Updated 11/03/2021 by Dan Jackowiak Nc, HHP
Tempeh is a plant-based protein food that first originated in Indonesia. It is made from the soybean plant by a process of fermentation. It is usually made by natural culturing and fermentation of soybeans in a controlled way in which a fungus named Rhizopus oligosporous acts as a starter for tempeh fermentation. Tempeh is particularly popular on Java Island, where it is a prominent protein source with different nutritional and texture qualities that make it one of the most preffered foods by the locals. It is a rich source of protein, fibers, and vitamins (1).
The name tempeh is derived from the local term tape or tapai which means fermentation. The origin of tempeh most probably occurred in central or East Java thousands of years ago. However, some consider tempeh as a food originated by the Chinese. The type of soybean first used to make tempeh by the Indonesians was black soybean which usually grows as a native plant. Now, it is also prepared by the fermentation of white and yellow soybeans. Many different types of tempeh are being made by Java people like peanut-tempeh, corn-tempeh, and rice-tempeh. The dry and firm texture of tempeh is chewy, and its taste is slightly nutty. It is baked and often marinated to add more flavor. It has a texture and taste which gets stronger as it gets older (1).
1. History of Soybeans and Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi
One serving of tempeh (166 grams) contains 320 calories (2). It is a rich source of protein, minerals, and vitamins. It is also a rich source of carbohydrates and prebiotics. These nutrients are important for body functioning. Tempeh provides more protein than any other vegetarian food.
One serving of tempeh contains 15.6 grams of carbohydrates with a small amount of sugar and fructose (2). The glycemic index of tempeh is 9, so it is good for diabetic people.
One serving of tempeh contains a negligible amount of fibers (2).
One serving of tempeh contains 30.8 grams of hunger-fighting protein (2). Tempeh is a fermented product of soybeans that contains about all the essential amino acids which are building blocks of proteins. These include muscle-building branched-chain amino acids. This makes tempeh a protein-rich vegetarian diet.
One serving of tempeh contains 17.9 grams of fats. Most of the fatty acids are mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. These fats make up about 5 grams and 6.4 grams in total, respectively. Tempeh also contains a healthy amount of plant-based fats. Tempeh contains about 365 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acid and 5960 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acid (2). Consumption of tempeh enriches the body with fats that help to keep cholesterol levels low and maintain heart health.
Vitamins & Minerals
Tempeh is a rich source of vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of vitamin B, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, niacin, and vitamin B12. One serving of tempeh contains 0.6 milligrams of riboflavin, 4.4 milligrams of niacin, 0.4 milligrams of vitamin B6, 39.8 micrograms of folate, and 0.1 micrograms of vitamin B12 (2). These vitamins play role in energy production, red blood cell synthesis, and maintaining the neurological health of the body.
Tempeh is also rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, and zinc. These minerals are important for daily body functioning. One serving of tempeh contains 184 milligrams of calcium, 4.5 milligrams of iron, 134 milligrams of magnesium, 442 milligrams of phosphorus, and 684 milligrams of potassium (2). The major structural component of the bones is calcium, responsible for keeping bones dense and strong. Phosphorus is involved in maintaining bone development and skeletal integrity. Copper and manganese are necessary for maintaining bone mineral density.
2. Tempeh Nutrition Facts & Calories [Internet]. Available from: https://nutritiondata.self.com
Tempeh is a good source of soy isoflavones that possess antioxidant properties and reduce oxidative stress (3). Antioxidants are the compounds that work by neutralizing free radicals and prevent oxidative damage leading to various chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. The soy isoflavones found in tempeh help to fight and neutralize free radical damage. The antioxidant activity of soy isoflavones reduces oxidative stress markers (4).
3. György P, Murata K, Ikehata H. Antioxidants isolated from fermented soybeans (tempeh) . Nature. 1964.
4. Watanabe N, Fujimoto K, Aoki H. Antioxidant activities of the water-soluble fraction in tempeh-like fermented soybean (GABA-tempeh). Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2007
Consumption of tempeh has been associated with improved cardiovascular health (5). Tempeh is a good source of soy isoflavones. Soy isoflavones are involved in maintaining moderate levels of total cholesterol and triglyceride, both of which are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Tempeh, a fermented soy food, has more bioactive peptides with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and blood pressure regulating properties. Some of the bioactive peptides regulate blood pressure by inhibiting angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE), thus act as ACE inhibitors (6). The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of these bioactive peptides protect the blood vessels from inflammatory and oxidative damage (6).
Tempeh, a fermented soy food, has increased concentrations of bioactive peptides that are involved in the prevention and treatment of obesity. Tempeh improves insulin action by increasing the synthesis of insulin receptors. It reduces insulin resistance and prevents the risk of type 2 diabetes (5).
Soy isoflavones in tempeh are involved in the prevention of cancer with its anti-cancer activity (7). It is reported in studies that high levels of isoflavones in soy foods possess preventive effects against hormone-sensitive types of cancer. Genistein, a soy isoflavone phytonutrient, is found in high concentrations in fermented soy foods such as tempeh. Genistein possesses anti-cancer properties by increasing the activity of tumor suppressor protein (p53) involved in apoptosis of cancer cells and by blocking the activity of protein kinases involved in tumor formation (7).
Tempeh is enriched with bone-building nutrients (8). Each serving contains a good amount of calcium, manganese, copper, and phosphorus, all of which play an important role in maintaining bone health, bone density and prevent bone loss. Adequate consumption of calcium may prevent the development of osteoporosis (8).
Tempeh is enriched with prebiotics, a type of fiber that provides fuel for the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut (9). Tempeh is also involved in increasing the concentrations of good gut bacteria which play a vital role in improving overall health from mental health to immune function and heart disease. Prebiotics stimulate the production of short-chain fatty acids primarily butyrate in the colon (9).
5. Karyadi D, Lukito W. Beneficial effects of tempeh in disease prevention and treatment. In: Nutrition Reviews. 1996.
6. Sanjukta S, Rai AK. Production of bioactive peptides during soybean fermentation and their potential health benefits. Trends in Food Science and Technology. 2016.
7. Mani V, Ming LC. Tempeh and Other Fermented Soybean Products Rich in Isoflavones. In: Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention. 2017.
8. Dinesh Babu P, Bhakyaraj R, Vidhyalakshmi R. A Low Cost Nutritious Food “Tempeh”-A Review. World Journal of Dairy & Food Sciences. 2009.
9. STEPHANIE S, et al. Effect of Tempeh Supplementation on the Profiles of Human Intestinal Immune System and Gut Microbiota. Microbiol Indones. 2017
Tempeh is generally considered to be safe for most people. Some people are allergic to soy foods (10). Tempeh is made from soybeans. So, people with a soy allergy should avoid tempeh. Tempeh may trigger an allergic response which includes symptoms such as swelling, hives, or difficulty breathing. Moreover, goitrogen is a substance that can interfere with thyroid function. Soybeans can interfere with thyroid function thus considered as a goitrogen. People with impaired thyroid function should limit their consumption of tempeh or avoid it altogether (10).
10. Mazzocchi A, Venter C, Maslin K, Agostoni C. The role of nutritional aspects in food allergy: Prevention and management. Nutrients. 2017.
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one cup (166g) of tempeh.
At 13 grams of carbohydrates per serving with a glycemic index of 9, allow tempeh to be safe for diabetics and safe to eat on the Candida diet. The resistant starch also helps with the growth of good bacteria, which controls Candida yeast over growth.
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