Have you met organic tempeh yet?
If not, you should! While tofu may seem to be the more widely recognized soy protein, fermented organic tempeh is giving it a run for its money.
Beth Taylor of HeartyVegan.com is the first to share the enormous differences between these two soy-based proteins. Tofu and tempeh may be grouped together on the supermarket shelf, but they are actually quite distinct, even boasting different origins.
"Tofu originated in China, and is made by coagulating soy milk into curds and pressing them into soft spongy blocks," she says. "Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is made by fermenting soybeans into dense chewy blocks."
The Chinese product has had its day in the sun -- time to give the Indonesian creation a turn. And we're not the only ones who think so! Chefs and tempeh manufacturers have noticed the increased popularity of tempeh in recent years, lending credence to the idea that tempeh may just be the kale of 2015.
1. Tempeh is Delicious
One of the most important elements when choosing a new food to include in your diet is, of course, your enjoyment of it! As conscious consumers, we're always balancing a number of factors against one another to decide what to purchase and prepare for our families, but there's no denying that deliciousness is one of the main characteristics to look for.
Luckily, that's not a problem with tempeh. As compared with tofu, Chad Oliphant, co-founder of Smiling Hara Tempeh says, "For me, tempeh is the tastier and more nutritious option."
According to Beth, while tofu "has little flavor on its own, (...) it is porous and soaks up flavors easily," an attribute that makes it very versatile, tempeh "has a much meatier texture than tofu, and a slightly nutty, mushroomy flavor." This combo of flavor and texture notably makes it a great meat substitute for those omnivores who like their fake meat to resemble, well, meat. And it also adds a touch of something extra to the plates of vegans and vegetarians looking for great sources of umami.
2. Tempeh is Nutritious
Going hand-in-hand with deliciousness when choosing an ingredient is its nutritiousness. Tempeh checks both boxes, something tofu doesn't do. "While tofu can be delicious, it lacks the fiber, protein, and microbial qualities [probiotics and beneficial digestive enzymes] of tempeh," Chad says. And Beth offers a comparison of the protein content of tofu and tempeh -- 12 grams versus 22 thanks to the whole bean process of making tempeh.
In addition, tempeh is not nearly as processed as tofu. "The beans are held together by mycelium (think of the ‘roots’ of a mushroom)," Beth says. "Because it’s fermented, tempeh is easier for the body to digest than unfermented beans."
"We are continuing to develop and improve our ingredient sourcing every year," Chad says. "Our area currently has no cleaning facility for beans that meet our specs for production. We are looking to create that so that we may purchase as locally as possible and have a hands on connection with our farmers and suppliers."
3. Tempeh Doesn't Have to Be Soy Based
Tempeh, by its very definition, is fermented soy protein... so how in the world is it possible to have soy-free tempeh?
Beth has some explanation for this, citing rarer but still traditional versions of tempeh made with black-eyed peas, garbanzo or black beans, or even fava beans. Chad decided to include soy-free tempeh in the lineup of Smiling Hara to cater to a number of populations, notably those with soy allergies or aversions.
"The difference in flavor profile can be quite stark," he says of the non-soy versions of tempeh, which include black bean and black eyed pea. "Beans with a higher starch/protein ratio result in increased fermentation in the culturing process. Our black bean and black eyed pea products have a much brighter, fruitier flavor than our soy tempeh. The soy-free are also more delicate in texture than the soy."
Three great reasons to start trying tempeh, no?
Chad loves to fry his tempeh. "I am a big fan of Latin cuisine, so tempeh tacos and enchiladas are a common preparation at home," he says. "Sometimes a simple stir fry or tempeh over rice with greens. I have been researching traditional Indonesian recipes like tempe bacem and tempe mendoan."
Beth offers up her favorite dishes as well, including many recipes she shares on her website. "We like to pan-sear it with some rosemary, or make mock-chicken salad or tempeh bacon," she says. "Tempeh also lends itself well to being slow braised, or simmered in a flavored broth before being added to the main dish."
And if you're feeling adventurous, you could even try making your own! "There are quite a few steps involved, but making tempeh at home is fun and rewarding," says Beth. "Just like bread that is so wonderful fresh out of the oven, there is nothing like fresh tempeh." She first tried the method that Sandor Katz highlights in "Wild Fermentation"; feel free to give it a try at home.
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Tempeh Image via Shutterstock: reezuan