Whether you’re living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, or you’re looking for more ways to incorporate meatless meals in your regular rotation, there’s a good chance you’ve come across tempeh and tofu in your recipe searches. Tempeh is a relatively new food for those of us in the U.S., but even tofu is a new name in many households across the country. Here’s your quick and simple guide to these two popular soy-based protein sources.
Both tofu and tempeh are (usually) made from soybeans, and both are totally vegan (& vegetarian!). It’s how they’re made and processed that sets them apart.
What is Tempeh?
Developed in Indonesia, tempeh is made simply by fermenting soybeans until they become very dense and firm. Technically you can make tempeh from other beans and whole grains, as the fermentation process is what really sets it apart, but tempeh is most commonly and traditionally made from soybeans.
What Does Tempeh Taste Like?
Tempeh is slightly nutty with a very unique earthy flavor. It has a dense texture that can handle frying, sautéing, baking, and steaming. It is best prepared with seasonings as it has a somewhat bland taste on its own. You can find tempeh in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, right next to the tofu!
Benefits of Tempeh:
Tempeh definitely has its own flavor profile, so it can be a challenge to pair tempeh with appropriate seasonings and dishes. However, we really like tempeh for its nutritional profile! For starters, it is minimally processed, and requires just a little soaking, cooking, and fermenting to reach its hearty and earthy flavor. Additionally, there are a whole bunch of health benefits of fermented foods, and fermented beans are lower in phytates, and easier to digest!
Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh (101cookbooks.com)
BBQ Tempeh (thechiclife.com)
Kale & Crispy Coconut Tempeh (thefirstmess.com)
Tempeh Chili (food52.com)
What is Tofu?
To make tofu you must first turn soybeans into soymilk, then add a coagulant and press it until a firm block is formed. Some circles consider tofu the ultimate low-fat, low-calorie health food, while others consider it a little too processed to be considered “real food” at all. You just have to make the decisions that work best for your lifestyle! You should be able to find tofu in the refrigerated area of the grocery store, somewhere around either dairy products or “health food items” like bean sprouts.
What Does Tofu Taste Like?
Tofu has a very mild, almost nonexistent flavor. It’s a little milky, and a little bland, but can easily be transformed into a wide array of dishes! Tofu is a stand-in for scrambled eggs, creamy salad dressings, ricotta cheese, yogurt, mousse, and more. You will normally find tofu packed in water and labeled as silken, firm, or extra-firm. This refers to the water content in the pressed block, and the resulting texture. Silken tofu is smooth, almost custard-like, while extra-firm tofu is very firm and much drier.
Benefits of Tofu:
The number one benefit of tofu is its incredible versatility. It is relatively inexpensive and mild in flavor, so it is really a fantastic blank canvas for a wide variety of dishes. Additionally, it is low in fat, and a vegan source of protein!
Tofu Scramble For Two (veganyackattack.com)
Jumbo Stuffed Shells with Tofu Ricotta (ohsheglows.com)
No Guilt Caesar (Alton Brown – foodnetwork.com)
Honey-Ginger Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry (pinchofyum.com)