What Is Tempeh, Actually?

Have you ever accidentally taken a job as a temp when you were actually trying to order tempeh? It has happened to me at least six times that I’m aware of. We can avoid this relatable situation in the future by learning a little bit more about tempeh—how to pronounce it, in particular. But what exactly is tempeh? What is tempeh made of? What is tempeh bacon? Is tempeh fermented? Whoa with all these questions, I need to hire a temp!

How to pronounce tempeh?

Let’s get this out of the way so we don’t have anymore temp/tempeh mix-ups. Tempeh is pronounced tem-PAY. 

What is tempeh? 

Tempeh is a block of pressed and fermented soybeans. Yep, that’s right, tempeh is one of those healthy, fermented foods you’ve been hearing about. Tempeh originated in Indonesia, in Central or East Java, several centuries ago. Tempeh has finally gone global as a popular protein choice for vegans, vegetarians, and people cutting back on their meat consumption. This makes sense when you consider that the entirely plant-based tempeh packs about 22 grams of protein in only half a cup. 

What is tempeh made of? 

Tempeh is made of partially cooked soybeans that are then mixed with a particular type of fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus, which kicks off the fermentation process. Traditional tempeh is then wrapped in banana leaves for about 24 to 48 hours to allow the soybeans to bind together and form a cake-like consistency. 

What does tempeh taste like?

 Tempeh has a slight nutty taste, but really it’s going to taste most like whatever you cook it with.

Is tempeh gluten-free?

Traditional tempeh is gluten-free, but some brands out there mix oats, rice, or other additives to it, so be sure to double check those labels.

Can you eat tempeh raw? 

Technically you could eat it raw, if it’s pasteurized. But there are better ways to eat tempeh and to enjoy its earthy, nutty flavor and meaty texture. Here’s how to prepare tempeh: It can be grilled, steamed, boiled, simmered, deep-fried, pan-fried, and more. Simmering, boiling, or any other liquid-based cooking method will allow the tempeh to act as a sponge, soaking up any tasty marinades and sauces you like to use. Tempeh can be used in stews and soups, salads, noodle dishes, burgers, tacos, sandwiches, and more. One of the more popular ways to use tempeh is by making tempeh bacon.

What is tempeh bacon?

Tempeh bacon is a delectable breakfast treat filled with protein and fiber. To make tempeh bacon, marinate tempeh strips in a combination of soy sauce, liquid smoke, maple syrup, paprika, oil, salt, and pepper, and then either bake or pan fry until it’s nice and crispy on the outside with a hot, soft middle. Vegan BLT, here you come. 

Now that I’ve learned so much about tempeh, I’ll be sure to always make tempeh bacon and never make temp bacon ever again. Please don’t ask me how to make temp bacon.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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