If you follow any kind of plant-based diet, you've probably been asked, "so where do you get your protein from"? With the popularity of non-meat alternatives on the rise, there are a plethora of options on the market - classics like beans and quinoa, tons of soy products, and extraordinarily convincing pseudo meats such as the Beyond Burger.

However, as a runner who follows a primarily whole food, plant based diet, it can sometimes be hard to find foods that are relatively unprocessed but pack a big protein punch. Enter tempeh, a minimally processed, fermented soy product that is not nearly as popular as its close cousin tofu, but is nutritionally superior and can be used interchangeably in most recipes. 

What is Tempeh? 

Tempeh originated in Indonesia, where legend says that it was discovered accidentally when "leftover soybean residue caught spores, grew a certain whitish fungus, and was found to be edible." If you're put off by that visual, don't worry. Tempeh is now made by inoculating whole soybeans with a mold called rhizopus oligosporus, which helps ferment and bind the beans together to form a cake as it ages overnight in an incubator. The tempeh is then steamed and packaged.

While most tempeh is made of soy beans or soy-grain blends, there are a number of soy-free varieties, such as this one made from hemp seeds. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can even try making your own soy-free tempeh at home using this tempeh culture from Amazon!

Why You Should Eat It

The nutritional benefits of tempeh are endless. Packing in 16g of protein for each three-ounce serving (about twice the amount in tofu), tempeh is high in many vitamins and minerals, containing over half of the recommended daily value (RDV) of manganese, 18% of RDV for magnesium and vitamin B2, 12% for iron, and 9% of the RDV of calcium. Tempeh is also high in gut-healing probiotics because it is fermented.

How To Prepare Tempeh 

Tempeh has a distinct, nutty flavor that may be an acquired taste for some, but lightly steaming it before using in recipes can help reduce its edge. An extremely versatile ingredient, tempeh absorbs flavor well and its chewy texture makes it a good meat susbstitute (on pizzas or in stir-frys) and topping for rice bowls, noodles, and salads (like this peanut tempeh). 

My favorite way to prepare tempeh is to marinate thin slices in a mixture of soy sauce, ACV, liquid smoke, and smoked paprika and bake the slices in the oven to make a "tempeh bacon". Paired with creamy avocado and a good rustic bread, you can make a killer BLTA. 

Tempeh Time

Whether you're a staunch meat eater who's skeptical of every plant based protein after having a bad experience with a mushy veggie burger or are a new vegan looking for more protein options, I highly encourage you to give tempeh a try. It's unlike any other plant based protein, has nutritional benefits that are hard to pass up, and can be incorporated into your favorite foods, like pasta and tacos. Need I say more? 

Kana Cummings