Tempeh FAQs

 

Q: What is tempeh?

A: Tempeh, which is typically made from soybeans, originated in modern-day Indonesia. Soaked, hulled, and boiled soybeans are inoculated with Rhizopus molds. The inoculated beans are kept at a steady 86° to 88°F, which allows the mold to form spores that partially digest the beans and form a network of strands that hold them together in a firm cake. The resulting tempeh is more digestible than unfermented soy, as the fermentation decreases oligosaccharides and phytic acid. Tempeh is a rich food that tends to be filling, and is often marinated and fried, or used as a meat substitute.


Q: What does it taste like?

A: Tempeh has a mild, nutty taste. Some people also describe the flavor as mushroom-like or meaty. The longer it is cultured, the more pronounced the flavor. If cultured longer or at a higher temperature, tempeh may develop a slight ammonia odor.


Q: What is in tempeh?

A: Tempeh is most often made with soybeans. Wheat and other grains can be mixed in, and other beans can also be used. Vinegar is added during the inoculation process to provide a favorable environment for the Rhizopus mold, which is most commonly obtained by purchasing a starter.


Q: What else can I make tempeh with?

A: While tempeh is traditionally made with soybeans, there are other options. Grains work when added to the soybeans, but do not culture successfully on their own. Tempeh can be made with other high-protein beans such as garbanzo, black beans, adzuki, and others. To use alternative beans, follow the same procedure with minor adjustments to the culturing time and preparation of the beans.


Q: How do I make tempeh?

A: Detailed instructions are included with the packet of tempeh starter. Begin by soaking 2 cups (1 pound) of soybeans and removing the hulls. Next, boil the soybeans for 1 hour, then drain and allow to cool to room temperature. Once this has been done, add distilled vinegar along with the packet of starter. Pack the tempeh into plastic zipper-style bags with small holes punched in them. Place the tempeh in your chosen culturing place and allow it to sit undisturbed for 12 hours. Check the tempeh at this point, as it will begin to maintain its own temperature. After 36 hours, check the tempeh again. It should be covered in a white mold. If the tempeh is a solid block, turn it over and check the underside. Finished tempeh will be covered in the mold and will hold together very well when picked up. It may take another 12 hours to completely finish culturing. When it is done, remove the tempeh from the bags, cut into cakes of the desired size, and refrigerate, bake, or boil to halt the culturing process.


Q: How do I know when it is done?

A: Tempeh is done when it holds together firmly in a solid cake. It will be entirely covered in white mold and may have spots of black or grey mold as well, especially near the holes in the bags. It will also have a pleasantly nutty aroma and feel warm without the aid of any heating devices.


Q: How do I stop the culturing process?

A: Since tempeh produces its own heat, it will continue to culture unless you halt the process. There are several ways to do this.

The most straightforward is refrigeration. Keep the tempeh cakes separate to ensure they cool evenly. Stacking them allows them to insulate each other and continue culturing.

To freeze tempeh, plunge in boiling water for 30 seconds, wrap well, and freeze for up to 12 months.

Boiling tempeh is a great way to flavor it while prepping it for storage. Bring water to a boil and add salt, herbs, or spices of choice. Boil the tempeh for 30 to 60 seconds, cool, cover, and refrigerate.

Baking is convenient for large batches of tempeh and is also a good opportunity to flavor it. Brush with marinade or dressing of choice and bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Cool and store in a covered container in the refrigerator.


Q: Do I have to use plastic?

A: There are some tray systems that have a well maintained set-up and do not use plastic. It is important that the tempeh have some access to air flow, but not too much. Keeping the tempeh too moist or sealed too tightly as it cultures is the most common reason for spoilage.

Banana or palm leaves are traditionally used and if you have access to those, this a great solution. Some people also report that grape leaves can be used as well. Make sure that any leaves you use are not sprayed with chemicals as they could harm the mold.


Q: Can I use apple cider vinegar in my tempeh?

A: As long as your vinegar is pasteurized (not raw) you can use apple cider. White distilled is also a great choice and rice vinegar is traditional.


Q: Where do I get the best soybeans?

A: While there are online sources, you may also be able to find soybeans from a local store or buying club. Tempeh works with either the large or the small soybeans. Organic, non-GMO soybeans are recommended. Soybeans have a long shelf life so if you plan to make a lot of soy cultures, it may be worth it to buy in bulk.


Q: What special equipment do I need to make tempeh?

A: You will need plastic bags or large, clean banana leaves. Tempeh should be cultured no more than an inch thick, and whatever equipment you use must allow some air exchange to the culturing beans. You will also need a space that can maintain an 86° to 88°F temperature for at least 12 hours. On a warm day, this could be a protected spot outside. A cube dehydrator is  also a great solution. Coolers with a small heat source such as hand warmers or bottles filled with hot water, which can be changed as they cool, can also be used.


Q: How do I keep the tempeh at the rigt temperature?

A: There are many ways to keep your culture warm. Most homes are kept in the 60° to 70°F range, so you just need a boost to culture your tempeh. Cube dehydrators and coolers are great options. Many people have success with an oven with a pilot light. You can also use a heating pad on a low setting if you can keep it away from the tempeh. Bottles of hot water in a cooler will raise the temperature enough, as long as you replace the water bottles when they begin to cool. Using a small lightbulb (not LED) in an insulated space will generally give you enough warmth as well. Keep in mind that although the tempeh usually takes 30 to 48 hours to culture, you will need to maintain the warmer temperature for only the first 12 hours. After that, the culturing process will generate its own heat and you need to insulate it only in cool conditions or ventilate it in warm conditions.


Q: How long does it take to make tempeh?

A: Tempeh generally takes at least 30 hours to culture. You will have to keep an eye on it for the first 12 hours to make sure the temperature stays at a fairly stable 86° to 88°F; after that, it should be able to generate its own heat. It is recommended to check it again at 24 and 36 hours. Tempeh often takes the whole 48 hours to culture, and can sometimes take a bit longer if the temperatures are a bit low.


Q: How can I use my tempeh?

A: Tempeh can be used in soups or stews, in place of ground meat, or on its own, steamed, fried, or grilled. Marinades are useful to impart flavor as tempeh does not have a strong flavor on its own. A simple method of preparation is to fry slices of tempeh in a pan and dip in your favorite dipping sauce.


Q: How can I store tempeh?

A: Tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and can be frozen up to 12 months for longer storage. Tempeh can also be dried for longer storage. To dry tempeh, slice and arrange on dehydrator sheets. You may choose to season them as well. Dry until firm or crisp. As with other foods, the more moisture is removed, the longer tempeh will store. Keep in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark location.


Q: How can I store my tempeh starter?

A: Your tempeh starter can be stored:

  • At room temperature (68° to 78°F): 3 to 4 weeks
  • In the refrigerator (40° to 45°F): 6 months or more
  • In the freezer (0° to 25°F): 12 months or more 
         
   
Tempeh


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