Interested in making your own tempeh? You should be! Homemade tempeh is the best tempeh! This guide will teach you how to make tempeh, step by step.
If you're reading this I'm guessing you're a big-time tempeh lover, like me! Anyone interested in making homemade tempeh has to be a pretty big fan of the stuff.
But let's just say maybe you're not. (I don't know why you're here, but stick with me.) Homemade tempeh might just change your mind. It's so much better than store-bought.
The world is full of tempeh haters, and I find that their biggest complaint is generally related to tempeh's flavor. Tempeh can have a funky, bitter flavor that some folks aren't a fan of.
Homemade tempeh, unlike lots of the store-bought stuff, generally has no bitterness to it. Just a mild, nutty, slightly yeasty flavor.
Having said that, making tempeh can be a bit labor intensive and it takes a few days. I often recommend it for people like me, who love tempeh to begin with and want to enjoy it at it's best.
Today I'm going to teach you how to make tempeh.
But first, let's start with some background!
Maybe tempeh is a new ingredient to you and you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that originated in Indonesia. It's an excellent plant-based protein ingredient that's super versatile and pretty easy to cook with, which is why it's a favorite food among many vegans and vegetarians.
In tempeh, soybeans are bound together with a type of fungus. That's right: fungus.
Don't freak out! Fungus has it's place in culinary applications. Mushrooms are fungus, after all. Rhizopus ogliosporus is the specific type of mycelluim used to make tempeh. In tempeh, soybeans are actually bound together into a solid block of mycellium. We'll talk about the actual process of growing fungus around soybeans in the tutorial and recipe below.
Tempeh can be purchased at most supermarkets, usually in the refrigerated area of the natural foods section, near the tofu. If you've never tried tempeh before I highly recommend you at least buy some before attempting to make your own.
Ingredients You'll Need
Here's what you'll need to make your tempeh:
- Soybeans. You'll need dried soybeans, which are generally available in Asian markets, health food stores, or online.
- Rice vinegar. This should be available in most regular supermarkets, either in the international aisle, or near the other vinegars.
- Tempeh starter. You'll probably need to buy this ingredient online. Here is a link to the one that I use. Once you've made a batch of tempeh, you can make your own starter as well. I'll talk about that a bit below!
Tip: These are the basic ingredients for making traditional tempeh, but tempeh can and often does include other ingredients. Beans such as chickpeas, lentils and black beans may be used in place of soybeans, as can some seeds such as hemp seeds. Other seeds or grains can also be used in combination with soy beans or or other beans to make tempeh. Try experimenting with different ingredients once you get a feel for the process!
Measure out 2 cups of soybeans. Place them in a large pot and cover them with water. Make sure there's plenty of room in the pot and that the water comes up at least twice as high as the beans — they'll expand a lot as they soak.
Soak the beans overnight. 12 hours is the perfect amount of time.
Hull the Beans
Now for the work.
Your tempeh starter may include instructions to do this by massaging the beans or pressing on them with a potato masher. If you go this route, plan to spend at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour, removing the hulls.
What's worked better for me is spreading out the beans on a tea towel and smashing them with a rolling-pin. Ten minutes and the job is done! Alternate folding the towel over the beans and using lots of pressure, and then rolling the beans without the towel and using more pressure.
I've read other tips to try using a stand mixer or food processor with a dough kneading attachment. I tried both and pretty much got nowhere. But feel free to experiment and see what works best for you!
In any event, your goal is to split the beans in half. Once they split, the skins will slip right off. and when you can see that the beans are split, it's easy to confirm that they've been hulled.
Separate the hulls and discard as many as you can as they come off the beans, but don't get too hung up on this step. I find putting them into a fine mesh strainer and hitting them with high pressure water pushes many of the hulls to the bottom and sides of the colander.
Boil the Beans
Place the beans back into a pot, cover them with a few inches of water, and boil them. Let them cook at a rolling boil for 1 hour. You'll notice some of the remaining hulls floating to the top of the water while they cook. Skim them from the top and discard them as this happens.
Dry the Beans
Once the beans are finished boiling, drain them into a mesh colander. They need to be cool and dry to the touch before proceeding with the next step.
Your starter may instruct you to physically dry them with a towel or hair dryer. I found toweling them off to be pretty ineffective, so I dry them with my hair dryer on low. Keep them in the colander or in a bowl when you do this (don't arrange them on a flat surface or anything like that — they'll fly everywhere!).
Place the dry beans into a large mixing bowl and add 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar (or white vinegar). Stir well, then add the starter. Stir everything up again until thoroughly mixed.
Tempeh needs to ferment in a container with just a bit of ventilation to prevent too much moisture from accumulating. A large freezer bag with lots of pinholes works great. Place the beans into the bag and arrange them in a 1-inch (approximately) thick layer.
Tip: Traditional tempeh is fermented in banana leaves. Look for them in Asian markets if you'd like to give this a try.
Tempeh is fussy! It needs to ferment at between 85°F and 90°F. Much cooler and the mycelium won't grow (giving rise for undesirable microorganisms to grow instead). Much hotter will kill it.
This sounds tricky, but it's really not. First off, stick a thermometer into your beans. Poke a hole through the bag and stick it right in there.
