Whether you’re a carnivore, die-hard vegetarian, or just doing meatless Mondays to offset your carbon footprint, chances are excellent that you’re familiar with tofu. Some love it, some hate it, and some claim that the secret to tantalizing tofu lies in the preparation. Whatever the case may be, tofu on its own has very little in the way of flavor, or satisfying, sink-your-teeth-in texture.
What if you’re looking for a vegetarian meat substitute that’s a little more robust? Consider tempeh. You can think of it as tofu’s Japanese cousin. Tofu and tempeh are both based on soybeans, but tempeh is prepared in a very different way.
Tempeh is made by naturally culturing and fermenting whole soybeans, until they are bound together in solid cakes. Tofu, in contrast, is made my pressing soy milk curds into blocks.
This whole-bean fermentation process gives tempeh a slightly richer, nuttier flavor, and a texture that lends itself well to meat substitution. While tempeh’s flavor is more distinctive than that of tofu, it is still quite versatile. Like meat, tofu, and seitan, it tends to take on the flavors of whatever it is cooked with.
In addition to having a richer flavor and meatier texture than tofu, tempeh is also healthier. It has approximately 50% more protein, and 7 times the dietary fiber. The fact that it has nearly double the calories might be good or bad, depending on whether you’re counting calories or needing energy for a workout.
Further adding to tempeh’s healthy appeal is the fact that the fermentation process used to produce it reduces the soybeans’ levels of phytic acid. Also found in nuts, seeds, and grains, phytic acid is an antinutrient that bonds to important dietary minerals, such as zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium, and prevents them from being absorbed by the body.
There are plenty of ways to use tempeh. You can stir-fry it, scramble it, or use it to give texture and protein to vegetarian chili. It’s also great in wraps and salads. And, if you’ve never tried a tempeh ruben, you’re in for a treat.
If you’re interested in trying tempeh, it can be found in most grocery stores and health food markets. If you can, go for the organic variety, as many soy-based products are made with GMO beans. Or if you’re feeling the DIY vibe, you can ferment tempeh yourself, using organic soybeans, vinegar and a tempeh starter culture.
[Photo credit: thekitchn]