What is tempeh — the soy-based foodstuff inspiring seafood alternatives?

Unlike tofu, the taste of tempeh is less neutral, with mushroomy undertones. — Ella Olsson/Unsplash pic via ETX Studio

Unlike tofu, the taste of tempeh is less neutral, with mushroomy undertones. — Ella Olsson/Unsplash pic via ETX Studio

Monday, 23 May 2022 11:51 PM MYT

LONDON, May 23 — It looks like tofu, but it’s not, even though tempeh is also made from soybeans. This centuries-old Indonesian recipe is providing the basis for new research by a British start-up, the Better Nature brand, which aims to develop plant-based alternative seafood.

It’s an ingredient that vegans have been incorporating into their diets for a long time. Now, tempeh is gaining popularity as a staple in the world of alternatives to animal-based foods. This soy-based product, which shares a resemblance with tofu, is even providing a basis for innovative research into alternatives to fish and shellfish. The Better Nature brand, for example, aims to draw on its tempeh expertise to market its own plant-based seafood alternative by 2026.

But what actually is tempeh? Available in the organic section, this Indonesian specialty comes in the form of a block with a slightly brown colour. It could easily be confused with tofu, especially since tempeh is also made from soybeans. However, it is not the same thing.

In the case of tofu, which is of Chinese origin, it is soy milk that is curdled before being pressed into the form we know, i.e., a compact product with a silky appearance. As for tempeh, the manufacturing process is different. The recipe is the result of a fermentation process that is activated by adding a mushroom to soybeans previously cooked and crushed. In terms of taste, tempeh stands out from tofu thanks to a light nutty taste and smoky notes. According to the Better Nature brand, it also wins on nutrition, since tempeh contains more fibre, protein and iron than tofu.

How do you cook with tempeh?

You can follow the same cooking tips as for tofu when you want to prepare tempeh. With its marbled appearance, this food can be grilled to replace a meat patty in a burger, but it can also be marinated before being seared on a griddle. For those with a taste for culinary adventure, tempeh can replace the meat in a Bolognese sauce when seared in the tomato base. There are even recipes out there for tempeh-based beef bourguignon…

Given all these arguments, you may wonder why tempeh is not as well-known as tofu? Cost is likely to be a factor. The price per kilo is more than €20 (RM93), when tofu costs less than €10 per kilo for a plain, organic version. — ETX Studio


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