Tempeh has a slightly nutty, savory flavor with a hearty texture. It makes an excellent plant-based meat. Ideal for salads, stews, sandwiches, fried, or marinated, tempeh is a popular ingredient in the vegetarian and vegan community.
If you’ve got no tempeh or you don’t enjoy its chewy texture then keep reading; we’ve compiled the ultimate list of tempeh substitutes for your next dish.
How do I replace tempeh in cooking?
To replace tempeh in a recipe, try tofu, seitan, TVP, jackfruit, or mushrooms. Although each ingredient has a unique flavor and texture, they can be used for similar applications in the kitchen. If you’re looking for the authentic taste of tempeh but it’s not available in-store, consider making your own homemade version.
On the flavor front, tofu is fairly bland, bordering on tasteless. This makes it an excellent meat-free alternative that doesn’t fill your dish with weird, unwanted flavor. Instead, it’s a ‘blank canvas’, soaking in whatever sauces, herbs, and spices you choose to add.
Tofu is sold in a range of textures. Silken tofu is high in water content and has a silky texture, while the super-firm variety is at the other end of the scale. To get as close to the texture of tempeh as possible, use super-firm tofu, or the firmest product you can find. Whatever tofu you choose, drain before use.
Tofu won’t have the nutty, savory flavor you get from tempeh and its texture will be softer. However, if you combine the ingredient with seasoning then it’ll make a useful substitute. Stirfries, sandwiches, and scrambles are all great uses for tofu.
Related reading: What does stinky tofu taste like.
Seitan is made by combining water with wheat flour and then kneading the dough until strands of sticky gluten protein develop. Once the starch is removed, you get a useful meat replacer with a mild savory taste. Some compare its taste to mushroom or bland chicken.
Seitan has a dense texture that’s closer to tempeh than tofu is. For anyone cooking a dish that needs the protein to stay in one piece then seitan is a good choice.
If you’re on a gluten-free diet then avoid this option as it’s basically pure gluten. Another reason you may not want to use seitan is that it is chewier than tempeh and doesn’t have the same nutty undertone.
Tip: Some seitan products are sold in soy sauce. You’ll want to avoid this to get something similar to tempeh.
3. Textured vegetable protein
Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is made from soy flour and is high in protein and fiber. It makes a quick and easy replacement for crumbled tempeh in recipes.
TVP has a softer texture with a blander flavor, but it’ll work well in meals like vegan chili con carne, bolognese, burgers, and sausage rolls. Recipes that call for ground beef will also work by adding TVP.
Are you looking for a tempeh bacon substitute? Instead, fry TVP with liquid smoke, paprika, maple syrup, and tamari sauce. The result will be delicious fake bacon bits for sandwiches, salads, or toppings.
Tempeh isn’t everyone’s favorite ingredient. If you’re looking to replace it because you don’t enjoy it, then try jackfruit. It has a slightly sweet flavor which is barely noticeable once cooked with other ingredients.
Jackfruit has a stringy, fibrous texture that is surprisingly similar to shredded chicken or pork once cooked. It has become a popular plant-based meat in the vegan community, excellent for cooking in chunks or shredding into food.
In some parts of the world, you can buy fresh jackfruits; but the packaged meat is a convenient option. Many brands sell their jackfruit with flavorings already added, so your job in the kitchen is half done! Use jackfruit to make plant-based burger patties, tacos, and stews.
Related reading: What is the difference between jackfruits and durians?
5. Portobello mushrooms
Portobello mushrooms are one of the best ways to add earthy, umami flavor to savory dishes without using meat. For anyone that doesn’t enjoy soy products like tempeh, mushrooms will work a treat.
Although other mushroom varieties like puffballs or King Oysters can be called upon as a substitute, Portobellos offer a delicious meaty texture. They are excellent in burgers or cubed and slow-cooked in a hearty broth. Mushrooms are a healthy, natural option that is cholesterol-free and low in fat.
You may also like to check out our super-helpful list of mushroom alternatives.
6. Homemade tempeh
If you prefer to stay true to the recipe that calls for tempeh, you may want to make tempeh at home. Although it’s more work, you’ll be impressed with the complex flavor profile that no store-bought product can offer.
You’ll need an incubator to make this recipe. Here's how to make your own.
- 1 pound whole soybeans (dried)
- 1 tsp tempeh starter
- 2 Tbsp white vinegar
- Add soybeans to a large bowl and pour in enough cold water to cover them and stand overnight.
- Leaving the beans in the water, gently squeeze them one at a time to remove the skins and split the beans in half.
- Use a colander to drain the beans then pour them into a large pot and cover with fresh water. The water line should be about 2” above the beans. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until tender.
- Take a couple of zip-lock bags and prick holes (1” apart) in them with a skewer.
- Drain the beans and pat dry with a towel, then allow to cool. Transfer them to a bowl and pour vinegar over them. Stir well then sprinkle over the tempeh starter. Continue mixing for another 60 seconds.
- Transfer the beans to the bags and seal before flattening each bag. Place both bags in an incubator at 85-90°F for 1-2 days. The time will vary but you’ll know it’s ready when the surface of the beans is densely covered in white mycelium.
- Take the bags out of the incubator and allow the tempeh to cool before transferring them to airtight containers.
- When your homemade tempeh is ready it will have a nutty smell or a subtle hint of ammonia.
- The incubation process can range from 24-48 hours. As mycelium starts to form, you can lower the heat a little as the beans create heat. You may want to use a thermometer to get accurate temps.
- Prehulled soybeans will save you the time-consuming process of having to remove the skins.
- You can use beans other than soybeans or add other grains and seeds.
Interesting reading: What are the best bead molasses substitutes?
How to store tempeh
Tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week in an airtight container or sealable bag. To freeze tempeh, steam for 15-20 minutes the store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Tempeh nutritional benefits
Tempeh is a useful source of plant-based protein, offering around 15g per one-ounce serve. It is cholesterol-free and a useful source of vitamin B, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, and riboflavin. Tempeh is also a good source of calcium.
Commonly asked questions
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is a versatile meat substitute that’s made by slightly fermenting whole soybeans then compressing them into a block. Additional grains like barley and wheat are sometimes added.
What is the difference between tempeh and tofu?
While they are soy products, tempeh is made from whole fermented soybeans; tofu is made of condensed, unfermented soy milk and is produced in a similar way to cheese. Tempeh is nutty and chewy while tofu is neutral in flavor with a softer texture.
Should tempeh smell bad?
Tempeh should have a nutty, earthy aroma that isn’t overpowering. If you detect a strong smell of alcohol or you can see mold that isn’t white or grey-black then it’s best to discard it.
Where can I buy tempeh?
Pick up a pack of tempeh from large chains like Target, Walmart, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s. It is also readily available from health food stores, Asian grocers, and online sellers.
Did you know? While tempeh is new to many Americans, it originated back in the 1500s in Indonesia.
If you need a tempeh replacement then tofu, seitan, TVP, jackfruit, or mushrooms will all work well. They’re useful for making plant-based meat dishes and are easy to find at your local supermarket.
Like cheddar-making at home, creating tempeh is well worth the effort, but requires some basic equipment that you may not have. If you think you’ll regularly make it at home, it’s well worth the effort to invest in an incubator and thermometer.