Tofu vs tempeh. They are both popular plant-based protein sources, but is one better than the other? This guide covers everything from taste to nutrition to cooking tips.
If you have been looking for a meat-free protein source, you most certainly have come across tofu and tempeh. While both are made from soybeans, they differ in terms of their texture, taste, nutritional profile, and culinary uses. This guide on tofu vs tempeh will help you understand the pros and cons of each, and provide tips for cooking to incorporate them into your meals. I hope this will help you decide which one might be a better fit for your dietary preferences or cooking needs.
In this post:
What are tofu and tempeh?
Tofu and tempeh are both soy-based products commonly used as meat substitutes in vegetarian and vegan diets. While tofu is currently more popular than tempeh in Western cultures, both have an important role to play in a healthy balanced plant-based or flexitarian diet.
- Tofu originated in China over 2,000 years ago where it has been a cooking staple ever since.
- Tempeh: originated in Indonesia before the 1800s and continues to be one of the most popular fermented foods there as well as in Malaysia.
How they are made:
- Tofu is made by curdling soy milk and pressing the resulting curds into blocks.
- Tempeh is made by fermenting whole cooked soybeans with a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus before also being pressed into blocks.
- Tofu comes in a variety of soft and smooth textures (from silky to firm to extra firm) and flavours.
- By comparison, tempeh has a much firmer and chewier texture. In recipes calling for ground meat, you can easily substitute grated or scrambled tempeh.
Do they taste different?
Tofu and tempeh have distinct tastes. Tofu itself doesn’t have much flavour (unless you buy it already smoked or flavoured); instead, it absorbs the flavours of the ingredients it is cooked with or marinated in.
By contrast, tempeh has a nutty flavour with earthy undertones due to fermentation during its production process. Its taste becomes even more pronounced when marinated or seasoned before cooking. Some people find tempeh bitter and steaming it for around 10 minutes before use can help alleviate this issue.
Both tofu and tempeh can be marinated to enhance their flavours and conveniently you will find them on retail shelves in many different pre-flavoured combinations ready to be used in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to sandwiches to salads.
Tofu vs tempeh which is healthier?
While both tofu and tempeh are good sources of protein, they differ in their nutritional content. Tofu contains less protein per serving than tempeh but has more calcium. Both are cholesterol-free and contain all essential amino acids, making them complete plant based protein sources with plenty of health benefits.
Tempeh is also a good source of probiotics due to its fermentation process. The exact microbial content depends on the production methods.
Easy cooking tips for tofu and tempeh
Tofu is a popular and versatile ingredient that can be used in all sorts of recipes from breakfast to desserts. In this guide on how to cook with tofu, I explain the different types of tofu available and their best uses and share some delicious tofu recipes for you to try. In many of my recipes using firm or extra-firm tofu, I often recommend pressing this type of tofu first to remove excess moisture and enhance the overall flavour of the final dish.
Tofu is truly versatile whether you’re looking to make classic dishes such as scrambles, stir-fries or even mousses, dips, and cakes! Some of my favourite tofu brands include Cauldron, Toofoo, Taifun, Mori-Nu, Clearspring, Clearspot, and Dragonfly.
The most popular way to cook tempeh is to pan-fry it but you can also bake it in the oven or cook it in an air fryer. My preferred method is to pan-fry tempeh in a flavoursome marinade or sauce until the liquid is completely reduced and coats the tempeh all over, like in this Vegan BLT Sandwich with Tempeh Bacon recipe.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, if you find tempeh bitter, it is best to steam it first, before cutting it into cubes or slices.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan or just looking to add more plant-based meals to your diet, tofu and tempeh are both very good sources of vegetarian protein and nutrients and should be included in your diet.
Their differences in taste and texture complement each other and give a wider range of culinary options. Tofu and tempeh are both invaluable staple ingredients to cook with and add variety to a plant-based or flexitarian diet.