What Is Tempeh?

This vegan protein isn’t as mainstream as tofu, but it’s just as versatile (and delicious).

Published Mar. 15, 2017.

You’ve probably heard of or eaten tofu, but have you ever tried tempeh? Like tofu, this vegan protein is versatile and is great in everything from sandwiches to stir-fries. So, what is it exactly?

What Is Tempeh?

Though tempeh isn’t quite as popular as tofu, it is a mainstay of many vegetarian and vegan diets (and is particularly popular in Southeast Asia). Like tofu, tempeh is a soy-based product. It’s made by fermenting cooked soybeans and then forming the mixture into a firm, dense cake. Most versions also contain beans, grains, and flavorings. (There do exist soy-free versions of tempeh that contain only grains or other beans.)

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What Does Tempeh Taste Like?

Tempeh has a strong, nutty flavor. It also tends to absorb the flavors of any food or sauce to which it is added, making it a versatile choice for many sorts of dishes, from chilis and stews to sandwiches and tacos.

How Do You Use Tempeh?

Because it’s better than tofu at holding its shape when cooked, tempeh is a great meat substitute and a versatile choice for vegans and nonvegans alike. It has a strong, nutty taste, but it also absorbs other flavors easily. Cutting tempeh into slabs allows you to make delicious steaks. You can also cut tempeh into cubes and sear them to top breakfast dishes, cook them in stir-fries, and grill them on skewers.

How Do You Cut Tempeh?

Tempeh pan-sears best when cut into steak-like slabs. Using a kitchen knife, cut each piece of tempeh crosswise into two 3½-inch-long pieces (below, left). Next, cut each piece horizontally into ⅜-inch-thick slabs, being careful to cut pieces of even thickness (below, right). Slabs of this length and thickness will develop a crispy edge when cooked.

Is Tempeh Good For You?

Definitely! Tempeh, like tofu, is also a healthful choice. It’s high in protein, cholesterol-free, and low in fat—it also contains many essential vitamins and minerals.

Where Can You Buy Tempeh?

You can find tempeh in most supermarkets. It’s often located in the produce section near the tofu, and it usually comes in a variety of grain and flavor combinations.


This soy-based protein is less popular than tofu, but it's just as versatile (and delicious). And it's a staple of many vegetarian and vegan diets.   
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