Here at Better Nature, we’re all about tempeh! But we do appreciate that tempeh is not the only, or even the best known, soy-based protein around. By now, most people will have heard of tofu - heck, most will have even tried it! - whereas tempeh is the new (and in our opinion, very cool!) kid on the block not everyone has noticed yet. Since tofu and tempeh are both typically made with soybeans and sold in a block, we often get asked whether they’re the same. As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, they’re not - they’re both awesome, but in different ways. So, how exactly do these two plant-based pals differ? We’re glad you asked.
First of all, they originated in different countries - tofu was first produced in China around 2000 years ago, whereas the process of tempeh fermentation was developed in Indonesia around 300 years ago. Second of all, their production methods are very different. The three ingredients needed to make tofu (also known as bean curd) are: soybeans, water and coagulant. Tofu is made by adding coagulant to soymilk to create curds that are then pressed into solid blocks. So, the first step in making tofu is actually making soymilk!
On the other hand, tempeh is made by fermenting soaked, dehulled and cooked soybeans until they form a meaty, firm block. Even though tofu and tempeh are both usually made from soybeans, they are no one-trick ponies and can actually be made using other beans too. And why stop at beans? Tempeh, for instance, can be made with any legume, nut, grain or seed. In fact, tempeh refers to the product of the fermentation process - the name itself is not tied to any specific bean or seed. So, tempehs can differ quite a bit depending on what exactly is fermented.
The world of tempeh never ceases to amaze us! How about their nutritional values? Well, tempeh contains more protein, fibre, calories and fat than tofu, although both of them pack a punch of protein. When it comes to fibre, tempeh pips tofu to the post: tofu has less than 1g of fibre per 100g whereas soy tempeh boasts more than 6g of fibre per 100g. Our lupin tempeh even has more than 10g of fibre per 100g! The exact nutritional values of both vary to some extent from brand to brand, and for tofu it also depends on its texture (whether it’s firm or soft).
In terms of serving sizes, you might have to gorge on more tofu than tempeh in one sitting, as 100g of tempeh tends to be more filling than equivalent amount of tofu. Thanks to the fermentation process, tempeh is also kind to your gut and easily digestible. Both tofu and tempeh are nutrient-dense, with soybean tempeh and tofu both being high in iron and calcium. Fun fact: we’re actually working to make our tempeh even more nutritious, increasing its iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and protein contents through naturally innovating with its fermentation process - watch this space!
Now, let’s get to the part you’ve all been waiting for - taste! When it comes to taste, tofu is often described as a blank canvas. Tofu itself is quite flavourless, which means it takes on whatever flavours you cook it with and can be used in various dishes, giving you the chance to get your creative juices flowing! It comes in different textures (silky, soft, firm or extra-firm) and it can be used both in savoury and sweet dishes, such as smoothies and mousses.
Tempeh also lends itself to various cuisines and dishes, from loaded nachos, sushi rolls and stir-fries, to pasta sauces and next-level avo toasts. Compared to tofu, tempeh has a stronger flavour, often described as nutty - yet it still amazingly takes on the flavour of whatever sauce or marinade it’s in! Tempeh has a firmer, meatier texture than tofu and whilst it’s super versatile (just check out the recipe section of our website), it’s better suited to savoury dishes. Summa summarum, despite their differences tempeh and tofu are both great. But we can’t lie - tempeh does, of course, have a special place in our hearts and our diets!