Tempeh is a tender white cake of cooked soybeans that can be made of all soy or combined with grains, legumes, and seeds. The solid cake is formed because of fermentation which binds the soy and other grains together. The texture of tempeh is firm, tender and chewy. High quality tempeh has a mild “mushroomy” or “yeasty” aroma, and slices or cubes easily without crumbling. The flavor of soy tempeh is full-bodied. It can be a “star” in any kitchen because it cooks quickly and can be prepared in hundreds of ways, using all cooking methods.

Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan


Tempeh Cooking Tips from Washington Post
Food and Dining Editor Joe Yonan


In the Market

American food manufacturers continue to make tempeh in many forms. Look for these types in natural or Asian food stores and larger supermarkets in the frozen, refrigerated or fresh produce section. Can’t find them? Consult your store manager and ask for one of the following:

  • plain soy tempeh
  • soy with grains or rice
  • pre-cooked, ready-to-eat soy or soy grain/rice combo
  • baked, tamari flavored
  • smoked, cooked, marinated with herbs
  • tempeh burger
  • marinated tempeh burger
  • smoked strips

What is high quality tempeh? Look for tempeh with soybeans and grains tightly bound. It should have a dry outside surface with a mushroom-like aroma.

Give Me Five

  1. Make kabobs for grilling or broiling with tempeh chunks, peach chunks and pineapple chunks.
  2. Stuff a pita pocket with sliced tempeh, spinach leaves, tomatoes and spicy mustard.
  3. Grill pieces of tempeh basted with barbecue sauce.
  4. Stir fry vegetables with cubed tempeh and serve over brown rice, whole wheat couscous or soy pasta.
  5. Use crumbled tempeh to make sloppy Joes, stuffed peppers, tacos or burritos.

In the Kitchen

Tempeh must be cooked, unless it is pre-cooked and ready-to-use when purchased. Just about any cooking method will work. This includes moist heat methods such as poaching, simmering, boiling or steaming. Dry heat methods work well also: tempeh may be baked, broiled, grilled, sautéed, and pan or deep-fried. To microwave, combine 8 ounces of tempeh with 3 tablespoons of water in a covered glass casserole dish and heat on high for five minutes.

Packaged tempeh will keep well for up to 4 to 6 months if kept frozen. Once thawed, tempeh will keep about 10 days in the refrigerator. When buying tempeh from a refrigerated case, make sure it has a “sell by” date.

Nutrition Highlights

A serving of soy tempeh is an excellent source of dietary fiber and soy protein. It is also a good source of folic acid, potassium, and iron. Important bio-active components called isoflavones and saponins, found naturally in soybeans, are being studied in relationship to relief of menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, maintaining healthy bones, and preventing prostate and breast cancers.

Tempeh is a healthy, high-quality protein source that contains all essential amino acids for growth. Soy protein is equal in quality to meat, milk and egg protein, and comes without saturated fat and cholesterol.

In addition to the quality of soy protein, scientists have found that soy protein may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol and increasing the flexibility of blood vessels. The FDA has approved a health claim stating that 25 grams of soy protein in a daily diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol that is moderately high to high.

The Making of Tempeh

Tempeh originated in Indonesia, where today its production is still a vibrant cottage industry. More controlled manufacturing of tempeh occurs in the United States. Whole soybeans are cleaned and boiled to facilitate removing the hulls. Dehulled soybeans are soaked overnight, boiled in soak water, drained and cooled. The beans are inoculated with a starter, spread on trays, then covered and put in incubation under set temperature and humidity. Fermentation occurs in about eighteen to twenty four hours when the mold forms a white coating binding the soybeans together. The tempeh is then ready for packaging.


1/2 cup tempeh provides:

Calories 160 % Daily Value
Total Fat 9g 14%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
TotalCarbohydrates 8g 3%
Protein 15g 30%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 7mg 0%
Dietary Fiber
Calcium 92mg 9%
Potassium 342mg 10%
Phosphorus 221mg 22%
Folate 20mcg 5%
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17 (2004)
Isoflavone, 36mg
Source: USDA – Iowa State University Database on the Isoflavone Content of Foods,  Release 1.3, 2002, USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory Agricultural Research Service
Exchanges: 2 medium-fat meat/meat substitutes
Source: Based on information from Exchange Lists for Meal Planning, 2nd edition, 2002.
The American Diabetes Association/The American Dietetic Association