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TEMPEH VS TOFU: NUTRITION FACTS, HEALTH BENEFITS AND MORE

Created
December 15, 2021
| Updated
January 4, 2022
|
4
min read
By
Better Nature
Better Nature
Better Nature
Tempeh Skewers. Image credit to Ella Olsson

By now, most people have heard of tofu, whereas tempeh is a fairly new kid on the block in the UK market. Both tempeh and tofu are great, versatile plant-based foods, but they are not the same. How exactly do these two plant-based pals differ? We’re glad you asked.

How are tempeh and tofu made?

Both tempeh and tofu are typically made with soybeans. But, the way the soybeans are used varies greatly depending on whether you’re making tempeh or tofu.

Tofu is made using soybeans, water and coagulant. The coagulant is added to soymilk to create curds that are then pressed into solid blocks. So, the first step in making tofu is actually making soymilk, would you believe!

To make tempeh you ferment soaked, dehulled and cooked soybeans until they form a firm block. This is why tempeh has a firmer texture than tofu.

Which is less processed tempeh or tofu?

Tempeh is made using whole soybeans whereas tofu is made using soy milk. So, while both are still natural, tempeh is less processed than tofu.

On a white plate are a piece of tofu and a piece of tempeh. Behind the plate is a white bowl filled with soybeans and behind the bowl is an assortment of fresh vegetables.
A piece of tofu and a piece of tempeh next to their main ingredient: soybeans

Are tempeh and tofu ever soy-free?

Tempeh and tofu are often made with soybeans but they can be made using other ingredients, too. Tempeh, for example, can be made with any legume, nut, grain or seed.

Fun fact, the word tempeh refers only to the product of the fermentation process. So, the name itself is not tied to specific beans!

Where do tempeh and tofu come from?

Tempeh was discovered in Indonesia over 300 years ago. Tofu, in turn, was first produced in China around 2000 years ago.

Which is more nutritious between tempeh and tofu?

Both tempeh and tofu are great sources of protein. But let’s look at the nutritional facts of tempeh and tofu in more detail.

In summary, tempeh is higher in protein and fibre and tofu is higher in iron and calcium.

Placed on a marble table is a cutting board that has cooked tempeh skewers on it. Next to the skewers is a small bowl with sauce and some lime pieces.
Tempeh Skewers. Photo by Ella Olsson

Our Co-Founder on the health benefits of tempeh

As discussed, tempeh is high in protein and fiber, and it also contains, for example, iron and calcium.

To learn even more about the benefits of tempeh, we turned to Ando, our Co-Founder & Head of Tech. Ando grew up in Indonesia and studied at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has achieved a PhD in tempeh fermentation and he has written the forefront guide on tempeh fermentation, the “Tempeh Bible”.

So, when it comes to tempeh, Ando sure knows what he’s talking about!

To quote Ando:

"tempeh is a source of health-promoting antioxidants that have been correlated with lower risks of chronic diseases."

As if we needed another reason to eat tempeh!

Do tempeh and tofu digest easily?

We’re all individuals and everyone’s digestion is different but, in general, tempeh and tofu are both easy to digest. Having said so, thanks to its fermentation process, tempeh is even easier to digest and it is full of probiotics, which is super important when it comes to the health of your gut.

Do tempeh and tofu taste the same?


When it comes to taste, tofu is often described as a blank canvas. Tofu itself is quite flavourless so marinating is key. Furthermore, tofu comes in different textures (silky, soft, firm or extra-firm). It can be used both in savoury and sweet dishes, such as smoothies and mousses, and even cakes!

Tempeh has a firmer texture than tofu and whilst it’s super versatile, it’s better suited to savoury dishes. Tempeh is especially great for salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, pasta sauces, nourishing bowls, curries and more.

Compared to tofu, tempeh has a stronger flavour, often described as nutty. Like tofu, tempeh also absorbs flavours well. Moreover, it requires less time marinating than tofu. So, get ready to experiment with all your favourite sauces, marinades and seasonings!

