Tempeh: The Indonesian Soybean Patty Revolutionising Vegan Diets

Tempeh for breakfast | ©Stacy/Flickr
Tempeh for breakfast | ©Stacy/Flickr
Photo of Edira Putri
5 December 2017

Decades ago, tempeh was just an everyday meal for common Indonesians, placed next to simple white rice with vegetables or other side dishes. Now, this fermented soybean patty frequents the feeds of lifestyle bloggers and peoples’ vegan meals as a favorite protein source.

Over the last few years, tempeh has become a lifestyle craze, rather than a simple meal. Discover the origin of tempeh, its nutrition facts and different ways to eat tempeh, Indonesia’s popular food that’s revolutionising vegan diets.

Tempeh’s Humble Origins

The earliest reference to tempeh dates back to the 16th-century, depicting the meal as a soy-based dish found around Mataram, Central Java. Other studies suggest that the dish did not become widespread throughout Javanese culture until colonial times.

Simple deep-fried tempeh | ©LWYang/Flickr

During those times, locals were forced to produce commodities in their colony. There was no time or space to raise livestock or cultivate their own farms. A soaring population also made it even harder to retain their usual ways of life. Harvest from the yard—like cassava, yam and soy—became the alternative for comestibles. In a way, tempeh saved the nation from malnutrition and starvation.

There was also a time when tempeh was considered a lowly dish, at least according to nobles and rich people who could afford other options. But in time, tempeh found its way to the tables of the wealthy and quickly became a widespread favorite.

Tempeh as a Nutritious Food

Tempeh became very popular in vegan diets for its rich Phyto-protein, among other nutrients. The fermentation process that happens during the creation of tempeh produces enzymes that make it easier for the body to process protein, fat and carbohydrates. Therefore, this food is ideal for children and elders; the meal is also a good protein alternative for those seeking to lose weight. Tempeh’s nutrients also help prevent degenerative illnesses, lower cholesterol, hypertension and even slow the aging process.

Tempeh on a salad | ©Mittmac/Pixabay

Some studies conducted post-WWII argue that tempeh was crucial in saving war prisoners from malnutrition and digestive illnesses, even though they only ate small amounts and variations of food. In other words, foods with tempeh are sufficient to sustain and meet your nutritional needs.

How to Eat Tempeh

The simplest way Indonesians eat tempeh is by deep-frying the thin slices of tempeh with a little salt and eating it with rice. Some choose to grill or steam the slices of tempeh to avoid cholesterol from deep-frying the food.

For those who practice hardcore raw eating, tempeh can also be eaten uncooked. Raw tempeh contains more digestion-aiding enzymes, but if you’re going for this option, choose the freshest tempeh product.

Tempeh club sandwich | ©Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr

Fried, grilled, steamed or raw, tempeh can also be used as a salad ingredient to replace chicken or eggs as a protein source. Tempeh can be an add-on in your sandwich or burger as well.

Tempeh can be added to virtually any recipes, especially stir-fried vegetables. It also works as a meat substitution in recipes ranging from curry to sauteed green beans; just put the tempeh wherever you’d put your beef, chicken, pork or eggs.

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