How Tempeh Works

What Goes Well With Tempeh?

tempeh salad
You can even add tempeh to a salad.
John Block/Blend Images/Getty Images

It might be easier to ask, what doesn't? Much like tofu, tempeh takes on the flavors of the ingredients with which it's cooked. Yet it also has a nutty, mushroom-like flavor of its own (tofu, on the other hand, has almost no flavor). Despite its earthy taste, tempeh goes well with pretty much everything because, in the end, it will mimic the flavor of its companion ingredients.

Tempeh fans often marinate the product overnight, because the process softens it, allowing it to accept more flavors. Marinades can be as simple as vegetable stock or a mixture of soy sauce, garlic and water. Of course, you can add in peppercorns, ginger, Liquid Smoke -- whatever flavors you like or will correspond to the dish you're cooking. To marinate the tempeh, spread the chopped/crumbled/sliced pieces on a baking dish and top with the marinade. Cover the dish and let it sit for 30 minutes minimum to as long as overnight. When you're ready to use it, drain off the marinade, pat the tempeh dry and you're ready to roll. Another alternative is to dry-rub your tempeh with your favorite spice blend, just as you would a steak. Simply rub the spices over both sides of sliced tempeh, or toss crumbled tempeh with the spice blend, and let sit for five to 10 minutes [source: Parsons].


Once your tempeh is ready, you can crumble and toss it into chili or spaghetti sauces, add to your favorite stir-fry dish or breakfast burrito, or pan fry and substitute for sandwich meat, topping it with spinach, onions, tomato slices and ranch dressing, for example. A lot of vegan restaurants have tempeh Reuben sandwiches on the menu. (Because tempeh has a somewhat firm, chewy texture similar to meat, it works much better as a sandwich meat substitute than tofu.) You can also cube it and use in a hearty salad.

Not a creative cook? These foods definitely work well with tempeh [source: Knutson]:

  • Barbecue sauce
  • Caraway seeds
  • Cayenne
  • Celery
  • Cinnamon
  • Dijon mustard
  • Green onions
  • Lemon and lime juice
  • Maple syrup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Peppers
  • Sauerkraut
  • Vinegar

As you can see, tempeh can work for just about any type of American or international cooking. And it's very nutritious. too. Why not give it a try?

Tempeh FAQ

What is tempeh made out of?
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that's barely-processed, easy to digest, and can be used like most meat products. It's sold in cake or patty form — much like a package of tofu, minus the liquid.
What does tempeh taste like?
Tempeh tastes a bit earthy, a little nutty, sort of like mushrooms. But one of the best parts about it is how easily it absorbs the flavors whatever it's marinated or cooked in.
Does tempeh need to be cooked?
Tempeh comes in both pre-cooked and uncooked forms. Pre-cooked is ready to eat, but will still benefit from a quick warm-up and a "bath" in whatever dish it's being served with to soak up flavor. Uncooked tempeh must be cooked for at least 20 minutes before consumption.
Where do you buy tempeh?
If your local grocery store carries it, it'll likely be in the health foods section. Check the coolers, as tempeh has to be refrigerated. You can also find it at most Asian and natural foods stores.
What is the best brand of tempeh?
LightLife and Soyboy are two common brands that are easy to find and very tasty. Trader Joe's also has its own tempeh, which is both tasty and affordable. If you're in Canada, Henry's organic tempeh is the best brand you can purchase, with many flavored options beyond just original.
Is tempeh good for you?
It's extremely healthy for you. Tempeh is packed full of protein, riboflavin, iron, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. Because it's fermented, it has gut health benefits and tends to be easy to digest.

Author's Note: How Tempeh Works

I ate my first (and only) serving of tempeh a few months before I wrote this piece, as part of a Mexican-style side dish in Arizona. I wondered what the mystery ingredient was and learned it was tempeh. I liked it, but didn't rush out and buy some to prepare myself. After writing this piece, though, I'm going to go for it. Wish me luck!

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Andrews, James. "Tempeh Salmonella Case Highlights Illnesses that Fall through the Cracks." Food Safety News. June 28, 2012. (April 20, 2015)
  • Benitez-Eves, Tina. "MF Super Food: Tempeh." Men's Fitness. (April 20, 2015)
  • Knutson, Patty. "Let's Take The Mystery Out Of Cooking with Tempeh." Vegan Coach. (April 20, 2015)
  • MDHIL Networks. "Super foods you may not have heard of (yet) -- Tempeh." (April 21, 2015)
  • Parsons, Rhea. "How to Use Tempeh and What It's Best Paired With." One Green Planet. Dec. 18, 2014. (April 22, 2015)
  • Shurtleff, William and Akiko Aoyagi. "Chronology of Tofu Worldwide: 965 A.D. to 1929." SoyInfo Center. (April 21, 2015)
  • Shurtleff, William and Akiko Aoyagi. "History of Tempeh - Page 1." SoyInfo Center. (April 21, 2015)
  • Sugar, Jenny. "Which is Healthier: Tofu or Tempeh?" PopSugar. Feb. 21, 2015. (April 20, 2015)
  • The World's Healthiest Foods. "Tempeh." (April 20, 2015)
  • Tremblay, Sylvie. "Tempeh vs. Meat." SFGate. (April 21, 2015)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010: Executive Summary." Jan. 31, 2011. (April 21, 2015)
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "Asheville Company Recalls Tempeh After Tests Detect Presence of Salmonella." May 1, 2012. (April 20, 2015)
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA). " Recalls 'Tempeh Starter Yeast' because of Health Risk of Salmonella." May 23, 2012. (April 20, 2015)
  • Yonan, Joe. "Weeknight Vegetarian: Make 2015 the Year of Tempeh." The Washington Post. Jan. 6, 2015. (April 21, 2015)