For us, tempeh is one of those foods that is so much tastier when made at home. We’ve never been wowed by shop bought tempeh or considered it worth spending money on, but since we’ve been making this from scratch we’ve become complete tempeh converts. Making your own tempeh means you can get really creative with different legumes & flavourings too. This version with yellow split peas has a delicious, nutty flavour and due to the fermentation it’s a great option for people who find it hard to digest beans and other legumes. We also have a great tandoori marinade recipe for tempeh here.
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh originally hails from the island of Java in Indonesia. It often gets thrown into the same category as tofu, quorn and seitan as being a somewhat bland meat-replacement, but for us tempeh has a lot more flavour and also contains a lot of nutritional benefits. Traditionally, tempeh is made from soy beans which are soaked, cooked and then fermented using a specific culture called rhizopus oligosporus. As the beans ferment, they form into a block that is held together by a white fibrous network of mycelia. The tempeh can then be cut into slices and used in stir frys, curries, salads, sandwiches and more. It sounds like pretty freaky stuff on paper, but it has a great nutty flavour and is especially delicious marinaded!
Nutritional Benefits of Home-made Tempeh
Making your own tempeh definitely takes a lot more time than buying it from the shop, but we think it’s completely worth the effort in terms of flavour and also the variety of legumes you can use. Some nutritional benefits of home-made tempeh are as follows:
The fermentation process breaks down the phytic acid and anti-nutrients from the beans, which makes it easier to digest and absorb.
Studies show that tempeh is rich in prebiotics, which promote beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
A rich source of protein & calcium
A whole foods alternative to tofu or quorn. Homemade tempeh is unprocessed & unpasteurised, therefore maintaining a lot more nutritional benefits and bacteria.
What You Need to Make Tempeh
A vented container: We use a freezer bag with 7-8 small holes in it that are large enough for air circulation. Using a clear container allows you see the tempeh as it ferments and you can reuse the bags after use. You could also a Tupperware with holes in.
A warm place for the beans to ferment: The beans have to be kept at a temperature of 25-30 degrees to begin the fermentation process. This takes around 12-24 hours. We use a dehydrator for this, but you could also use an oven with the light on (& the door slightly ajar), an electric blanket or a warm area in your house such as an airing cupboard.
A fermentation starter: You will need to purchase a starter to make the tempeh. We recommend this brand in the UK, you only need to use a small amount for each batch so it works out as good value.
Dried Beans: As mentioned, soya beans are traditionally used in tempeh recipes, however our favourite to use is yellow split peas as they have a great flavour. You can try various other types of beans and get creative with it. We recommend buying organic whenever possible.
A Tea Towl to wrap the tempeh in during the fermentation.
500g of yellow split peas (or your legume of choice)
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/3 teaspoon of tempeh starter
Soak the split peas overnight (or at least 6 hours).
When ready, drain the peas and rinse once or twice with cold water.
In a large saucepan add the peas and cover by 2-3 inches with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until just tender but not falling apart.
Drain the cooked split peas in a colander and allow to cool, you want them to be almost completely dry. They should dry left out in the colander over 1-2 hours, or you can spread them on a clean tea-towel and pat dry.
Add the peas to a bowl and stir in the apple cider vinegar and tempeh starter culture.
Now spoon them into your vented container (freezer bag with holes poked through, or Tupperware, see above)
Lightly press down the split peas in the bag so it lies flat and fairly even. Now store at 25-30 degrees C until you see a few areas of white, dust-like spots forming inside the bag (these can be quite subtle so look closely).
Once the fermentation has started the tempeh will start creating its own heat, so you want to lower the temperature slightly to around 20-24 degrees C. Leave the bag/container wrapped in a clean tea towel for 24-36 hours (max 48) until the bag is fully colonised with the culture and has formed a solid block (see photo below). For this part we place the container in our airing cupboard.
When the tempeh has become a solid block, remove it from the bag/container (this can take a bit of jiggling/squeezing to get it out) and store it in an air tight container in the fridge. Enjoy it fried, baked, grilled or on the barbecue.
NOTES - You may see some grey/black spots develop on the tempeh - this is normal and safe. It’s also common for the tempeh to smell slightly sour. If it begins to smell really bad/off or develops other colours then trust your instinct and discard it. (Thankfully this has never happened to us!)