Skip to main content

What Is Tempeh?

By April 26, 2019October 14th, 2020Nutrition Information, Vegan

plate of tempeh

Tempeh is cooked, whole soybeans  fermented into a firm, dense, chewy cake.  It’s a nutritious super food, rich in protein and easy to digest. It’s been part of the traditional cuisine of Indonesia for more than 2000 years.

Since tempeh is extremely rich in protein, fiber and vitamins it’s perfect to use in place of meat.  I am not saying clean organic meat is bad, but including vegan meals in your diet is good for your body and good for the planet. Raising livestock for animal-based products requires far more land, water and energy than producing grains and legumes.

It takes up to ten pounds of grain to produce just one pound of animal flesh. This means that the same amount of crops that feed 100 people animal protein could possibly feed 1,000 people on a vegetarian diet.

My goal has been to heal my digestive system enough so I can eat it regularly.  I’m almost there.  I can eat a little tempeh once a week.

Tempeh is made from fermented whole soybeans.  I am not a big fan of eating soy products unless they are fermented. Unfermented soy products contain trypsin inhibitors which block protein absorption.

They also contain phytates which is a toxic anti-nutrient to ward off insects and animals that might otherwise eat them. Unlike beans the anti-nutrients in soy don’t wash off or cook off . These phytates bind to minerals like zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper, and may strip them from the body, resulting in mineral deficiencies.

BUT, fermenting the soybeans reduces the harmful affect of it’s phytates and allows easier digestion of it’s protein.

Why I Like Tempeh

Rich in protein. The best thing about tempeh is it has the same high quality protein as meat  It is a complete protein including iron and calcium.  The fermentation process breaks down the whole soybean increasing their digestibility and absorbability. It’s hearty texture and nutritional profile makes it one of the best sources of vegetarian protein. Four ounces of tempeh has 18 grams of protein.

Tempeh is a whole food. Nothing is discarded from the soybeans when making tempeh, unlike tofu which is made from curdled soy milk, extracted from ground, cooked soybeans  It possesses more protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins than tofu and it’s easier to digest.

High in B-vitamins. B vitamins are critical for a healthy body, including everything from detoxification, metabolism and energy, to nerve function, mental focus, and for healthy digestion.

Easy to digest. Tempeh is a great choice for people who have difficulty digesting plant-based high-protein foods like beans and legumes.  The fermentation process greatly reduces the oligosaccharides that make beans hard to digest for some people.

Increases the absorption of minerals. The process of fermentation makes the soybeans softer since enzymes produced by the mold predigests a large portion of the basic nutrients.  The Rhizopus molds produce an enzyme phytase which breaks down phytates thereby increasing the absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium.

Health Benefits of Tempeh

Balances Your Cholesterol

Tempeh is rich in dietary fiber, which binds fats and cholesterol and prevents their rapid absorption. Also, the dietary fiber binds the bile salts and helps remove them from the body. As it disposes of the bile, the liver is stimulated to convert more cholesterol into bile salts, thereby lowering the cholesterol level in the body considerably. Tempeh also raises the HDL cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol passes through the body and collects the LDL cholesterols in the arteries to be disposed of by the liver.

High In Magnesium

Tempeh contains magnesium, which plays a vital role in your cardiovascular system and in more than 300 enzymatic reactions. Magnesium is also necessary for the reactions like the control of protein synthesis and energy production.

 Helps with Menopause

The isoflavones present in tempeh bind to the estrogen receptors and provide relief from the uncomfortable symptoms associated with the decline of natural estrogen. Also, it helps reduce the bone loss that generally follows menopause.

Helps Prevent Diabetes

The protein and fiber in tempeh can prevent high blood sugar levels and help in keeping blood sugar levels under control.  Also, tempeh lowers the triglyceride levels in diabetic patients.

High Fiber Content

One serving of tempeh contains more fiber than most people consume in one day. The fiber present in tempeh lowers the risk of colon cancer, by being able to bind to the cancer-causing toxins so they can be removed through the bowels.  It is also a preventative against some other cancers, like breast cancer.

Contains Natural Antibiotics

The Rhizopus molds produce natural, heat-stable antibiotic agents against some disease-causing organisms. Indonesians who eat tempeh as a regular part of their diet recognize it as a medicine for dysentery and rarely fall victim to the intestinal diseases to which they are constantly exposed.

Tempeh and Estrogens

Like all soy products, tempeh contains plant hormones known as phytoestrogens, specifically called isoflavones. Isoflavones are able to mimic some effects of estrogen in your body. As such, eating tempeh may be beneficial for symptoms of menopause, but women who have been diagnosed with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer should be cautious with their soy intake. For more information on tempeh and estrogen click here. I’m post menopausal and I love tempeh.

How To Use Tempeh

Tempeh can be baked, sautéed, stir fried or grilled.

Even though it has nutty taste, I like it better when it’s marinated.  It absorbs other flavors easily.

Depending on the recipe, I like to steam the tempeh for about 15 minutes before marinating to make the tempeh softer and allow it to more readily absorb any seasonings or marinades. It’s optional.

To steam tempeh: set up a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water and place the cut tempeh in the basket. Cover it and let it steam for 10-15 minutes.  Remove it from the steamer and pat it dry.  Now you are ready to marinate it.

Tempeh Recipes

Asian Tempeh with Broccoli & Shiitake Mushrooms 

Asian Tempeh Broccoli Shiitake
This Asian Tempeh with Broccoli and Shiitake Mushrooms is a classic Chinese food favorite made with super healthy ingredients.

Marinated Barbecued Tempeh

Marinated Grilled Tempeh
In this simple Marinated Barbecued Tempeh the piquant spices infuse the tempeh with “meaty” flavors making it so yummy everyone will love it, even if they’re not vegan.

Baked Peanut Tempeh from Minimalist Baker

Saucy, baked tempeh marinated in a spicy-sweet peanut sauce! I make it with almond butter.

Easy Sautéed Tempeh 

If you want to make tempeh to put on a salad or as a simple side dish try this recipe.
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon

Easy Sautéed Tempeh

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

4 from 1 review

  • Author: Ingrid DeHart -
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 2-3 servings 1x


  • 8 oz piece of tempeh
  • 3 tablespoons wheat free tamari
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee


  1. Slice tempeh into ¼ – ½ inch slices horizontally.
  2. Steam for 10-15 minutes (optional).
  3. In a flat bowl or plate combine the tamari, water and garlic.  Mix to combine.
  4. Add tempeh to the marinade, turn to coat each piece.
  5. Let sit at least 5 minutes or up to 1 hour, turning occasionally.  Most of the liquid will be absorbed.
  6. Heat a cast iron pan on medium.  Add coconut oil or ghee.
  7. Add tempeh.
  8. Cook tempeh on medium for 2-4 minutes per side until they’re nicely brown.
  9. Pour in any extra marinade. Sauté 1 minute more.
  10. Serve with vegetables or on salads.

The tempeh will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.


Steaming tempeh allows it to accept more flavors of the marinade. It also makes the tempeh more tender.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes

If you would you like to have more simple delicious recipes that make you feel good sent to you each week, CLICK TO SIGN UP for my weekly email newsletter of recipes and tips for you to eat well and enjoy your wonderful life.

Until next time, have a fantastic day. Please leave a comment below.  I always love hearing about your journey and your thoughts and feedback on making your own delicious food at home.




Rate & Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star