Why to make your own tempeh?
Fresh tempeh is much better than the usually pasteurised tempeh you can buy in the supermarket. It smells like a mix of mushrooms and apples, it has a soft texture and a taste of yeast, mushrooms and nuts. Like a fresh sourdough bread that is significantly better than the industrial bread from a random supermarket. But as there might be no fresh tempeh seller around you, you might play the game of growing your own tempeh. Which we find very empowering and we definitely want to encourage you to do so!
Making tempeh is pretty straightforward (though it requires a bit of preparation and attention during the incubation) but it is quite a quick fermentation process as it requires only about 30 hours, and it triggers real feeling of satisfaction when you are able to see the mycelium growing.
What do you need
- A way to incubate your tempeh
- Some tempeh starter : 1/2 tbsp (~2g) for about 400g of tempeh
- Dry beans of your choice : 250g for about 400g of tempeh
- An acidifier: 1 tbsp of vinegar for about 400g of tempeh
- A way to dry the beans : a colander, a towel or a fan or a hair dryer
- A big bowl to mix the beans with the tempeh starter
- Some tempeh moulds
Soak the beans
Traditionally, in tropical climate, beans for tempeh are always soaked prior cooking for acidification purposes to avoid the growth of certains undesirable bacteria. In temperate climate, this won’t happen but soaking the beans overnight will definitely save you some cooking time. Adding a tbsp of vinegar while cooking the beans will do the acidification job.
Cook the beans
The key for making tempeh is undercooking the beans until they are soft enough to bite through but not as soft as you would want them for eating. Slightly before al dente.
- 45 min for split soybeans in boiling water / 10 minute in pressure cooker (don’t forget to dehulls the beans if you don’t use split soybeans)
- 20 minutes for chana dal chickpeas in boilingwater / 8-9 minutes in the pressure cooker (don’t forget to dehulls the beans if you don’t use chana dal chickpeas)
- 5-10 min for lentils (depending of the lentils) in boiling water
- (to complete)
Don’t forget to add a tbsp of vinager while cooking your beans!
Dry the beans
Drain your beans as soon as they are cooked enough for tempeh. The next steps is to dry and cool your beans. Indeed, cooked beans are coated with water and this free water encourage bacterial growth rather than the desired mold.
You can dry your beans by using a kitchen towel or by spreading the boiled beans on a flat woven bamboo tray (or similar) that allows water to fall off. Another method is to use a fan or hair dryer. Point the fan at the beans and stir while the fan blows air over the surface.
Innoculate the beans
It is essential that your beans are not warmer than body temperature when you culture them, otherwise the heat may kill your starter. Usually, the drying process is enough to cool your beans. So once your beans are sufficiently dry and cooled, it’s time to add your tempeh starter. In a bowl, add 1/2 tablespoon (~2g) of tempeh starter to every 400g of dry beans. Mix the starter well. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and mix everything together. Do not overmix so that the beans overcool; they should still be warm when incubated.
Mould your tempeh
It’s now time to shape your tempeh. Fill the chosen moulds with your inoculated beans. Make sure that the beans are well compacted so that there is not too much space between them and so that the mycelium can easily reach the beans and feed itself during its growth. But make sure you don’t pack them too tightly either, otherwise the mycelium won’t have enough oxygen to grow.
Tempeh needs an incubation time of about 30°C during around 30 hours. The use of our fermenter, or another type of incubator, facilitates this process. Just set up the temperature and let your tempeh ferment inside for as long as necessary.
You can find alternative ways to incubate your tempeh, but your incubation must be closely monitored. The first 8 to 15 hours of incubation are crucial to encourage the mycelium to grow, although you will not yet see any white appear. Heat of 30-32°C encourages the mycelium to grow faster and to create substances that protect it from certain bacteria. Secondly, once the mycelium is growing vigorously, after about 8-15 hours it starts to generate its own heat. It is important to leave space between your tempehs and to have a regenerating air flow to keep a temperature of 27-30°C and avoid overheating which would kill your mycelium and let other bacteria take over. Your tempeh will become slimy and have a sharp smell and taste. This does not make the tempeh unsafe to eat. You can always crumble it into heavily seasoned chilli and pan-fry it.
Like most ferments, there is no objective moment when the fermentation is complete. But you can tell that tempeh has been formed once the mycelium growth is dense enough to hold the beans together in a cohesive mat. When it’s all white. Fresh tempeh has a yeasty or mushroomy aroma and flavour. It is about 30 hours for soybeans tempeh, up to 48h for other tempehs.
Typically it is considered ripe when the first signs of sporulation (dark patches) begin to appear. This does not make your tempeh bad to eat though, the taste will just be slightly stronger.
How to conserve tempeh
You can keep your fresh tempeh in the fridge within a week. But since it is fresh live tempeh, it will continue to ferment, just considerably slower than in your incubator. For longer storage, it is best to keep it in the freezer. If you store several tempehs, take care to not stack them as that enable the mycelium to continue to grow in the center of the stack where the heat is retained.
How to cook tempeh
In Indonesia, tempeh is typically cut into thin strips and fried, cubed and incorporated into coconut milk curry stew or barbecued in sweet sauces. Often, the strips are soaked before frying in a simple brine, sometimes spiced, sometimes with tamari or soy sauce or any other marinade.
We like to simply golden our round tempeh burgers in a pan with olive oil or girasol oil for about 15 min on low heat. Then we serve it entirely as you would do with a meat or veggie burger, accompanied with some veggies and other sides (carbs, rices, etc). Or we simply cut it into cubes, triangles or slices to incorporate them in ramen, curry, stew or sandwiches. You can also oven-fry it.
→ Find some tempeh's recipes in our Club section