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Tempeh is a Versatile Complete Protein from Fermented Soy

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Tempeh is probably the most versatile of the fermented soy foods. It can be used to make delicious and healthy dishes that provide the positive benefits of soy without the anti-nutrient properties of foods made with unfermented soy. Tempeh contains the high protein levels found in soybeans and is a great alternative to animal protein. It is a firm textured, nutty tasting and chewy food that easily picks up the flavors of marinades or other foods with which it is cooked.

Tempeh is a high quality meat alternative

Tempeh has an outstanding nutritional profile. It is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, making it the same quality protein as meat or poultry. It is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and copper. Since it is fermented, it does not restrict the body's absorption of minerals as does everything made with unfermented soy. Tempeh is high in essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, and many of the B vitamins including folic acid. Unlike miso, tempeh is very low in sodium.

To make tempeh, soybeans are cleaned, cracked, dehulled, cooked, inoculated with a starter culture, and incubated. Tempeh owes much of its flavor, texture and nutritional properties to the fermentation process that occurs during incubation. The starter culture is Rhizopus oligosporus, a friendly form of fungus.

Tempeh promotes a wealth of health benefits

Fermented soy protein has been shown to lower total cholesterol levels by as much as 30 percent, and to lower LDL cholesterol by as much as 35 to 40 percent. The dietary fiber in tempeh binds to fats and cholesterol in food, so less is absorbed. The fiber also binds to bile salts and removes them from the body. Since the liver gets rid of cholesterol by transforming it into bile salts, fiber effectively forces the liver to use more cholesterol to form more bile salts, leading to lower overall cholesterol levels.

The high protein and fiber in tempeh help stabilize blood sugar at healthy levels, making it an excellent choice for diabetics. Since diabetics are susceptible to atherosclerosis and heart disease, keeping cholesterol levels low with foods like tempeh may be useful for preventing these problems. Tempeh also lowers high triglyceride levels.

Because it is fermented, tempeh is easy to digest, and works well for people having difficulty digesting other plant based high protein foods like beans, legumes or tofu. The fermentation process softens the soybeans, and enzymes produced by fermentation predigest a large portion of the basic nutrients. The fermentation process also produces the enzyme phytase which breaks down phytate, thereby facilitating an increase in the absorption of minerals.

Tempeh introduces probiotics into the digestive tract and helps replenish bacteria lost from taking antibiotics, drinking chlorinated water, eating foods containing pesticides, or just from living in a polluted world. A digestive tract populated with lots of friendly bacteria helps the body gain maximum nutrition from food.

Soybeans contain active compounds called isoflavones that act like weak estrogens in the body. They bind to estrogen receptors and may eliminate some of the discomfort of hormonal decline in women not wishing to replace their lost hormones. Studies have found that women who consume soy foods have a reduced incidence of hot flashes.

In men, soy isoflavones have been consistently linked to lower incidence of prostate cancer. A study of human prostate cancer cells demonstrated that isoflavones block cell cycling, thus preventing the proliferation of cancerous cells in the prostate. At high concentrations, isoflavones induce apoptosis, the appropriate self-destruction of worn out or abnormal cells. Another study found that in healthy men isoflavones protect cells from free radical damage.


Choosing and using tempeh

Tempeh can be bought in the refrigerated section of health oriented grocers and in many traditional markets, especially those selling a selection of products from around the world. Some stores sell it in their frozen food section. When purchased fresh, tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator in its unopened vacuum sealed pouch for several weeks. After it has been opened, store any remaining tempeh up to a week in the original pouch placed inside another plastic bag. Frozen tempeh can be stored for several months in the original sealed pouch.

Plain and gourmet flavored tempeh is available online.

Tempeh makes a terrific substitute for meat or tofu in stir-fries, stews, casseroles, and pasta dishes. It can be crumbled or sliced to use in recipes calling for ground beef or small chunks of meat. Use it as a pizza topping or add it to chili. It can be cubed and then grated in a food processor to closely resemble ground beef.

