Vegan, versatile, and made from soybeans. Tofu and tempeh are a lot alike, yet there are also quite a few differences. Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake from Indonesia. You make it from soybeans, but it also works well with other beans. Tofu is a kind of young ‘cheese’ made from curdled soybean milk. Let’s see what exactly the differences are.

Tofu

Tofu

Production

Tofu and tempeh are made in different ways. Tofu is made from soy milk. It’s actually a kind of cheese because it’s made up of the solid parts of soy milk. To make it you simply add a coagulant to cooked soy milk. Tempeh is made by adding the fungi Rhizopus Oligosporis and Rhizopus Oryzae to cooked soybeans. This fungus turns the sugars in the soybeans into a cake-like mass. You can buy these fungi in 1 handy starter at startercultures.eu, the European webshop for home fermentation hobbyists.

Tofu is uniformly white in color by itself and is usually shaped like a block or smaller cubes. How firm depends on how much water is in it. In supermarkets, you will always find very firm cubes. Tempeh is white-brown in color and you usually encounter it in the form of a thick cake or cookie. 

“The mind is like tofu. It tastes like whatever you marinate it in.”  –Sylvia Boorstein

Taste and nutritional value

The resulting products have a quite different taste experience. Tempeh has more flavor of its own. It is somewhat nutty, so you can make it into a fine burger, for example. Tofu has a fairly neutral flavor. Therefore, this soy product can be marinated well and can be used for all kinds of dishes. Tofu absorbs flavors very well.  Tofu by itself has a soft texture, while tempeh has more of a bite. If you bake tofu for a short time, you get a nice crispy exterior and a soft interior. If you cook tofu longer, it will become crispy. This takes some patience because the water in tofu is not just gone. If you fry tofu in the frying pan you can let it sizzle for a while. In a wok, it goes faster, but you have to stir it regularly so that all the cubes come into contact with the hot pan. If you like crunchy tofu, it helps to tear it into irregular pieces before and use a thin layer of cornstarch.

Tempeh

Tempeh

 

Tempeh feels firmer by itself and also gets crispy faster in the pan. In the dry air of the air fryer, this happens very quickly. Tempeh provides more energy, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats than tofu. However, it is the quantity of fibers in tempeh that is particularly striking. That makes this soy product particularly nutritious and healthy.  The fermentation process makes tempeh easier to digest than tofu, and the high fiber content is very helpful for this as well. Both tofu and tempeh contain many minerals in varying amounts. For potassium and zinc, tempeh is the best choice. Potassium is beneficial for blood pressure and zinc plays a role in our immune system. Tofu contains more calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron than tempeh. These minerals are good for our bones, muscles, and energy levels.  Tempeh, by the way, contains a lot of provitamin A, as well as folate. These vitamins, like zinc, are good for our immunity.

Both tofu and tempeh are full of nutrients and both are good sources of protein. However, the fermented tempeh wins because of the amount of protein, fiber, and vitamins and is therefore slightly healthier than tofu. Also, it is easier to digest and tastier. But both are healthy and nutritious vegan side dishes!