Despite the boom in plant-based eating, tempeh hasn’t had its viral moment yet. In fact, the vegan-friendly protein source probably remains a mystery to many people.
Tempeh is made from soya beans, which are compressed together whole and then fermented to form a block held together by a white fibrous network called mycelia (a kind of fungus). It’s surprising, then, that tempeh hasn’t captured imaginations considering the growing interest in gut health and fermented food.
The protein content of tempeh is also the equivalent to that of meat, milk and eggs, and offers all the health benefits of soy without the heavy processing. It’s also a good source of calcium and iron.
Like tofu, it readily absorbs other flavours making it a great replacement for meat. On its own, the flavour is one of earthiness – a mixture of nuts and mushrooms and a hint of bitterness – while it also has a firm texture that holds its shape when cooking.
Tempeh meets at the nexus of many converging trends, such as the demand for ethically sourced food, traditional meals and ingredients with probiotic properties, according to US and Asia-based Persistence Market Research.
Satays to snacks
But where does tempeh come from? It’s a common staple in the Indonesian diet, where it’s sold cheaply, and can be cut into slices, pan-fried and served up with a hot sauce, as well as made into satays or boiled with chillies and sugar for a crispy snack.
Crumbled tempeh can be used as a ground meat substitute in bolognaise and tacos, or turned into a burger patty or meatballs.
Specialist health stores Planet Organic and Amazon already sell varieties of the Asian ingredient.
There is also room to move tempeh beyond the traditional. While soybeans have been the go-to ingredient, other types of tempeh could be made from black beans, black-eyed peas or chickpeas, while grains like rice, barley or millet could also be incorporated into the process – perhaps making it more familiar to a UK audience.
So is Sparkie hopping on the tempeh train?
The big focus on meat replacement is texture. Everyone working within this field seems heavily focused on creating the most meat-like product possible using innovations in extrusion technology. The result has been that things that already exist within this field have been overlooked or forgotten – although it seems most areas of food, given time, form part of the niche market for the traditional and old.
I do not believe that it is the time for tempeh yet, despite some potential desire for the probiotic properties. It will continue to exist in its niche environment, but the new products are where the retailers are likely to focus.
That said, looking at what can be done with tempeh, seitan and the like in terms of processing it into other things could be a good route. The probiotics can be preserved and used in different formats like flour, for instance.