Tempeh is a compact bean cake made from boiled beans and a fungus culture called Rhizopus. Grown under specific temperature and humidity environments over 1-2 days, the fungus forms an edible mold similar to cheese molds, and fortifies the beans into a sturdy, nicely flavoured cake, or block. Even though the beans are pre-cooked in the fermentation process, tempeh needs to be cooked for a few minutes before eating.

The tempeh story starts in Indonesia as early as 1875, where it was popular as a cheap and nutritious fermented food based on soybeans. In the last 100 years it became well known in the Netherlands, and later in the US, Japan, Canada and a few other European countries. While Indonesians eat tempeh fresh, in Belgium it is commercialized mostly in health stores and large supermarket chains, as a pasteurized product. 


Health profile *

We think of tempeh as a whole bean food with enhanced flavour and nutrients. Generally, it is:
- rich in proteins and fibres (especially the soybean tempeh)

- rich in minerals: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese

- rich in vitamins, in particular vit. B6 and a small quantity of vit. B12.

- low in carbohydrates and sodium. 

- more digestible than beans alone, thanks to the enzymes created in the fermentation process, that break down the amino acids in beans

* The exact quantities and % of Daily Values are established based on the specific products and beans used.

Like all fermented foods, tempeh is subject to the different claims over how healthy bacteria contribute to gut health. The fresh tempeh preserves the probiotic bacteria, live microorganisms typical of fermented foods which according to some studies, play a role in healthy bacterial balance in the gut. It also contains prebiotics, types of fiber that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system and reduce inflammation, according to some studies. You can enjoy the nutrients in tempeh whether or not you are a fan of that literature.


How is tempeh made?

Summary: Different tempeh makers out there have very different production recipes. Two slightly different cultures of Rhizopus are commonly used (R. oligosporus or R. oryzae). Tempeh takes between 24 and 40 hours to make, depending on conditions, and can be refrigerated fresh for one week. Industrial production and preservation methods can increase its shelf life to 6 months or more. The taste, texture and flavour is unique to the production method used. In our experience, the quality of the tempeh depends on the bean quality, on the treatment of beans before incubation, and on the environment in the incubation phase.


The main steps are the preparation of the dry beans, followed by a lactic acid pre-fermentation overnight, an inoculation with Rhizopus, and the actual fermentation. 

At Beanlife, we follow these steps: 

  • We select quality, organic beans from producers who are in Belgium or nearby. The dry beans are dehulled and split into smaller parts  depending on the size of the bean

  • We wash and drain the beans, then soak them in water and little added vinegar overnight 

  • We rinse the soaked beans and put them to boil in pots filled with water 

  • After boiling, we cool them down and the Rhizopus culture is mixed in

  • We transfer them in perforated bags and put all the bags in a warm chamber overnight 

  • The newly formed tempeh is taken out. We now have a full, sturdy tempeh. 

  • We freeze the fresh tempeh in order to stop the growth but keep the mycelium culture alive. It is that which gives tempeh the flavour and texture, and we do not want to lose that. 

Our guiding lights in studying tempeh history, tempeh making and tempeh applications:

  • The Book of Tempeh (1979), by W. Shurtleff & A. Aoyagi

  • Miso, Tempeh, Natto and Other Tasty Ferments (2019), by K K. Shockey & C. Shockey

  • Soy Info Center website (2020) https://www.soyinfocenter.com