What is tempeh? All about this hearty plant protein

Looking for a new way to perk up your meat-free meals? Tempeh is climbing the ranks of our top vegan ingredients

Published December 25, 2020 6:00PM (EST)

Close-up of tempeh on a cutting board with a kitchen knife with other ingredients. (Getty Images)
Close-up of tempeh on a cutting board with a kitchen knife with other ingredients. (Getty Images)

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Looking for a new way to perk up your meat-free meals? Tempeh is a plant-based protein made from fermented soybeans that's easy to find, easy to cook, and well-worth a spot on your weekly shopping list. Nutritious, flavorful, and versatile, tempeh is on a steady rise in popularity, giving tofu a run for its money. Plus it's vegetarian (vegan, actually!) and gluten-free, meaning just about anyone can fall in love with it.

What is tempeh

Tempeh is made by cooking, hulling, and fermenting dried soybeans with a yeast starter — similar to sourdough starter but made with rice flour instead of wheat. The resulting mixture is drained and compressed into slabs that are typically sliced, cubed, or crumbled. What may appear to be white mold on the outside of tempeh actually is white mold: remnants of the fermentation (like the rind on Brie), and a natural, harmless, flavorless part of the process. Thanks, helpful white mold!

What does tempeh taste like?

More savory on its own than tofu or seitan, tempeh has a pronounced nutty, slightly tangy flavor — with plenty of umami notes, courtesy of the fermentation process — and readily takes on the essence of whatever it's prepared with. It may prove a little bland just raw straight from the package, so it's best to cook it before eating (and the possibilities are boundless!).


A rich source of nutrients (particularly B vitamins and calcium), tempeh has more calories and healthy fats than other popular plant-based proteins. It's high in carbohydrates and fiber for sustained energy release, and it ranks low on the glycemic index.

Where to buy tempeh

Supermarkets that sell tofu and vegan-meat substitutes will usually carry packaged tempeh in the same refrigerated case. Health-food and specialty markets may carry several brands, as well as variations like marinated tempeh or frozen crumbles. Store tempeh for up to a week in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to three months.

How to use tempeh

Owing to its chewy texture and sturdy composition, tempeh is well-suited for frying, grilling, baking, stewing, and crumbling for a texture similar to animal protein in chilis, pasta sauce, and grain bowls. Other flavor-packed ways to use tempeh:

By Jess Kapadia

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