Homemade Tempeh

June 9th, 2009  |  Published in All, Around the World, DIY Food Projects, Farming, Gardening, & Food Preservation, Most Popular, Weekend Projects  |  16 Comments

homemade tempeh

When I try to explain what tempeh is to a person who isn’t familiar with it, it never ends up sounding very appetizing… well, it’s cooked, hulled soybeans that have been mixed with a special mold spore and incubated for about 24 hours until a thick layer of white mold grows throughout the beans.

Yummm…… moldy soybeans……

I swear though, tempeh is actually very delicious — a little nutty, chewy in a great way, mild but with a unique earthy flavor — I love it and eat it at least a few times a month.

I used to make the mistake that I am sure many people make when first making tempeh — not steaming the tempeh before using it.  Typically when I would buy tempeh, I would simply cut it into cubes, lightly fry it in a mixture of butter and oil, then serve the cubes with a flavorful dipping sauce.  It was acceptable, but the texture was quite dense.

Then, after seeing a mention of it on an Indonesian cooking website, I tried steaming the tempeh cubes for about 15 minutes before frying them.  And the result was fantastic!  The dense texture that I wasn’t wild about changed to perfectly chewy with enough body to keep things interesting.

Since I like tempeh so much, I decided to make it from scratch to understand the process.  As many of you know, I have a thing for making things from scratch — tofu, jam, pickles, limoncello, gravlax, sauerkraut, and sausage to name a few.  Tempeh had been on my to-make list since seeing the recipe in Sandor Katz’ book, Wild Fermentation (a fantastic book with great explanations of fermentation at home, plus recipes for more unusual tempehs — I highly recommend it).  The process isn’t very complicated (much easier than making tofu from scratch in my opinion), but it does take a good two days from the time you start to soak the soy beans to when you have finished tempeh.  Thankfully, patience is something I have a lot of.

The two most difficult parts of the tempeh making process are 1) acquiring the tempeh spore, and 2) hulling the soy beans.  For problem 1, I bought my tempeh spore from Budiman Food in San Jose, CA.  I just sent them an email and asked for enough tempeh starter to make a few batches of tempeh.  A good sized package cost somewhere in the vicinity of $5-$10.  For problem 2, I decided to remove the skins of the beans by pinching each one after they had been soaked but before they were cooked.  This took me the better part of an hour for the pound of soy beans.  Some might call it tedious, but I prefer to think of simple repetitive cooking tasks like this as meditative….  I just checked out the Budiman Food website again after not visiting for a few months, and I see they now sell tempeh making kits that include already hulled soybeans!  Talk about two birds with one stone.

Anyway, if you’re feeling adventurous and have some free time on your hands, I recommend you try making tempeh at home!  The process is fascinating as well as being a nice way to spend a lazy weekend.

Homemade Tempeh
Adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

1 lb dried soy beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
2 T vinegar
1 t. tempeh spore

Hull the soaked soybeans. This is the most tedious part of the whole process. Pinch each soybean between your fingers to separate the skin from the bean. Discard the skins, and put the beans into a large cooking pot.

Cover the beans with cold water so that they are covered by about 2-3 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and cook until beans are almost cooked, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Stir the beans every now and then, and remove any leftover hulls that float to the top.

When the beans are nearly done (the beans should be slightly underdone — they will continue to soften during the incubation process), drain the beans, discarding the cooking water. Spread the beans over a large kitchen towel, and dry with another towel. Dry the beans very well — one of the main reasons for failed tempeh is too-damp beans. After drying the beans, you may even consider spreading them over a different dry towel and allowing them to air dry for another 2-3 hours (or even overnight).

Mix the beans with the vinegar and tempeh spore, and spread evenly into a 9×13 inch baking dish. Poke holes every inch or so in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the baking dish. Press the foil fairly tightly over the beans.

Incubate the beans at 85-90 degrees for somewhere between 24 and 36 hours (longer at cooler temperatures). I incubated my tempeh in the oven with just the pilot light on. For the first 12 or so hours, not much will happen. Eventually, patches of white mold will begin to appear. Then the mold will start to fill all of the spaces in between the beans. The tempeh is done when there is a solid coating of white mold, and patches of black being to appear (probably near the air holes in the foil). The finished tempeh may have the distinct smell of ammonia — this is ok, and totally natural.

Cut the tempeh into large squares and either use immediately, refrigerate for up to 3 days (allow tempeh to fully cool before refrigerating, otherwise it will continue to incubate), or alternatively, cut into smaller pieces, steam for 10-15 minutes, then freeze for up to two months.

To cook, cut the tempeh into cubes, steam for 15 minutes, then fry in your favorite fat — butter, olive oil, bacon drippings, etc. Serve with a flavorful dipping sauce. Enjoy!

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  1. Amelia Gray says:

    June 9th, 2009at 1:26 pm(#)

    Hi sweetie, always a treat to cruise the Modern Beet, and hear little tidbits of your life:)I am studying for the bar, so I probably won’t try it from scratch right now, but I’m so excited to try steaming the ready made stuff, I had no idea that was what you are supposed to do!!

  2. maybelles mom says:

    June 9th, 2009at 3:35 pm(#)

    First, I totally agree about repetitive tasks being a mediation. I always think that when I make fava beans.

    And, second, I can’t thank you enough for the steaming tip. I have to say, I have never enjoyed tempeh when I make it and I think that is probably why. I will have to try again.

