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Articles by Natural Health Author Barbara Minton
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Tempeh is a Versatile Complete Protein from Fermented Soy
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
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
2-3 tbsp. oil (olive oil
with a small amount of dark sesame oil)
2 medium onions cut in thin
1 tsp. turmeric powder
4 diced tomatoes
12 ounces coconut cream
One-quarter cup fresh coriander, chopped
1. Cube tempeh and marinate
for at least one-half hour in the tamari-orange marinade.
coconut cream and lime leaves. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add enough water so the
mixture is covered.
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
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.
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