The World's Healthiest Foods
Tempeh

Although not a common item in most households in the United States, the distinctively nutty taste and nougat-like texture of tempeh is increasing in popularity. It easily absorbs the flavors of the other foods with which it is cooked making it adaptable to many types of dishes. Tempeh can be found in health food stores and specialty markets throughout the year.

Tempeh has been a staple in Indonesia for over 2000 years. It is typically made by cooking and dehulling soybeans, inoculating them with a culturing agent (like Rhizopus oligosporus), and then incubating the innoculated product overnight until it forms a solid cake. It is a highly nutritious fermented food traditionally made from soybeans and its high protein content makes it a wonderful substitute for meat.

 


Health Benefits

A food made from fermented soybeans, tempeh provides not only the protein found in soybeans but their many other health benefits as well.

The soybean is the most widely grown and utilized legume in the world, with the U.S. being responsible for more than 50% of the world's production of this important food. Soy is one the most widely researched, health-promoting foods around. A complete review of all the benefits soy foods offer could easily fill a large book. Soy's key benefits are related to its excellent protein content, its high levels of essential fatty acids, numerous vitamins and minerals, its isoflavones, and its fiber.

A Health-Promoting Meat Replacer

Soybeans are regarded as equal in protein quality to animal foods. Just 4 ounces of tempeh provides 41.3% of the Daily Value (DV) for protein for less than 225 calories and only 3.7 grams of saturated fat. Plus, the soy protein in tempeh tends to lower cholesterol levels, while protein from animal sources tends to raise them. In addition to healthy protein, some of tempeh's nutritional high points include:

Riboflavin: 4 ounces of tempeh provides 23.5% of the DV for this B-vitamin. A nutrient essential for the transfer reactions that occur to produce energy in the mitochondria, riboflavin is also a cofactor in the regeneration of one of the liver's most important detoxification enzymes, glutathione.

Magnesium: Tempeh also provides 21.9% of the DV for Nature's blood vessel relaxant, magnesium, in just 4 ounces. In addition to its beneficial role in the cardiovascular system, magnesium plays an essential role in more than 300 enzymatic reactions, including those that control protein synthesis and energy production.

Manganese and Copper: That same 4 ounces of tempeh will give you 72.5% of the DV for manganese and 30.5% of the DV for copper. These two trace minerals serve numerous physiological functions including being cofactors for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.

Beneficial Effects on Cholesterol Levels and Platelets

Soy protein has been found in recent years to be excellent for a number of different conditions, one of the most important ones being heart disease. Soy protein has been shown in some studies to be able to lower total cholesterol levels by 30% and to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, levels by as much as 35-40%. This is important because high levels of cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, tend to become deposited into the walls of blood vessels, forming hard plaques. If these plaques grow too large or break, they can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Some studies have even shown that soy protein may be able to raise HDL cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol travels through the body collecting the cholesterol that has been deposited in the arteries, so it can be taken away and removed by the liver. One of the main goals of atherosclerosis treatment and prevention, therefore, is to lower LDL cholesterol levels while raising HDL levels. And soy is one food that may be able to do both at once.

In addition, soy foods like tempeh contain good amounts of fiber. When eaten, the fiber in tempeh binds to fats and cholesterol in food, so less is absorbed. In addition, tempeh's fiber binds to bile salts and removes them from the body. Since the liver gets rid of cholesterol by transforming it into bile salts, their removal by fiber forces the liver to use more cholesterol to form more bile salts, leading to lower cholesterol levels overall.

Stabilize Blood Sugar at Healthy Levels

Another condition for which tempeh can be very beneficial is diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. The protein in tempeh is excellent for diabetic patients, who tend to have problems with animal sources of protein. The protein and fiber in tempeh can also prevent high blood sugar levels and help in keeping blood sugar levels under control. Some diabetics even find that the effects of soy foods, such as tempeh, and other legumes on blood sugar are so profound that they need to monitor their new blood sugar levels and adjust their medications accordingly. Of course, all of this should only be done under the supervision of a doctor. Diabetes patients are especially susceptible to atherosclerosis and heart disease, which is the number one killer of persons with diabetes. Keeping cholesterol levels low with soy foods may be useful for preventing these heart problems. In addition, soy foods have been shown to lower high triglyceride levels. Triglyceride levels tend to be high in diabetic patients, and high triglyceride levels are another factor of diabetics' increased risk for heart disease.

Cancer Prevention and Relief for Irritable Bowel

The fiber in tempeh also provides preventative therapy for several other conditions. Fiber is able to bind to cancer-causing toxins and remove them from the body, so they can’t damage colon cells. Tempeh, which is made from high-fiber soybeans, may therefore be able to help reduce the risk of colon cancer. As a matter of fact, in areas of the world where soy foods are eaten regularly, rates of colon cancer, as well as some other cancers, including breast cancer, tend to be low. Tempeh's fiber may also be able to reduce the symptoms of diarrhea or constipation in sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome.

A Healthy Transition through Menopause

One of the more popular uses of soy foods lately has been in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Soybeans contain active compounds called isoflavones that act like very weak estrogens in the body. These phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors and may provide enough stimulation to help eliminate some of the uncomfortable symptoms that occur when natural estrogen levels decline. Studies have shown that women who consume soy foods report a significant reduction in the amount of hot flashes that they experience. There is also some evidence that soy foods may even be able to help reduce the bone loss that typically occurs after menopause. And as women's risk for heart disease significantly increases at menopause, soy foods' numerous beneficial cardiovascular effects make tempeh a particularly excellent choice for frequent consumption as menopause approaches.

