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Fresh tempeh at the market, Jakarta, Indonesia – traditionally, tempeh is wrapped in banana leaves.

Tempeh (/ˈtɛmp/; Javanese: témpé, Javanese pronunciation: [tempe]) is a traditional soy product originating from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form.[1] Tempeh is the only major traditional soy food that did not originate from Greater Chinese cuisine.

Tempeh being sold in a traditional market in Indonesia

It is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but it is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and an earthy flavor, which becomes more pronounced as it ages.[2][3]


Tempeh being sold on Java, early 20th century

Tempeh probably originated on the island of Java. It was mentioned as kadêlê in an old Javanese manuscript, Serat Sri Tanjung, which dates around the 12th to 13th century.[4] The earliest known reference to it as "tempeh" appeared in 1815 in the Serat Centhini.[5]

The invention of tempeh is connected to tofu production in Java. The tofu-making industry was introduced to Java by Chinese immigrants circa the 17th century. Chinese Indonesian historian Ong Hok Ham suggests that tempeh was accidentally produced as the by-product of the tofu industry in Java; as discarded soybeans caught the spores of and grew a whitish fungus that was found to be edible.[4] The etymology of the term tempeh itself is suggested to be derived from old Javanese tumpi, a whitish food made from sagoo,[definition needed] while historian Denys Lombard suggests that it is linked to the local term tape or tapai which means "fermentation".[4] Three detailed, fully documented histories of tempeh, worldwide, have been written, all by Shurtleff and Aoyagi (1985, 1989, and 2001).


Making tempeh by wrapping boiled soybeans in banana leaves

Tempeh begins with whole soybeans, which are softened by soaking, and dehulled, then partly cooked. Specialty tempehs may be made from other types of beans, wheat, or may include a mixture of beans and whole grains.

A mild acidulent, usually vinegar, may be added to lower the pH and create a selective environment that favors the growth of the tempeh mold over competitors. A fermentation starter containing the spores of fungus Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae is mixed in.[6] The beans are spread into a thin layer and are allowed to ferment for 24 to 36 hours at a temperature around 30°C (86°F). In good tempeh, the beans are knitted together by a mat of white mycelium.

Traditional tempeh is often produced in Indonesia using Hibiscus tiliaceus leaves. The undersides of the leaves are covered in downy hairs (known technically as trichomes) to which the mold Rhizopus oligosporus can be found adhering in the wild. Soybeans are pressed into the leaf, and stored. Fermentation occurs resulting in tempeh.[7] In particular, the tempeh undergoes salt-free aerobic fermentation.[8]

Under conditions of lower temperature, or higher ventilation, gray or black patches of spores may form on the surface—this is not harmful, and should not affect the flavor or quality of the tempeh.[9] This sporulation is normal on fully mature tempeh. A mild ammonia smell may accompany good tempeh as it ferments, but it should not be overpowering.


Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 803 kJ (192 kcal)
7.64 g
10.80 g
20.29 g
Vitamins Quantity
Thiamine (B1)
0.078 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.358 mg
Niacin (B3)
2.640 mg
Vitamin B6
0.215 mg
Folate (B9)
24 μg
Vitamin B12
0.08 μg
Minerals Quantity
111 mg
2.7 mg
81 mg
1.3 mg
266 mg
412 mg
9 mg
1.14 mg
Other constituents Quantity
Water 59.65 g

Full Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

The soy carbohydrates in tempeh become more digestible as a result of the fermentation process. In particular, the oligosaccharides associated with gas and indigestion are greatly reduced by the Rhizopus culture. In traditional tempeh-making shops, the starter culture often contains beneficial bacteria that produce vitamins such as B12[10][11] (though it is uncertain whether this B12 is always present and bioavailable).[12] In western countries, it is more common to use a pure culture containing only Rhizopus oligosporus, which makes very little B12 and could be missing Citrobacter freundii and Klebsiella pneumoniae, which have been shown to produce significant levels of B12 analogs in tempeh when present.[13] Whether these analogs are true, bioavailable B12, has not been thoroughly studied yet.[14] The fermentation process also reduces the phytic acid in soy,[15] which in turn allows the body to absorb the minerals that soy provides.


Tempeh burger

In the kitchen, tempeh is often prepared by cutting it into pieces, soaking in brine or salty sauce, and then frying. Cooked tempeh can be eaten alone, or used in chili, stir fries, soups, salads, sandwiches, and stews. Tempeh's complex flavor has been described as nutty, meaty, and mushroom-like. It freezes well, and is now commonly available in many western supermarkets, as well as in ethnic markets and health food stores. Tempeh can be steamed, marinated, thinly sliced, blackened, or crumbled into sauces and stews.[16]

Tempeh performs well in a cheese grater, after which it may be used in the place of ground beef (as in tacos). When thin-sliced and deep-fried in oil, tempeh obtains a crisp golden crust while maintaining a soft interior—its sponge-like consistency makes it suitable for marinating. Dried tempeh (whether cooked or raw) is more portable and less perishable and may be used as a stew base. Sometimes when tempeh is diced and left, they will create white feathery fluff which bonds the cut—this is the Rhizopus mold still growing—this is normal and perfectly edible.


