health
Surprisingly, tempeh may also benefit brain health. A recent study on aging adults found that tempeh may contribute to cognitive improvement in cases of mild cognitive impairment.
Tempeh contains plenty of plant-based “healthy” fats. These fats help to keep the brain running efficiently, including functions like learning and memory.
Tofu vs Tempeh
So, how does tofu compare with tempeh? As plant-based meat substitutes, do they have any similarities? Since both can commonly be found near each other in most grocery stores’ vegetarian sections, here’s what you need to know when making your selection.
Processing & Nutrient Density
Like tempeh, tofu is also a meat replacement and an excellent source of plant-based protein. When it comes to added nutritional value, both tempeh and tofu are often fortified with calcium. However, the two differ in terms of how they are made.
Tempeh is made from soybeans through a process of fermentation. This process is what adds “good” bacteria into the mix. Tofu, on the other hand, is created from curdled soy milk, which is then shaped or pressed into blocks.
Taste & Texture
Both tofu and tempeh can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. However, some people find the flavor of tofu unfavorable due to the “beany” flavor of the soymilk used as its basis. On the contrary, the tempeh taste is well-liked, since fermentation is considered a way to improve palatability. It’s often described as nutty, earthy, and similar to mushrooms.
Texture-wise, tofu is available in a variety of forms, from silken to soft to firm. The texture of tempeh is similar to that of extra-firm tofu. If you’re used to using extra-firm tofu in recipes, tempeh can be utilized in a similar way.
How to Use Tempeh
As an affordable form of protein, tempeh has many applications in the kitchen. Since it’s a meat substitute, tempeh can be used in place of animal-based protein in many menu items. For example, you can cook tempeh as part of the following recipes:
• Sloppy joes
Tempeh is also used as a staple in many cuisines around the world, particularly in Asia. Try baked tempeh as part of these traditional recipes:
• Fried rice
Marinated tempeh is another popular method of preparation, similar to marinating meats. It adds extra flavor and can take tempeh from boring to brilliant. Somewhat surprisingly, maple syrup can be used to create a tasty tempeh dish called “maple tempeh bacon,” which can be used in everything from vegetarian BLTs to topping baked potatoes.
Tempeh Cooking Tips
Tempted to eat tempeh? Here are some basic cooking tips to try.
Follow the ABCs
Three important tips to remember when you’re working with tempeh can be kept in mind with the acronym “A.B.C.”:
• A: Always cook. Tempeh is not designed to be eaten raw, and may cause illness if consumed in its raw form. Cook it to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Similar to animal-based protein, tempeh can be grilled or sautéed for easy cooking.
• B: Blot before cooking. Like many forms of meat, sometimes excess oils and juices build up on the protein before cooking. Blotting tempeh before cooking can help you to get rid of excess oils.
• C: Cut, cube or crumble. Again, like meat, tempeh can be cut into strips or cubed to make cooking easier. Tempeh is also unique in that it can be crumbled by hand.
Soften By Steaming or Simmering
Don’t love the firmer texture? Try boiling tempeh water for five to 10 minutes to make it softer.
Simmering tempeh in a marinade or sauce can also lock in flavor, while still increasing absorption. Keep in mind, regardless of the cooking method, tempeh should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit before consumption.
Flavor As Desired
Tempeh absorbs the flavors of spices well, making it an easy add-in to many recipes. Don’t be afraid to play around with spices, seasonings, and sauces (especially those that you would usually use to flavor meat).
Since tempeh is a soy product, it naturally pairs well with recipes that contain soy sauce. When simmering tempeh to cook it, using broth instead of water can infuse it with flavor.
Benefits of Tempeh: Final Takeaways
Tempeh is probiotic-rich, fiber-fueled, and health-promoting. It’s a sustainable and affordable addition to any kitchen, and not just for vegetarian cooks.
Try incorporating it into your diet today and see what a difference familiarizing yourself with this fermented plant protein can make.