Protection Against Prostate Cancer

In epidemiological studies, genistein, a naturally occuring isoflavone found chiefly in soy foods, has been consistently linked to lower incidence of prostate cancer. A recent study of human prostate cancer cells demonstrated some of the mechanisms behind genistein's anti-prostate cancer effects. Genistein not only induced chemicals that block cell cycling, thus preventing the proliferation of cancerous cells in the prostate, but at high concentrations actually induced apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells.

Another study looked at the antioxidant effects of these isoflavones in soy, and found that genistein protected cells in healthy men from an increase in free radical production by inhibiting the activation of an important inflammatory agent called NF-kappaB and by decreasing levels of DNA adducts (a marker of DNA damage).

Description

Tempeh is a wonderful, high protein, southeastern Asian treat. Not only does this collaged cake of fermented soybeans have a distinctive nutty taste but its nougatlike texture readily absorbs the different flavorings with which it is cooked. Tempeh is typically made by cooking and dehulling soybeans, inoculating them with a culturing agent (like Rhizopus oligosporus), and then incubating the innoculated product overnight until it forms a solid cake.

History

Tempeh originated in Indonesia where it has been a staple of the traditional cuisine for over 2000 years. Shortly after colonizing Indonesia, the Dutch introduced tempeh and other native foodstuffs into Europe. It was not until the 20th century that this southeast Asian delight was introduced into the United States. Tempeh is now gaining increased popularity in this country as people look for ways to increase their intake of soybeans, and they discover tempeh's versatility and delicious taste.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

For a twist on the traditional reuben sandwich, place broiled tempeh on a slice of whole grain bread, layer with sauerkraut, top with cheese or ‘meltable’ soy cheese, then broil in oven for a few minutes until the sandwich is hot and toasty. Top with Russian dressing made by combining ketchup and soy mayonnaise, and enjoy.

A vegetarian option to spaghetti and meat sauce is spaghetti and tempeh sauce. Just substitute tempeh for ground beef in your favorite recipe.

Add extra flavor, texture and nutrition to chili by adding some tempeh.

Safety

Allergic Reactions to Tempeh

Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. Common symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to food include: chronic gastrointestinal disturbances; frequent infections, e.g. ear infections, bladder infections; bed-wetting; asthma, sinusitis; eczema, skin rash, acne, hives; bursitis, joint pain; fatigue, headache, migraine; hyperactivity, depression, and insomnia.

Individuals who suspect food allergy to be an underlying factor in their health problems may want to avoid commonly allergenic foods. Soybeans and products like tempeh that are made from them are among the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions. Other foods commonly associated with allergic reactions include: cow's milk, wheat, shrimp, oranges, eggs, chicken, strawberries, tomato, spinach, peanuts, pork, corn and beef. These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow’s milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow’s milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow’s milk would be an equally good example.

Tempeh and Oxalates

Tempeh is among a small number of foods that contain any measurable amount of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to limit consumptio of tempeh. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid consuming tempeh at the same time as calcium-rich foods, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to consume tempeh 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.

Tempeh and Goitrogens

Soybeans, and foods made from them such as tempeh, contains goitrogens, naturally-occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid tempeh for this reason. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in food. However, it is not clear from the research exactly what percent of goitrogenic compounds get inactivated by cooking, or exactly how much risk is involved with the consumption of tempeh by individuals with pre-existing and untreated thyroid problems.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Tempeh, Cooked
4.00 oz-wt
223.40 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese 1.45 mg 72.5 5.8 very good
protein 20.63 g 41.3 3.3 good
copper 0.61 mg 30.5 2.5 good
phosphorus 286.91 mg 28.7 2.3 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.40 mg 23.5 1.9 good
magnesium 87.55 mg 21.9 1.8 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Davis JN, Kucuk O, Djuric Z, Sarkar FH. Soy isoflavone supplementation in healthy men prevents NF-kappaB activation by TNF-alpha in blood lymphocytes. Free Radic Biol Med. 2001 Jun 1;30(11):1293-302.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Kritz-Silverstein D, Goodman-Gruen DL. Usual dietary isoflavone intake, bone mineral density, and bone metabolism in postmenopausal women. J Womens Health Gend Based Med 2002 Jan-Feb;11(1):69-78.
  • Shen JC, Klein RD, Wei Q, et al. Low-dose genistein induces cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors and G(1) cell-cycle arrest in human prostate cancer cells. Mol Carcinog. 2000 Oct;29(2):92-102.
  • TourismIndonesia.com. Indonesian 'tempe' (tempeh) struggles to remove second-rate image. http://www.tourismindonesia.com/articles/tempe_02.asp.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.
  • Yamori Y, Moriguchi EH, Teramoto T et al. Soybean isoflavones reduce postmenopausal bone resorption in female Japanese immigrants in Brazil: a ten-week study. J Am Coll Nutr 2002 Dec;21(6):560-3.

This page was updated on: 2005-07-07 22:31:58
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation