Is it finally time for tempeh to take off in the UK?

A UK start-up has been making a range of convenient tempeh products, but it’s not just the meat alternative aisle it has its eye on.

4 July 2019
gut healthhealthmeat alternativeNPDplant-basedproteinvegan

UK consumers could finally develop a taste for tempeh – at least if Better Nature has anything to do with it.

The start-up has been busy at its Nottingham site developing a range of products made from the fermented soy-based foodstuff, targeting the meat alternative market.

“It’s one of most natural plant-based proteins, it’s so nutritious, it’s so easy to cook with and you literally have to slice it up and put some marinade on it and it takes on flavour really well,” co-founder Elin Roberts tells Food Spark of the traditional Indonesian ingredient. “You can fry or bake it... and you can make it out of any legume, nut, grain or seed, so it doesn’t need to be soy,”

Aware that its unfamiliar territory for many in the UK, Better Nature has set out to make tempeh easy for people, with the added bonus that its products contain as much protein as piece of beef.

It’s created a tempeh bacon and mince, alongside an original tempeh, so they are able to fit into typical everyday meals. It is approaching retailers at the moment to get them stocked in the next three months, the aim being to start out in independents before moving into supermarkets.

The company is also working on the king of meat alternatives, a tempeh burger, but it’s still being refined.

Better Nature isn’t just looking to target the chilled section either; it is also working on concepts like tempeh crisps, plus products with higher levels of B12 and prebiotics.

A nutritional playground

Tempeh offers a lot of exciting possibilities when it comes to product development as it can be manipulated naturally, explains Roberts. Tempeh is typically made by mixing soybeans with a fungal starter culture, but the nutrient profile of the end product relies heavily on the particular strain of culture.

For instance, Better Nature’s food science team has created tempeh that is higher in vitamin B12 than the conventional variety – but haven’t had to pump the product full of the vitamin. Instead, the starter cultures have done all the work. Next up is tempeh that is higher in calcium and diet.

“Tempeh is really high in protein – on average there is 20g of protein per 100g, but we are pushing that even higher to 24g. It’s high in fibre; on average it has 9g of fibre per 100g, which is high for a protein product. It also has prebiotics as it’s a fermented product – it’s really good for the gut – and it has vitamin B12, which is important in a plant-based diet,” Roberts comments.

“The first products won’t have the technology but very soon down the line they will. Tempeh is also naturally gluten-free unless you flavour it. So the tempeh bacon does have gluten but the other products don’t. Our products are going to be organic and we plan to continue that. It’s nice to have something totally natural. Plain tempeh is whatever legume, nut or seed – typically it’s soy beans – mixed with fungal starter culture like mushroom and put in a warm humid environment.”

Roberts knows education will be key to winning consumers over as tempeh is a brand-new food for many people. Better Nature is already hitting the show circuit and will be at the Just V vegetarian and vegan food this weekend, where it will showcase its tempeh bacon and mince.

Another big selling point for Better Nature is its experimentation with soy alternatives, including a Mediterranean favourite, the lupin bean, which is also high in protein.

“We have played around with quinoa to chia to chickpea, and know it works,” Roberts explained. “It’s more about introducing it to market – if people don’t know much about tempeh, releasing something like chia tempeh is probably a bit premature. That is definitely something that we will be releasing as soon as the market is ready for it.” 

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