  3. Erin says:

    June 11th, 2009at 2:42 pm(#)

    This is why I like you Jen, one week you are contemplating pork belly and the next you are making your own tempeh! I am all over this recipe, tempeh is a weakness with me.

  4. Jen says:

    June 13th, 2009at 7:38 am(#)

    Amelia — great to hear from you! I am guessing life is pretty hectic with bar preparations, but I would love to catch up soon!

    maybelles mom — fava beans are one of my absolute favorites, and I definitely don’t mind the shelling. Another one like that is stemming elderberries… but they are well worth it for elderberry jam

    Erin — thanks!! that’s a really sweet comment :) How do you typically cook tempeh?

  5. Erin says:

    June 20th, 2009at 12:25 pm(#)

    You’re welcome!

    I fell in love with it when I made tempeh reubens a few years back. Now, I like to cut it into cubes marinate it with a little soy sauce, and honey before cooking it up and having either a sandwich or salad full of cucumbers, sprouts, avocado with tahini sauce. I also add it to stir frys and curries, but nothing beats the reuben or honey soy marinade in my eyes.

  6. another outspoken female says:

    August 6th, 2009at 2:14 pm(#)

    What a fantastic post. I love the idea of making tempeh from scratch, though not sure where in Australia I can get the spores.

    Next time I cook it I will try your steaming tip, thanks for that :)

  7. Alyss says:

    August 10th, 2009at 3:54 pm(#)

    What a neat post! I found your blog googling for creamed chard recipes and then decided to start at the top and work my way through it. I have only had tempeh once or twice but am a fermenting fanatic. I would like to try tempeh sometime :) Great blog!

  8. Orange, Pomelo, Lemon and Ginger Preserves | Modern Beet says:

    January 7th, 2010at 7:50 pm(#)

    [...] that I feel like embarking on culinary adventures.  Homemade tofu, jelly, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, and sausage are the sorts of things I am talking about here — things you can easily buy at [...]

  9. {Meatless Monday} Tempting Tempeh Bowl | Recycle Your Day says:

    January 23rd, 2012at 1:36 pm(#)

    [...] plastic packaging and minimize our plastic trash waste, if at all possible. Someday I’ll make tempeh from scratch (on my to-make list & no waste) but I figured we’d give it a go this way first. & [...]

  10. {Meatless Monday} Tempting Tempeh Veggie Bowl | Recycle Your Day says:

    January 23rd, 2012at 1:37 pm(#)

    [...] plastic packaging and minimize our plastic trash waste, if at all possible. Someday I’ll make tempeh from scratch (on my to-make list & no waste) but I figured we’d give it a go this way first. & [...]

  11. rickraton says:

    February 11th, 2012at 1:13 pm(#)

    I grew up on an Iowa farm. We put up most of our own food. Summer for us kids was snapping green beans, shelling peas and limas that we harvested in 20 gallon buckets. Our fingers were busy but your mind can still escape the shore.

  12. Elisa says:

    February 26th, 2012at 9:42 am(#)

    Just came across your website while awaiting my first batch of tempeh ripening. (Was wondering when to decide it’s done – now I know to wait till I see a black spore or two.) For anyone who’s too impatient to hull bean-by-bean this is what I did: squeezed and mashed handfuls of cooked soybeans under water in their boiling pot. Swirled the water around gently so hulls would rise, then scooped them out with a small mesh seive and repeated with several changes of water. Fun!

  13. Tom says:

    April 12th, 2012at 9:19 am(#)

    Wonderful to find your exuberance and expertise!

    Off to try my hand at tempeh making and to find the Katz book: a few questions first:
    re: pie crust with bacon lard, have you found a glurten-free flour to use in baking?
    re: tempeh salad, do you suggest a preparatory marinade (after the requisite steaming)?

    Many thanks, and with best wishes,


    PS My son was a Watson recipient some years ago – his year in the UK was and continues to be an inspiration!

  14. jacque polaco says:

    July 11th, 2013at 5:43 am(#)

    Two questions, Can a form of tempeh be made with any other kind of bean? and what about the spore (culture)? living on a west african island doesn’t afford soy beans or spores and it is expensive to have items mailed from the states, I commend your journey of made from scratch that is a necessity here, Learned to make corn tortilla out of corn flour yes corn flour they said it couldn’t be done but we are the recipients of enchilada’s, taco’s, and chips, Thanks to experimentation, Any advise would be appreciated Thxs! Scratching the surface Jacque.

  15. Jen says:

    July 13th, 2013at 11:00 am(#)

    Hi Jacque,
    That’s a good question, and unfortunately I don’t have a definitive answer whether tempeh can be made from other types of beans. I have seen tempeh made from various mixtures of soybeans, rice, and minced vegetables, but soybeans are always present. If I had to guess though, I’d say that any small, sturdy bean could work; more creamy beans might break down, but a bean that holds its shape/structure when cooked seems like a plausible substitution for soybeans.
    Re: the spores/culture, that probably is essential. However, a little goes a long way, and if you get into the routine of making tempeh, I believe you can maintain your own starter (similar to maintaining a sourdough starter for bread). Good luck!

  16. Linor says:

    December 22nd, 2013at 10:29 pm(#)

    Jacque — I’m sure you’ve figure it out by now, but I just stumbled upon this thread, and I wanted to share that I live in Israel and order my tempeh starter from http://www.tempeh.info/starter/tempeh-starter.php . They’re in Europe, and shipping is 4euros to any location worldwide for any size order, which I think is pretty reasonable. VAT is even included in the price of the starter already…

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