Meet Tempeh, the Vegan Superfood That’s Tastier (and Healthier) Than Tofu

what is tempeh

When it comes to meat alternatives, you’re all about tofu stir-fries and veggie burgers. But what about tempeh? Here’s everything you need to know about this delicious vegan superfood that even carnivores can get on board with.

What is tempeh? This vegetarian staple is traditionally made from cooked, whole soybeans that are slightly fermented. The mixture is then formed into a dense patty with other ingredients (like more beans, grains and seeds). The texture of tempeh is firm and won’t crumble easily. Not into soy? You can find soy-free tempeh that’s made with other beans or grains instead (like this one made with peanuts and hemp seeds).

Is it the same as tofu? While both ingredients are soy-based, tempeh uses whole beans whereas tofu is made with condensed soy milk. Tempeh also has a stronger, nuttier flavor than tofu (which, let’s be honest, can be kind of bland). Many people describe tempeh as having a mushroom-like umami taste that easily absorbs other flavors—try marinating it before cooking. And while tofu is soft and spongey, tempeh is more dense.

Are there any nutritional benefits? Tempeh is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol-free. It’s also fiber-rich, with approximately 4 grams of fiber per serving (compared with less than half of a gram for tofu, depending on the brand). “Tempeh contains healthy fats, iron, calcium, niacin and omega-3s and contains more protein than tofu,” Lindsey Pine, RDN, tells Livestrong. “And since it is made from fermented soybeans, it contains probiotics, which may be beneficial for digestive health,” she adds.

I’m sold. How do I use it? Pick up some tempeh from your local health food store or in the natural food aisle of a big grocery store (it’s usually next to the tofu). Because it holds its shape when cooked, this meat substitute can be used in burgers, salads, soups, stir-fries, stews and sandwiches. And unlike that pricey cut of steak that’s so easy to mess up, cooking with tempeh couldn’t be easier—try it steamed, baked, fried or stirred into sauces and stews. Here’s one of our favorite ways to eat it: Slice it up, marinate it in some soy sauce or vinegar and pan-fry until it’s golden brown and crispy.

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