You may not have heard of tempeh. But it is the healthiest food you aren’t eating.
You totally should know it intimately: tempeh is super good for us.
So what is it? you ask. Good question.
Originally an Indonesian staple, it is a fermented, high protein cake made from edamame (soy) beans.
To make tempeh, soybeans are cooked (typically with grains) and then bacteria is introduced to ferment and firm it together (to get a gluten-free tempeh, make sure it is labeled as such).
Currently, researchers are experimenting with what types of bacteria or mold to use. Some strains may help increase the amount of B12 and other nutrients which is great news for vegetarians (cheers).
Because it’s fermented, it’s excellent for our gut and helps fight inflammation. It’s also is a good source of healthy, unsaturated fats.
Aside: Concerned about GMOs? If you buy it organic, it won’t contain any. Promise.
Let’s look at the evidence:
- Preliminary evidence suggests that the isoflavones in tempeh may help combat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s by acting as antioxidants in the brain.
- There is also a growing body of evidence that soy isoflavones help block cancer growth. The most studied isoflavone, also known as phytoestrogens, is genestein. It acts as an estrogen receptor blocker which is one reason it plays a role in decreasing the risk of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast and prostate. Tempeh, more than any other soy product, contains the highest level of genestein. Genstein also inhibits tyrosine kinase, as enzyme that is known to proliferate cancer growth. It also plays a role in inhibiting angiogenesis which is a fancy word for blood vessel growth. In other words, cancer needs blood and nutrients to grow so it also needs blood vessels. By inhibiting this growth, we are effectively blocking cancer growth.
- Tempeh is also good for our hearts. It helps decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), decreases high blood pressure, and has been shown to significantly decrease triglycerides.
- It could possibly help reduce hot flashes and protect the bone health of older women.
Let’s compare its nutrition profile to convenience packaged chicken strips.
Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips, 3 oz : 13 gm protein, 190 calories, 18 gm non-fiber carbohydrate, 0 gm fiber, 25 mg cholesterol, 8 gm fat (1.5 gm saturated), 600 mg sodium, 2% iron, 0% calcium
Lightlife Organic Three-Grain, 3 oz tempeh: 16 gm protein, 170 calories, 8 gm non-fiber carbohydrate, 6 gm fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 gm fat (1 gm saturated), 10 mg sodium, 15% iron, 6% calcium
It is higher in protein, has less calories, more fiber, no cholesterol, less saturated fat, almost no salt, and is high in iron and a good source of calcium.
Plant foods, like our tempeh, are generally a superior protein source- they contain fiber and little saturated fat compared to their animal counterparts.
How do we cook with it?
Tempeh has a nutty-like flavor, but the real fun happens when we marinate it- it takes on the flavors of the spice or sauce. Marinating or patting it with spices before pan searing or baking seems to be the way to go.
I like to use spicy sauce like Frank’s Red Hot or Siracha or I’ve used balsalmic vinegar. Anything you use on meat, you can use on tempeh.
I’ve also used a peanut butter sauce and then pan-seared it using this amazing recipe from Minimalist Baker. You want to cut it into blocks first, then marinate (in a bowl or zip lock bag), then on medium to medium-low heat and using tongs, cook each side for 2-4 minutes or until it is as crispy as you like it.
You can also bake it. I’ve used it plenty crumbled up into stir fry or pasta dishes as well. It doesn’t need to cook very much if it is crumbled. Adding it toward the end of any dish will add a nice nutty flavor and protein source without decreasing the mineral content too much.
Are we hungry yet?
It meets my criteria for fav foods: healthy, easy to cook, quick to make, delicious to eat, and versatile.
Still skeptical? Give it a try. The more we challenge ourselves in this life, the happier we are.