Tempeh Versus Tofu: Which is the Healthiest?

Published: 24th January 2008
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How Is Tempeh Different from Tofu, and Which Is Healthier?

Once close relatives derived from the soybean plant, Tempeh and Tofu were separated at adolescence, raised and formed for purpose in two different living environments. Yet now, they come together for one epic battle for vegetarian supremacy! Not knowing of their past, their disdain for one another is based on a misunderstanding of how similar and beautiful each is to one the other -- how... complementary... they are of one another. So we may all help to teach others and teach these native sons of soy how to better tolerate one another, we must first understand how Tempeh and Tofu came to be.

OK. Enough of that. Let's get right down to it: a primer on the soybean.

What is Tempeh? Tempeh Defined

Tempeh is to the soybean as spam is to ham, except far less disgusting and much better for you. Tempeh is made through a relatively simple process: the soybean is first made tender through soaking and then it's de-hulled. The beans are partially cooked, and then pressed into a layered cake or patty form. There are other forms of tempeh that can be derived from whole wheat or a mixture of soy and grains, yet the most commonly found variation is soy tempeh.

The protein in tempeh is far more digestible than what you would ingest through animal proteins, due to tempeh's fermentation process. As a result, combining tempeh with other meats or simply using it as a substitute has been known to greatly aid in overall digestive health. Different from tofu, tempeh is a whole soybean product that offers higher amounts of protein and dietary fiber, as well as vitamin content, all due to the fermentation process preserving the whole bean.

What is Tofu? Tofu Defined

Like tempeh, tofu is derived from the soybean, yet after the bean has been processed to the soy milk product. In it's simplest form, tofu is to the soybean as cottage cheese is to dairy milk. It is the curd of soy milk pressed into chunks, slabs or bricks. Of course there are varieties of tofu, ranging from what is known as silken or soft tofu, often used in desserts, to the more common western or dried tofu that is so versatile in cooking everything from traditional Asian cuisine to filling for soups. Full of iron and calcium, as well as being cholesterol free, you can see how it serves as a great addition to any diet, especially the diet of a pregnant or aging individual.

With regards to nutritional value, tofu does one-up tempeh as it offers more protein per carbohydrate, while offering a little more versatility in terms of the dishes and foods with which it can be combined. It is easily marinated and seasoned, can be made with egg, cinnamon, fruits and nuts -- offering a fairly wide variety of flavors. It can also be found in fermented varieties, such as pickled tofu, though this isn't necessarily for everyone. Therefore, in our quest to determine which soy reigns supreme, we're slightly stumped as they both offer great edible options.

A Few of the Best Tempeh Recipes

No. I'm not going to drop a list of ingredients that you must run out to the store and purchase, because tempeh is best used in substitutions of your other favorite or former recipes. For example, the Super Bowl is right around the corner, and regardless of how you feel about football, you'll probably be at a party. How about a little vegetarian chili, prepped with tempeh, organic powders, seasoning and vegetables, served with a tasty St. Peters English Ale -- an organic favorite.

For breakfast, depending on your desire, tempeh is the perfect substitute for bacon or sausage, and is darn tasty on a bagel with egg and cheese, or egg substitute if you prefer. Tempeh is also great after it has been marinated, to create sandwich meat, or flavor for salads. And when it comes right down to it, skillet frying it with a little sea-salt and a peppercorn variety makes it a great snack in and of itself.

A Few of the Best Tofu Recipes

Do you remember the first time you dipped into Miso soup or Pad Thai, and thought, "What is this stuff?" It is so versatile, you can quite literally toss it into any of your favorite recipes. Depending on the type of tofu that is made or purchased, you can use it in anything from soups and salads, to filling a kebab skewer full of other meats and vegetables. Try this recipe for Vietnamese Pho if you have a taste for Asian soups. If you're truly adventurous and have a little sweet tooth, or are attempting to convince friends and family members that a little soy in life can be a good thing, check out this recipe for Vegan Chocolate Cake.

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