I eat tempeh all of the time. My neighborhood grocery store doesn’t carry it, so I always go buy a pack when I am near a store that stocks my favorite brand. Sadly, my tempeh of choice seems to have slipped in quality recently, so I decided to make my own.

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Making tempeh
does require a bit of a learning curve and just a splash of elbow grease. Hopefully my mistakes will pave the road to your success:

1. Hulling soy by hand is annoying.

If you hull the soy by hand, you have to remember to soak it first. Nothing is more frustrating than being excited to wake up early to hull soy and realizing that you didn’t soak the beans for 8-12 hours.

After the first failed attempt, I woke up at 9 AM on Valentine’s Day and hulled soy for an hour and forty-five minutes. At first I was just using clean hands, but I graduated to a wooden spoon after a bit. It helped some, not much though. A potato masher may be better, but I don’t have room for one in my tiny kitchen.

In general, the fewer hulls in the batch, the better. You don’t need to be quite so detailed about it, but since I committed to the task, I systematically made sure there was not a single hull intact.

On the flip side, it can be good for working through your feelings. If you have a grain mill or meat grinder, you can skip this step and save yourself a headache.

2. Test your incubation method.  No, really, test it. For a whole cycle!

Sure, I tested my incubator before using it…for a total of 3 hours. It was okay, at first. If I had continued to test it before making tempeh, I would have seen that using a styrofoam cooler with some jars of hot water is a rather laborious method of holding 85-91 °F in winter. Honestly, I should have woken up in the middle of the night to change the water since the temperatures dropped to 70-80 °F overnight, but I really like sleep.

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Keep in mind that 85-91 °F is a very narrow temperature range, so I frequently found that my temperatures easily spiked over 95 °F and I had to change the water every 3-5 hours to keep it above 85 °F.

After about 24 hours of hauling hot water, investing in a seedling heat mat was starting to look like a really swell idea.

You can test your incubator just like you’d test a yogurt maker; it’s the same concept but with a different temperature range.

3. Tempeh needs to be quite dry while incubating.

I thought I put enough holes in my plastic bag, but it was not nearly enough. Tempeh needs airflow and it doesn't like to be wet at all. After 48 hours, I still had condensation in my bag, so I poked more holes, noticed improvement, and saw that I needed to poke EVEN MORE holes. Don't skimp on the holes. Wrapping tempeh in a dish towel in the incubator also helped.

4. When in doubt, hold your head high and remain vigilant.

At 36 hours, I had no visible mycellium and my beans still weren't generating any heat.

I began to lose hope.

Thoughts of failure entered my mind and I KNEW that failing on my first tempeh attempt meant I would never be a successful mycologist/doctor/whatever-I-decide-to-be-when-I-grow-up.  I had closely followed the instructions when preparing the tempeh but allowed my temperatures to falter far too frequently.  Just to be sure, I reviewed the instructions several more times and asked for advice.  Instead of giving up hope, I continued to diligently monitor the temps in my incubator, added more holes, and finally ended up with tempeh after over 96 hours.

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My batch was only 95% cultured, but I’d say that’s pretty good for a first timer. Next time I’m going to experiment using millet and other beans, likely with a seedling heat mat. I’ll be using the tempeh in Coconut Green Curry.

5. Stuck? Ask for help!

Most people do not get perfect tempeh on the first try. When I was about to truly throw in the towel, it was very helpful to reach out to someone and get feedback about the problems I was facing. Sarah is very knowledgeable about soy and she set me straight. Culturing soy can be a bit tricky sometimes, but with guidance, it doesn’t have to be so hard. We are always happy to help answer questions regarding fermented foods! Send us an email or chat with us via LiveChat if you feel lost!