Time to Try Tempeh?

No offense to tofu, but here’s a protein-rich, soy-based meat substitute with a bit more pizzazz.




Tempeh (TEM-pay) is a cake-like food made from soaked, hulled and fermented whole soybeans that bind together overnight to create a firm yet chewy mouth-feel. It originated on the island of Java in Indonesia long ago—records show that its benefits were known as early as the 16th century. Since then, this highly nutritious food has gained popularity around the globe as a protein source in vegan and vegetarian diets. It’s versatile too—it can be prepared in several different ways for delicious results.

POWER UP

The health wallop packed by soy products stems primarily from their high protein and vitamin content, and tempeh is no exception. It’s loaded with varied nutrients and low in cholesterol. As noted in the World Journal of Dairy & Food Sciences, studies have suggested that tempeh may help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and digestive disorders. One 100-gram serving contains 20 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, eight grams of carbohydrates and 195 calories. (And yes, tempeh’s blander cousin tofu has similar benefits with even fewer calories. But what do you want to eat? Tofu is good for you, but so is going to bed at 9 p.m. With tempeh, you can be good but still walk on the wilder side.) Another plus? Tempeh is also easier to digest than other soy products because the complex proteins in soy are broken down during the fermentation process.

BUY/STORE/SERVE

We won’t kid you: Making tempeh from scratch is difficult, requiring two to three days of 95-degree heat to allow the fermentation process to occur. (But if you do make it, you can experiment with other kinds of beans instead of soybeans.) Most Americans buy pre-made tempeh at local health-food stores or at a growing number of mainstream supermarkets. Always refrigerate tempeh before and after opening the package. Tightly wrap the partially used product in its package, and store in the back of the fridge. Tempeh can usually be stored for months, but please heed the expiration date. The firm, chewy texture and slight nutty, almost mushroomy flavor of tempeh can sometimes get lost when it is shipped or stored. That’s why preparing it properly is important for the full experience. If the tempeh from the package is too tough, steaming it is a great way to soften it. To do this, place sliced tempeh in a saucepan and cover it with either water or vegetable oil. After bringing the liquid to a boil, lower the flame and let everything simmer for 10 minutes. Afterwards the choice of marinating, grilling or baking is up to you.

Tempeh by itself can be bitter at first taste (the longer it’s cultured, the stronger the flavor) but one of countless sauces and marinades can help fix that deliciously. This nutritious food can be served whole, used in soups or employed as a substitute for bread in sandwiches. Or it can be crumbled into sauces and stew. Keep in mind that tempeh may take on some of the flavor of what it is prepared with, leaving lots of room for creativity.
—John McCarthy 

DID YOU KNOW? A new variant of tempeh is made from barley and oats instead of soybeans and holds promise for use in climates that aren’t soybean-friendly. It was developed by scientists in 2008 in an apparently un-tempeh-like place called Sweden.

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