Plant-Based Diet Tips: What is Tempeh and How Can I Use It?

As plant-based diets grow more and more popular, a wider variety of vegan products are becoming available on the market. You are probably already familiar with some of these foods, such as tofu. But if you are new to the vegan diet, learning about other plant-based proteins, such as tempeh could feel kind of intimidating.

At Tunie’s, we’re here to tell you not to worry! Today, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about tempeh, so that you can feel as comfortable as possible using it as an alternative protein source to support your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

sliced tempeh, a plant-based protein substitute

What Is Tempeh?

People tend to categorize tempeh and tofu together since they are both made from soy, but the main difference between them lies in the preparation process. According to The Vegan Society, tofu is made using the extract of ground soya beans. Tempeh, on the other hand, is made from the whole bean, which has been pressed and fermented to form a dense, cake-like patty. 

Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is also used regularly in Southeast Asia, where soybeans are very easy to grow and the climate is ideal for the fermentation process. Tempeh is a major part of the diet in this part of the world. Because of its abundance, it’s inexpensive and easy to find. 

Although it might not be as widely known as tofu, tempeh is increasing in popularity in America and can be found in more grocery stores, or at your local health food store. Look for it in the refrigerated produce section, where you would also find various tofu options. There are many different brands of tempeh, many of which also offer different flavors. For example, Lightlife has tempeh in Original, Buffalo, Smoky Bacon, Three Grain, and Flax; Tofurkey has Smoky Maple Bacon, Sesame Garlic, Organic Five Grain, and Original Soy; and Smiling Hara has an Asian Miso Ginger flavor.

You can also find soy-free versions that may use a different variety of bean, plant and/or grain. Smiling Hara, for example, has two soy-free options that use hemp instead of soy, and those flavors include Raspberry Habanero and Smoked Salt and Pepper. This is great for those who follow a plant-based diet while also choosing to stay away from soy products.

a salad topped with tempeh as a plant-based protein substitute

How Do I Cook Tempeh?

Tempeh has a nutty flavor that some might also describe as bitter. Although the flavor is strong, it is also very absorbent. No matter what kind of sauce or spice combination you use, tempeh will absorb the flavors and easily marry with the other ingredients in the dish. Soy sauce is always a great choice.

As mentioned above, there are many different kinds of pre-marinated products that make it even easier for you to prepare a dish. The flavor is already taken care of, — now it’s all about the preparation. 

When it comes to deciding how to cook tempeh, one popular option includes slicing it into slabs and searing on both sides like you would a steak. Alternately, you can cut it into cubes to grill on skewers or add to salads, stir fries, breakfast hashes, wraps, soups, chilis, tacos, or really any of your favorite vegetarian and vegan recipes. 

Tempeh is incredibly versatile. It can be grilled, baked, sautéed, seared, broiled, fried, steamed… You could even cook it and crumble it on top of your food as if it were real bacon bits. This is a wonderful opportunity to get creative and use your preferred cooking method!

If you aren’t sure where to start with your tempeh cooking, check out this article that Self Magazine published with 21 tempeh recipes

Is Tempeh Gluten-Free?

While the majority of tempeh products are gluten-free, some brands use glutinous grains. If you have celiac, are gluten-intolerant, or simply prefer not to eat gluten, it is definitely important that you check the ingredient list when purchasing tempeh. 

Additionally, if you are following a gluten-free diet and want to marinate your tempeh in soy sauce, make sure you are using a gluten-free variety, such as Tamari, or an alternative like coconut aminos.

spaghetti topped with pesto and tempeh

Is Tempeh A Healthy Choice?

When it comes to healthy plant-based food choices, tempeh is high up on the list. According to Healthline, tempeh is “incredibly healthy and nutritions.” Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this vegan meat alternative is a great choice for everyone, whether they are plant-based or not.

Tempeh boasts some pretty impressive nutrition stats. First of all, it is high in protein, coming in at 15 grams per 3-ounce serving. This is much higher than tofu, which only has 6 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. Having a high protein diet, whether vegan or not, can increase metabolism, which means your body will burn more calories after eating. A protein-rich diet can also improve satiety, meaning that you will feel full and satisfied after eating something that is high in protein. 

Tempeh is also rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, and low in sodium at only 9 milligrams per serving. 

Tempeh has been linked to health benefits such as reduced cholesterol, decreased oxidative stress, decreased risk of chronic disease, and increased bone health and density.

Tempeh is rich with prebiotics, which help promote the growth of bacteria in the digestive system and can improve gut health. Studies have also shown that those who include prebiotics in their diets have more frequent bowel movements, less inflammation, and improved memory. 

Shop for tempeh and various other all-natural, plant-based, and vegan foods at Tunie’s Natural Grocery and Vitamin Market in Coral Springs. We’d love to see how you are cooking with your store-bought tempeh at home, so please feel free to share them with us on social media!

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