During the summer, you may find that room temperature is warm enough. During the cooler months, I simply place everything on a plate, turn on my oven light, and set the plate near the back of the oven, close to the light. An hour or so later, I'll take a peek at the temperature. If it's too cool, I'll take the plate out of the oven, heat up the oven just for a minute or two, then put the plate back. If it's too hot, I'll move the plate away from the light.
Keep an eye on the temperature, but don't lose sleep over it. My temperature usually dips a bit below 85°F or jumps above 90°F for an hour or so here and there, and my tempeh turns out fine. Just do your best to keep it from staying consistently out of range.
After about a day, you might notice the temperature of your tempeh climbing. This is good! Once the fermentation really gets going, the mycelium starts to generate its own heat. Move the tempeh away from your heat source, or remove it completely. My tempeh's temperature often climbs up near 100°F, without an additional heat source, during this time.
Soon you'll start to see some white fuzz growing on your beans. This is the mycelium. And over the next day or so, the mycelium will start to completely cover the beans. Eventually the mold will completely envelop the beans and you'll end up with a solid cake of mold and soybeans. Your tempeh is now done!
Harvest Some Tempeh Starter
If you'd like some more starter for future batches, you can get some from your new tempeh. Just cut off a small piece (a 1-inch cube is more than enough) and return it to incubation to allow for continuation of the fermentation process. Again, you'll want a vented container and a temperature between 85°F and 90°F. I use a small bowl covered with plastic wrap with pin holes poked in it.
Let the tempeh continue to incubate. The mycelium will continue to grow. It might get really fuzzy, and it should start to turn gray or black. Mine usually ends up looking like dryer lint.
When you see lots of gray and/or black fuzz, remove the temeph from the incubator and let it sit out at room temperature to dry out. This can take 3 to 7 days, depending on the temperature and humidity.
Once the tempeh is dry, grind it up. You can use a mortar & pestle or a small blending device like a coffee grinder. Add 2 parts rice flour, by weight. Seal up the tempeh in a storage container or plastic bag, and refrigerate until you're ready to use it. You'll need 1 teaspoon for future batches of tempeh.
How to Store Homemade Tempeh
Tempeh you make yourself won't have quite the same shelf-life as the store-bought stuff, since it's made fresh and without preservatives. Keep it in an airtight container and it will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it for up to three months.
Cooking with Tempeh
Now that you've made a batch of tempeh, you'll want to incorporate it into a delicious recipe. Tempeh is excellent pan-fried, stir-fried, crumbled in sauces and stews, braised, baked, and even grilled. It can be used as an alternative to tofu in many recipes where a different flavor or texture might be desirable.
Some folks like to steam tempeh before incorporating it into a recipe. Steaming softens up tempeh and removes much of it's bitterness, which is mostly an issue with store-bought tempeh, although your homemade tempeh may start to taste bitter as it ages in the fridge. Read this article on how to steam tempeh to learn exactly how do it's done.
Ready to make some tempeh and then start cooking with it? Here's your printable recipe, below. And be sure to refer to the details above for guidance.
Like this recipe? If so, please stop back and leave me a review and rating below if you try it! Also be sure to follow me on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, or subscribe to my newsletter for more recipes like this one!
Everything you ever wanted to know about tempeh but were afraid to ask! Today we're covering the basics: what is tempeh, how to cook it, where to buy it, and even how to make it.
Place the beans into a large saucepan or bowl and cover them with several inches of water. Let the beans soak for about 12 hours.
Split the beans in half and remove the hulls. To do this you can either massage the beans vigorously by hand, hit them with a potato masher, or arrange them on a towel-lined flat surface and roll them with a rolling pin.
Transfer the beans to a fine mesh colander and rinse them under high pressure water. The hulls should begin to settle to the bottom or be forced to the sides. Pick out as many of the hulls as you can.
Transfer the beans to a large saucepan and cover them with several inches of water.
Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil.
Lower the heat and allow the beans to boil for 1 hour. Skim any loose hulls from the surface of the water as they float there.
Drain the beans into the mesh colander.
With the beans still in the colander, dry them gently with a hair-dryer on low power. Allow the beans to cool if they've heated up too much.
Once the beans are cool and dry to the touch, transfer them to a large mixing bowl.
Add the vinegar and mix well.
Add the starter and mix well. Stir for a few minutes to ensure even distribution of the starter.
Gather a gallon sized plastic zip bag and use a pin to poke holes, separated by about ½-inch, in both sides of the bag.
Transfer the beans to the bag. Set the bag on a plate and distribute the beans in a 1-inch thick layer. Fold the bag over the beans.
Use a meat thermometer to poke a hole through the bag, into the beans.
Place the beans in a warm (not hot) location, such as at the back of your oven with the light turned on.
Check the beans after 1-hour. The temperature needs to be between 85°F and 90°F. Move or make any adjustments if needed to raise or lower the temperature.
Check the beans every few hours. After about 24 hours, the temperature may begin to climb and you may be able to remove the beans from the oven.
White mycelium will begin to grow on the beans. Continue checking the beans until they are completely embedded in a block of mold (1-4 days).
Your tempeh is finished. Cook it right away, or seal and refrigerate for up to 7 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
This recipe makes about 18 ounces of tempeh.