Basic Tempeh Recipe

This is a basic and easy tempeh meal recipe that also makes a super pizza topping.

1 block tempeh, cut into smallish crouton-sized pieces
Onion, sliced and cubed
Bell peppers, red and/or green cut into small strips or pieces
Mushrooms, sliced
Olives, if you like
Other vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower

Lightly stir and cook all ingredients in a pan with or without oil. Season with tamari, chili garlic sauce and/or black bean sauce.

Thai Tempeh Recipe

This recipe is more complicated and time consuming, but worth the effort. It makes 6 servings.

3 8-ounce packages of tempeh, cut in half inch cubes
One-half cup tamari mixed with 2 tbsp frozen orange juice concentrate

2-3 tbsp. oil (olive oil with a small amount of dark sesame oil)
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. cumin seed

2 medium onions cut in thin rings
1 tbsp. ginger, grated or finely chopped
Fresh chili or chili powder, to taste (about 1 tsp)
2-3 garlic cloves chopped

1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. aniseed powder, if you like

4 diced tomatoes
1-2 tbsp sea salt, if you like
4 tbsp. grated coconut
6-10 dates, pitted and chopped

12 ounces coconut cream
8 to 10 lime leaves (kaffir)

One-quarter cup fresh coriander, chopped

1. Cube tempeh and marinate for at least one-half hour in the tamari-orange marinade.
2. In a deep pot heat 2 tbsp oil, add tempeh and brown. Set aside.
3. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in pan and add mustard and cumin seeds. Keep on heat until they begin to pop.
4. Add onion, ginger, chili and garlic in that order and stir fry until onions begin to soften.
5. Add the turmeric and coriander powder and stir fry for a few seconds.
6. Add tomatoes, salt, coconut and dates.

7. Add coconut cream and lime leaves. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add enough water so the mixture is covered.
8. Add the cubed tempeh and fresh coriander. Bring to boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.

How to make tempeh at home

Making tempeh is easy. Tempeh starter is available in health food stores and online. To make just over 2 pounds of tempeh you will need:

One and one-half pounds of whole dry soybeans
5 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp (about 5 grams) tempeh starter

1. Buy dehulled soybeans if available. If not, crack them in a grain mill. If you have no grain mill, use whole soybeans and remove the hulls by hand at the end of step 2.

2. Soak the soybeans in plenty of water for 6 to 18 hours. If using whole soybeans, split them with a kneading motion. Stir gently causing the hulls to rise to the surface, and pour off water and hulls into a strainer. Add fresh water and repeat until most hulls are removed. It is fine if a few hulls remain.

3. Put the soybeans in a cooking pot with water to cover the beans. Add 3 tbsp vinegar and cook for 30 minutes. Drain off the water and dry the soybeans by continuing to heat them in the pot on medium heat for a few minutes until they are dry. Allow soybeans to cool.

4. Sprinkle soybeans with 1 tsp tempeh starter. Mix with a clean spoon for about one minute to distribute the tempeh starter evenly. It is important to mix the starter very well as it reduces the risk of spoilage and makes fermentation faster.

5. Take 2 plastic bags about 7 x 11 inches and perforate them with a thick, sharp needle to make holes at a distance of about one and one-half inches. This will allow the culture to breath. Divide the soybeans into the two bags and seal them. Press them flat, to a thickness of about one inch. Place the packed beans in a warm place (about 85 F) for 36 to 48 hours during which the tempeh fermentation will take place. When the time is over, the container should be filled with white mycelium indicating that fermentation is complete. Lift out the contents as a whole piece.

See also:

Soy is NOT Health Food

How to Buy and Use Miso - a Healthy Soy Food

Natto Gives Big Benefits to Your Heart and Skin

The Potential Effects of Soy, and How it Might Decimate the Health of Your Unborn Baby and the Fertility of Future Generations by Dr. Mercola

Concerns About Soy Products

For more information:

About the author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

See other articles by the Barbara Minton here:

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