Tempeh/Tempe is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybean particles into a cake form. It originated from Indonesia, invented by the Javanese, where it is most popular, although it is common in other parts of Southeast Asia as well, introduced by migrated Javanese. It is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber and vitamins compared to tofu, as well as firmer texture and stronger flavor. Tofu, however, has a higher concentration of protein per carbohydrates, and is thought to be more versatile in dishes. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine; some consider it to be a meat analogue. Even long ago before people found and realized the rich nutrition fact of tempeh, tempeh was referred to as 'Javanese meat'.
Tempeh begins with whole soybeans, which are softened by soaking and dehulled, then partly cooked. Specialty tempehs may be made from other types of beans, wheat, or may include a mixture of beans and whole grains.
A mild acidulent, usually vinegar, may be added in order to lower the pH and create a selective environment that favors the growth of the tempeh mold over competitors. A fermentation starter containing the spores of fungus Rhizopus oligosporus is mixed in. The beans are spread into a thin layer and are allowed to ferment for 24 to 36 hours at a temperature around 30°C (86°F). In good tempeh, the beans are knit together by a mat of white mycelia.
Under conditions of lower temperature, or higher ventilation, gray or black patches of spores may form on the surface -- this is not harmful, and should not affect the flavor or quality of the tempeh. This sporulation is normal on fully mature tempeh. A mild ammonia smell may accompany good tempeh as it ferments, but it should not be overpowering. In Indonesia, ripe tempeh (two or more days old) is considered a delicacy.
The soy protein in tempeh becomes more digestible as a result of the fermentation process. In particular, the oligosaccharides that are associated with gas and indigestion are greatly reduced by the Rhizopus culture. In traditional tempeh making shops, the starter culture often contains other beneficial bacteria that produce vitamins such as B12. In western countries, it is more common to use a pure culture containing only Rhizopus oligosporus.
In the kitchen, tempeh is often prepared by cutting it into pieces, soaking in brine or salty sauce, and then frying. Cooked tempeh can be eaten alone, or used in chili, stir frys, soups, salads, sandwiches, and stews. Recent popular vegan cookbooks, such as Isa Chandra Moskowitz's "Vegan with a Vengeance", have come up with more creative ways of cooking tempeh, using it as a vegetarian substitution for breakfast meats, such as sausage and bacon. Tempeh has a complex flavor that has been described as nutty, meaty, and mushroom-like. Tempeh freezes well, and is now commonly available in many western supermarkets as well as in ethnic markets and health food stores. Tempeh performs well in a cheese grater, after which it may be used in the place of ground beef (as in tacos). When thin sliced and deep fried in oil, tempeh obtains a crispy golden crust while maintaining a soft interior - its sponge-like consistency make it a fantastic base for all marinades. Dried tempeh (whether cooked or raw) provides an excellent stew base for backpackers. While some claim that tempeh should not be eaten raw, others have done so without ill effect for many years. For the Thanksgiving holiday, tempeh (as dark meat) and tofu (as white) may each be thick-sliced and baked with a standard dressing/stuffing preparation to provide a vegan alternative to turkey. Tempeh is fabulous for stirfry.
Types of tempeh
|tempe bongkrèk||made from or with coconut press cake (see below)|
|tempe bosok (busuk)||rotten tempeh, used in small amounts as a flavouring|
|tempe gembus||made from okara|
|tempe gódhóng||tempeh made in banana leaves|
|tempe goreng||deep-fried tempeh|
|tempe mendoan||raw-fried tempeh|
|tempe kedelai||simply tempeh, made from soybeans|
|tempe murni||tempeh made in plastic wrap (lit. pure soybean cake)|
|tempe oncom||also onchom; made from peanut press cake; orange color; Neurospora sitophila|
Tempe bongkrèk is a variety of tempeh from Central Java, notably Banyumas regency, that is prepared with coconut. This type of tempeh occasionally gets contaminated with the bacterium Burkholderia cocovenenans, and the unwanted organism produces toxins (Bongkrek acid and toxoflavin) from the coconut, besides killing off the Rhizopus fungus due to the antibiotic activity of bongkrek acid.
Fatalities from contaminated tempe bongkrèk were once common in the area where it was produced. Thus, the sale of tempeh bongkrèk is prohibited by law nowadays; clandestine manufacture continues however due to the superior culinary value. The problem of contamination is not encountered with bean or grain tempeh, which have a different composition of fatty acids that is not favorable for the growth of B. cocovenenans but encourages growth of Rhizopus instead. When bean or grain tempeh has the proper color, texture and smell, it is a very strong indication that the product is safe. Tempe bongkrèk which is yellow is always highly toxic due to toxoflavin, but tempe bongkrèk with a normal coloration may still contain lethal amounts of bongkrek acid.
A variation of tempeh cooking method, often found in Purwokerto. The origin of the word 'Mendoan' is from Banyumas regional dialect, which means "to cook instantly in very hot oil", that results in raw and limp cooking.
- Shurtleff, William, and Akiko Aoyagi. 1979. The book of tempeh: A super soyfood from Indonesia. New York: Harper & Row (Colophon Books). ISBN 0-06-091265-0.
- Shurtleff, William, and Akiko Aoyagi. 1985. The book of tempeh. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press.
- Shurtleff, William, and Akiko Aoyagi. 1985. History of tempeh: A fermented soyfood from Indonesia. 2nd ed. Lafayette, California: Soyfoods Center. ISBN 0-933332-21-1.
- Shurtleff, William, and Akiko Aoyagi. 1989. Bibliography of tempeh and tempeh products: 1,416 references from 1815 to 1989. Lafayette, California: Soyfoods Center. ISBN 0-933332-47-5.
- How to make tempeh at home — In-depth instructions on obtaining a tempeh starter and making tempeh at home.
- How We Make and Eat Tempeh Down on The Farm - Mother Earth News, Issue # 47 - September/October 1977
- Useful links about tempeh