What is TEMPEH?

As a vegan nutritionist living in Vancouver, I have to remind myself that I’m blissfully living in a health bubble. While the answer to my question “what is Tempeh” may seem obvious to me or you, most still don’t know what it actually is, and what great benefits it offers. Thankfully Richard from the Vancouver, family run “Tempea” is here to give us all the details on that fermented protein superfood from Indonesia. 

Q: Is it true that you went all the way to Indonesia to learn how to make tempeh?

Absolutely! A few of us in the team were born and grew up in Indonesia so this is not as big of a feat as it sounds. 

Before we started the company, we had already learned the methodologies of producing tempeh from the existing literatures, and we were already successful in producing pretty good tempeh. However, we felt like we could not ignore 400 years of history and expertise of making tempeh directly from people who have dedicated their whole lives to the art, so off we went to tap into that knowledge. When we got back, we probably have yet to absorb anywhere close to half of their expertise as we could spend years learning from them, but the result of learning directly from the masters even for a brief period of time upgraded our tempeh to a whole other level.

Q: What’s the story behind your unique brand name “Tempea” and who is behind the brand?

Andrew and Ariela were on their last semester of the BCIT Food Technology program when they and a couple other classmates joined Pulse Canada’s Mission ImPULSEible competition. They won the provincial competition with a chickpea-lentil tempeh that was dubbed Tempea. Ever since then they decided to start a company together to produce tempeh, and the name Tempea stuck around.

Q: Can you share with us how your tempeh is made?

Of course! Our process is quite typical in terms of general tempeh production. We follow the traditional Javanese method as that was where we studied how to produce tempeh, and that is the type of tempeh that we grew up eating and loving. 

The biggest difference with the traditional Javanese methods versus what many other companies in North America uses, is that the Javanese ferment their beans twice. The double fermentation creates a deeper flavour and further breaks down complex molecules making the tempeh even more digestible. However, parts of this method is not allowed in North America because it is really difficult to properly control the fermentation without introducing bad microbes, which is why a large number of companies take a shortcut by using vinegar. We have developed a process by which we can control the fermentation to completely prevent the growth of bad bacteria under the double fermentation process. 

For the whole process, first, the beans gets soaked and cooked to soften it up. Then we start the first fermentation, which we call the wet fermentation that breaks down the complex components in the soy bean and also sets the perfect condition for the growth of the tempeh mold, Rhizopus oligosporus. After spending some time fermenting, we dehull the soy beans, and then cook it a second time before drying and inoculating with Rhizopus oligosporus spores. Then we pack the beans in a perforated bag, and ferment it in a precisely controlled environment for roughly 2 days. 

Q: For those who have never tasted tempeh before, how is it different from tofu?

The similarity between tempeh and tofu ends at soy bean. Where tofu takes the soy milk, coagulate the protein, and then gets pressed to form tofu cakes, tempeh uses whole soy bean and it gets fermented. As a result, there is a significant difference in flavour, texture, and nutritional content between the two products. 

Tempeh in general has a meatier texture, even more so with fresh tempeh. The mycelium from the live culture in fresh tempeh helps bind the beans together and prevents it from falling apart while the bean itself provides a more toothsome bite compared to tofu. 

Flavour wise, whole soybeans provide a nutty flavour reminiscent of soy milk or sesame oil. The fermentation process produces elements of umami that remind you of soy sauce, miso, and even natto. We don’t like calling our tempeh as fake chicken/pork/beef, but some of the comments that we have heard from first time tempeh tasters is that it tastes like bacon, chicken, pork, and even fish, and that is thanks to the fermentation process that unlocked a whole bunch of flavour and nutrients 

Q: What is your favourite way of preparing and enjoying tempeh?

Each of us have our favourites here at Tempea. However, one of our universal favourite is the classic Indonesian street food style: deep fried served with sambal or a birds eye chili on the side. Not the healthiest preparation for tempeh, but so comforting because of the crisp exterior and the tender interior. For Canada Day, we made an awesome one where it was simply marinated with soy sauce, white miso, and maple syrup, and grilled to allow it to char and caramelize on the outside. 

Q: Where do you see Tempea in the near future?

We have some plans in the works that we will unveil in the near future that we think fans of tempeh, vegans, and even foodies in general might find super exciting. I know you absolutely loved the idea when we shared a sneak peak of it. Stay tuned and follow our social media to find out! 

Q: Congratulations, you recently celebrated your 1st anniversary of the company. Can you share with us one of your most rewarding moment from this past year?

Thank you! We started selling our tempeh at the beginning of last summer at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market at Dude Chilling Park. That first day of sales was already one of the most rewarding moment! The neighbourhood was super excited and elated that we have brought fresh tempeh to Vancouver. We sold out before noon. 

Now fresh tempeh is not the easiest product to work with by far since it requires a lot of care and finessing, but every time someone comes up to us, tell us that they love our tempeh, makes all the late nights and early mornings monitoring and babying our tempeh so rewarding. 

Q: Where do you get your soybeans from?

We use certified organic and non-GMOsoy beans and we always prioritize on getting Canadian sourced beans first. These beans come from either Manitoba and Ontario because the BC climate is far too humid to grow beans. However, sometimes the source for our Canadian beans do run dry, at which point we have to go down south of the border for our organic non-GMO soy beans.

To get delicious tempeh recipes and more info, please head to their site! Enjoy!!