A photo of a nutritious high-protein vegan meal: Two beautifully presented Nourishing Bowls with Better Nature tempeh, basmati rice, various vegetables and a drizzle of tahini.
A nutritious high-protein vegan meal: Two beautifully presented Nourishing Bowls with Better Nature tempeh, basmati rice, various vegetables and a drizzle of tahini.

How To Cook Tempeh

If we’ve sold you on tempeh and you’re ready to get cooking, we’ve got you covered.

Tempeh can be cooked in many ways: you can bake it, steam it or fry it. Generally, tempeh cooks quickly, so it can be used to make an easy, mid-week meal.

Furthermore, tempeh absorbs flavours easily so you don’t have to let it sit in a marinade for hours. For example, you can simply pour your favourite pasta sauce on top of cooked tempeh and stir it for a few minutes.

In addition to plain tempeh, our range includes ready-to-cook marinated tempeh. They are made out of all-natural ingredients and you simply need to heat them up in a pan for a few minutes before you can eat them.

Can you replace tempeh with tofu?

For many recipes you can replace tempeh with tofu, and replace tofu with tempeh. For example, you can use either tempeh or tofu for many salads, wraps and stir-fries.

When the recipe calls for a firmer texture and a meaty bite, we would recommend sticking to tempeh.

If you’re preparing a traditional Indonesian recipe such as Tempe Kecap or Sambal Tumpang (Tempeh Curry) it’s also best to use tempeh.

Can raw tempeh make you sick?

Pasteurised tempeh is safe to eat raw but it does taste better cooked. If the tempeh is not pasteurised, we’d recommend cooking it before eating.

Our tempeh products are pasteurised and they are safe to eat without cooking. But, we recommend cooking them to make sure they’re as tasty as possible!

The bottom line

Tempeh and tofu are both excellent sources of protein. Both of them are a great addition to your diet whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian.

In addition to protein, tempeh is a great source of fibre, Omega-3 and Phosphorus, and it counts as one of your five a day.

Tempeh and tofu can be cooked in many ways and you can use them in lots of different dishes. Both of them take on flavours well too, so you can let your imagination flourish!

Finally, tempeh is generally a better choice for recipes that call for a firm texture and a good bite. (Silken) tofu, in turn, is a good option for desserts like mousses and cakes.

Tempeh recipe: Tempe Kecap

Now as a little bonus for you, here’s a recipe for Tempe Kecap, our go-to way to eat tempeh. This delicious Indonesian dish is easy to prepare, and it only uses a handful of ingredients. Tempeh Kecap is the perfect dish for trying tempeh for the first time!

Photo of an Indonesian tempeh dish packed with protein. Beautifully presented Tempe Kecap dish on a bed of rice served on a banana leaf.
Beautifully presented Tempeh Kecap dish on a bed of rice served on a banana leaf.

INGREDIENTS

  • 300 grams soy tempeh, cut into chunks (whatever size you prefer)
  • 1 lemongrass
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 red chillies, thinly sliced diagonally
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or brown, if you can’t find coconut)
  • 3 tablespoons of Kecap Manis. (You can find this Indonesian sweet soy sauce in most UK supermarkets/Asian shops.)
  • Oil, for deep frying and for sautéing

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Grind the following ingredients into spice paste. 50 grams shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 inch galangal (just use ginger if you can’t find galangal)
  2. Heat enough oil in a frying pan for deep frying. Deep fry tempeh until golden brown, drain on wire rack/paper towel.
  3. Remove almost all the oil from the frying pan, and leave about 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté spice paste, lemongrass, and bay leaves until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add red chillies and sauté until wilted, about 2 minutes.
  5. Return the fried tempeh to the pan, season with salt, sugar, and sweet soy sauce. Toss/stir until the tempeh pieces are coated with the sweet soy sauce.
  6. Turn off heat and serve immediately with steamed white rice. If you prefer, you can also use brown rice but we recommend sticking to white rice.

You can add fresh chillies, spring onions, roasted peanuts and coriander to garnish.

We hope you found this article helpful and got excited about cooking with tempeh and tofu! You can grab some tempeh here.

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