What Is Tempeh, and How Do You Use It?

This tasty soy-based food can be a delicious and healthy addition to your favorite dishes.

<p>Yan Budi Setiawan/Getty Images</p>

Yan Budi Setiawan/Getty Images

If you're exploring a more plant-based diet and are ready to move beyond tofu, tempeh may be the next ingredient to add to your regular grocery shopping list. But you're probably wondering exactly what is tempeh, what does it taste like, and how do you use it in your cooking.

Don't worry: We have the answers to all of your burning tempeh questions—and learn how to sub it in to your favorite dishes.

Related: 5 Health Benefits of Following a More Plant-Based Diet, According to RDNs

What Is Tempeh?

Tempeh is a great meat substitute, made of soybeans—and sometimes, other beans or grains like barley or wheat—that are fermented with yeast and bacteria.

Tempeh has a firm texture that works beautifully in many main-course dishes, and a nutty, umami flavor that is reminiscent of mushrooms.

Generally, tempeh isn't eaten plain. Like tofu, it has a very mild flavor and is an excellent carrier for sauces and spices. It can be simply marinated in soy sauce, or in whatever sauces and spices you're using for your dish (think Mexican spices like cayenne for tempeh tacos, or a tasty pesto for making tempeh meatballs with pasta).

Is Tempeh the Same as Tofu?

Like tofu, tempeh is usually made (at least partly) from soybeans, and has its origins in Asia. (Tofu likely originated in China, but tempeh has its roots in Indonesia.)

Tofu and tempeh have different preparation methods. Tofu is made by creating a milk from the soybeans and then curdling it and forming it into blocks. That gives tofu a smooth, silky texture. Meanwhile, tempeh uses whole soybeans, and generally has a more firm and nutty texture.

Tempeh also offers additional nutritional benefits, such as more protein and probiotics than its soy-based companion.

Is Tempeh Good for You?

Tempeh is a nutritional powerhouse, thanks to the fermentation process that creates it and its soybean base.

Related: 5 Healthy Reasons to Eat Tempeh, Tofu's Tasty, Probiotic-Packed Cousin

Tempeh has nearly the same amount of protein as steak, along with a slew of key nutrients—iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous.

The fermentation process packs tempeh with probiotics that can help improve your gut health, and plenty of fiber, too.

One thing to watch out for, if you're following a gluten-free diet: Some tempeh is made with wheat or other grains, so you'll want to check the label to make sure that it's truly gluten free.

How to Use Tempeh in Your Cooking

Tempeh can easily be used in any recipes that call for tofu, but it can also make an excellent substitute for meat in many dishes. It's especially easy to swap in tempeh in recipes that call for marinades, as it can readily soak up the flavors of any spices or sauces added to it.

Related: This Is the Secret to Cooking Perfectly Crispy Tofu Every Time

If you want to substitute tempeh in a dish that doesn't call for marinating, you may want to do it anyway. Just let the tempeh soak in the sauce for at least a half-hour before you cook it.

Tempeh can be crumbled and used in lieu of ground meat in tacos, chili, or pasta sauce, or kept in whole pieces and served atop stir fries or salads.

Recipes for Tempeh

Because tempeh works beautifully in so many recipes, you can swap it one for one for meat or tofu. Check out these recipes where you can utilize tempeh in lieu of meat or tofu.

Tofu Asada With Caramelized Onion Refried Beans

Victor Protasio
Victor Protasio

The spicy marinaded for this tofu dish works just as wonderfully with tempeh—and the caramelized onion refried beans make a tasty side dish.

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Korean Soy-Sesame Beef

Greg DuPree
Greg DuPree

Soy sauce is already a favorite tempeh marinade—especially when you add in chili sauce, ginger, garlic, and a touch of pear nectar for a little sweetness. The umami flavor and dense texture of tempeh makes it a perfect substitute for beef.

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Spicy Sambal Shrimp Stir Fry

Caitlin Bensel
Caitlin Bensel

Hearken back to tempeh's Indonesian roots by swapping out the shrimp for tempeh, slathered in Indonesia's signature spicy sambal oelek sauce. You can marinade the tempeh in the sambal sauce before cooking to infuse it with the flavor.

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Tofu and Mushroom Lettuce Wraps

<p>Fred Hardy</p>

Fred Hardy

Crumbled tempeh is an easy swap for tofu in these tasty wraps. The sweet-and-savory combo of soy sauce and hoisin packs in plenty of flavor.

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