Tempeh: what is it and how to cook it

Nov 7 2022, 08:28 | by Michela Becchi
Born in Indonesia and today appreciated almost everywhere, especially by those choosing to give up meat. Here's how to make tempeh.

Origin of tempeh

Considered the "meat" of vegans, with its load of proteins, tempeh is the perfect food for those choosing to follow a vegetable-based diet. Among the most common foods of the vegan diet, this product originated in Indonesia, in particular on the island of Java, and quickly spread to most of the Southeast Asian countries starting from the 16th century, when it was one of the major sources of protein. It was brought to Europe by the Dutch, but it was only in the 1980s, when the vegetarian and vegan diets began to take hold, that tempeh began to become successful, so much so that it was also mentioned in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as a perfect low-cost meat substitute.

What does tempeh taste like?

To prepare it, you need to soak the peeled soybeans, which are then partially cooked and fermented thanks to a particular mushroom. At the end of the process, the seeds self compact to form white blocks, with the soy beans clearly visible on the surface. Unlike tofu or seitan, other typical products of the vegan diet, tempeh has a more intense flavour, somewhat similar to mushrooms. For many, the taste is also similar to walnuts, but in general it's a product with a rather bitter finish, especially if eaten raw. For this reason it is recommended to cook it and, above all, to marinate it first with spices and aromas.

How is tempeh preserved?

With a little patience, tempeh can also be prepared at home with yellow soy, water, apple cider vinegar and a starter of Rhizopus oryzae or Rhizopus oligosporus, which can be purchased online or at specialized natural food stores. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or kept frozen: if you choose the first option, it is advisable to pack it sous vide, so as to keep it even longer and preserve all its characteristics.

Where to buy tempeh?

Of course, there are several brands of tempeh ready to use. Once they were only found in niche shops, organic health food stores or retail dedicated to plant food, but today it's easy to find it in any well-stocked supermarket, which never fails to reserve a shelf for tofu, seitan, vegetable frankfurters, tempeh and vegan burgers. It's sold in practical vacuum-sealed packs and, just like the homemade kind, it can be frozen.

Nutritional properties of tempeh

Copper, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium: tempeh is rich in properties. It's a food that - just like all fermented products - is easily digestible, because it is rapidly absorbed by the body. A faux meat that does not weigh on the digestive system, with a low glycemic index and also ideal for whoever intends to keep the level of bad cholesterol at bay. It is also a precious source of manganese and B2 vitamins, but above all it's an excellent ally from a protein standpoint. Equally high percentage of fiber and antioxidants, which strengthen the immune system.

Tempeh: how is it cooked? Recipes to make at home

Boiled, grilled, stewed, grilled or fried: tempeh is a versatile food to experiment with in the kitchen, loved even by omnivores. It's always advisable to marinate it well before use (a little olive oil and oregano, sage or a pinch of curry and paprika, depending on personal tastes, are enough to give it more flavour and thus adapt it to more recipes. Another great idea is ​​using it, just like meat, for stews with vegetables, or cut into sticks and fried. If reduced to small pieces and added to tomato sauce it can become a valid alternative to the classic ragù, while to further accentuate its particular taste it can be cooked in a pan with a little oil and mushrooms. In summer, it is also delicious combined into mixed salads, lightly seared on the griddle and seasoned with a little salt, or skewered for original involtini cooked on the grill.

by Michela Becchi

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