All About Tempeh

I got a comment from a reader through my contact form last week a couple of weeks ago:

Subject: Seitan, Tempah, & Tofu

Message Body:
All I can say is “ick”. I’m good with all grains, vegetables, etc. But how do I acquire a taste for these? All vegans I know use them and I just can’t stand the taste! Tofutti yes but not tofu in its natural state. Help! 🙂 Example: I use lentils for taco “meat”.

Most of us aren’t born into veganism, so there’s a learning curve for most of us. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up eating any of those.

Over the next week, I’d like to do some introduction to those foods for my readers, and some ways that I really like them. Today is tempeh day! Look out for seitan day soon!

What is tempeh?

Unlike tofu, tempeh is a whole food. Yes, really!

Tempeh at its simplest is soybeans fermented with a bacterial starter into a large block. The hulls (skins) are removed, and the beans are split (as in they fall apart into two pieces). Brown rice or other whole grains might also be included. The process goes like this: soybeans are soaked, de-hulled and split, cooked (boiled), cooled, inoculated with a starter, pressed into a cake, and then left to ferment for about a day. That’s all there is to it!

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. I’ve tried making it from scratch, with disastrous results- but I am optimistic enough to want to try it again! You can read up on how to make it from scratch at

How does someone called The Picky Vegan like something that sounds so gross?

It’s not gross!

tempeh reuben

I love me some tempeh reuben.

I don’t remember the actual first time that I tried tempeh. I think it was in a tempeh reuben, but I’m not positive. I do remember the first few times that I bought blocks of tempeh, I got a little afraid of them (since they’re covered in mold, essentially) and I ended up tossing them. Mostly, I ate tempeh when I could get it at a restaurant, usually in the form of a sandwich. I found that I really liked tempeh bacon (you can buy Lightlife Fakin’ Bacon in the store), but I was poor and couldn’t afford it much. There’s a recipe for tempeh bacon in Vegan with a Vengeance– I started using that on a regular basis, and then learned to make my own adaptations to make some really delicious food!

So why does it taste so gross?

It’s not gross!

Tempeh bliss: marinate in a flavorful liquid and then fry pieces in (refined) coconut oil. You’ll thank me. Ultimate liquid + fat!

Actually, tempeh is probably a lot less “gross” than tofu, as it doesn’t have a soft or weird mouthfeel. If you’ve eaten beans, you’re probably down with the texture of tempeh. Like tofu, it has a pretty bland flavor on its own, though it’s slightly nutty and slightly bitter. The beans and grains are generally both a little undercooked, so there’s some trick to preparing tempeh so that it tastes good- namely adding some kind of moisture (and maybe some fat). I had the good fortune to take a class on tempeh at the Natural Gourmet Institute last year, and that really helped me learn how to prepare it well.

How should I try tempeh if I’ve never had it before, or I had it and it grossed me out?

Tempeh bacon.

As I mentioned before, you can buy Fakin’ Bacon at the grocery or natural foods store. If you can’t find it, there is the above mentioned recipe, but I’ve developed my own recipe that I like better! In my recipe, the microwave steaming helps add critical moisture to the tempeh, as well as flavor from the marinade- I think it gets in much better this way than just simple marinading.


Sriracha-Maple-Cider Glazed Tempeh. This recipe uses the same process as the bacon with different flavors and a glaze.

Any other tips or inspiration for Tempeh?

While tempeh doesn’t lend itself to quite as many applications as tofu, it’s still amazing. You can use it in so many different ways!

Like tofu, you can crumble it and use it in things like chili, sloppy joes, or as taco meat, though I would suggest steaming it before sautéing it.

yellow split pea soup

Smokey tempeh over yellow split pea soup. Just like the tempeh bacon recipe, but finished off in a Stovetop Smoker

It’s much hardier than tofu, and lends itself to some different applications. Like, vegan pork-chop-style, buffalo-wing-style, piccata, braising, and it even works in this scrambled tempeh recipe from Vegan Brunch!

This is tempeh crumbled up and molded into a cake, topped with rice and snow peas- from the tempeh class I took at NGI.

The best part about tempeh- it doesn’t take long at all to make a really flavorful dish. It’s definitely a staple around my kitchen, even if I was scared of cooking with it at first. 🙂

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2 Responses to All About Tempeh

  1. Pingback: All About Seitan | The Picky Vegan

  2. Michele says:

    Thanks for your response. I’m still trying to get up the nerve to try it but I am in need to protein in my diet.

    On another note: I am sorry for the loss of your relationship. Please know that there are many who admire you and would love to see this incredible blog continue.

    Cyberhugs from here.

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