Sliced tempe kedelai (soy tempeh)

The most common tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. However, traditionally other ingredients such as ampas tahu (tofu dregs), ampas kelapa (coconut dregs) and peanuts may be used in a fashion similar to the tempeh making process, although perhaps using different fungi or attracting other microbes.

Tempe kedelai

Also called tempe kedele or tempe dele, or simply just tempe. The most common and widely known tempeh, made from controlled fermentation of soybeans.

Tempe gembus

Tempe gembus

Soft and fluffy tempeh made from soy pulp or tofu dregs.[17][18] Tempe gembus usually can be found in traditional markets of Java, at a price lower than that of common soybean tempeh. It is made into a variety of dishes; for example it can be battered and/or fried, used in sayur lodeh, or tempe bacem. Tempeh gembus is known by different names across Java; for example as tahu cokol or tahu susur in Temanggung.[17]

Tempe oncom

Tempe oncom, or simply onchom, is made from peanut press cake or soy dregs. Whereas common soybean tempeh uses Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae fungi, oncom instead uses Neurospora sitophila. Among fermented bean products, oncom is more prevalent in West Java, where it serves as the main ingredient in various Sundanese cuisine traditional dishes, including oncom goreng, oncom leunca, and nasi tutug oncom. There are two types of oncom: a bright red-orange kind, and a black one.[19]

Tempe menjes kacang

Menjes kacang

A specialty of Malang, the rough textured tempeh menjes kacang is made from black soybeans mixed with other ingredients, such as peanut dregs, cassava fiber, and soybean meal. The process of making menjes kacang is quite similar to black oncom.[20]

Tempe bongkrèk

Tempe bongkrèk is a variety of tempeh from Central Java, notably Banyumas regency, that is prepared with coconut dregs. This type of tempeh has led to several cases of fatal food poisoning,[21] as it occasionally gets contaminated with the bacterium Burkholderia gladioli, and the unwanted organism produces toxins (bongkrek acid and toxoflavin) from the coconut, besides killing off the Rhizopus fungus due to the antibiotic activity of bongkrek acid.[18]

Fatalities from contaminated tempe bongkrèk were once common in the area where it was produced.[22] Thus, its sale is now prohibited by law; clandestine manufacture continues, however, due to the popular flavor. The problem of contamination is not encountered with bean and grain tempehs, which have a different composition of fatty acids that is not favorable for the growth of B. gladioli, but encourages growth of Rhizopus instead. When bean or grain tempeh has the proper color, texture and smell, it is a very strong indication the product is safe. Yellow tempe bongkrèk is always highly toxic due to toxoflavin, but tempe bongkrèk with a normal coloration may still contain lethal amounts of bongkrek acid.[23]

Oat tempeh

A new form of tempeh based on barley and oats instead of soy was developed by scientists at the Swedish Department of Food Science in 2008. It can be produced in climatic regions where it is not possible to grow soybeans.[24]


Sayur lodeh often mixed in almost rotten tempeh to add flavour.

Sometimes tempeh is left to ferment further, creating a pungently stronger "almost rotten" tempeh called tempe semangit in Javanese.

The wrappings used in tempeh making can contribute to its flavor and aroma. Though some prefer the traditional banana, waru or teak leaf, readily available plastic sheet wrappings have been increasingly widely used.

Common tempeh

Common soybean tempeh that has undergone sufficient fermentation process.

Tempe semangit

In Indonesia, ripe tempeh (two or more days old) is considered a delicacy. Names include tempe semangit (stinky tempeh) in Java, hampir busuk (the almost rotten) tempeh or tempe kemarin (yesterday tempeh). Having a slightly pungent aroma, small amounts are used as a flavouring agent in traditional Javanese sayur lodeh vegetable stew.

Tempe gódhóng

Tempe gódhóng jati (wrapped in teak leaf)

In Javanese language, the term gódhóng means "leaf".[25] Traditionally tempeh is wrapped in organic banana leaf, daun waru (Hibiscus tiliaceus leaf) or daun jati (teak leaf).[26]

Tempe murni

Pure soybean cake, tempeh made in plastic wrap without any fillings or additives such as grated raw papaya. This was meant to create a more "hygienic and pure" tempeh free from any impurities or unwanted microbes.

Cooking methods and recipes

Sautéed tempeh with string green beans, an Indonesian dish

The simplest way to cook tempeh is by frying. It is both deep-fried and stir-fried. However, there are several cooking methods and recipe variations. Among others are:

Tempe goreng

Probably the simplest and most popular way to prepare tempeh in Indonesia. The tempeh is sliced and seasoned in a mixture of ground garlic, coriander seeds and salt, and then deep fried in palm oil.[27] The tempeh might be coated in batter prior to frying, or directly fried without any batter.

Tempe bacem

Tempe bacem is a traditional Javanese dish originating in Central Java. Bacem is a Javanese cooking method of braising in spices and palm sugar. The tempeh is first braised in a mixture of coconut water, palm sugar, and spices including coriander seeds, shallots, galangal, and bay leaves, and then briefly deep-fried. The result is a moist, sweet and spicy, dark-colored tempeh. Tofu may also be used, yielding tahu bacem.[28]

Tempe mendoan

Frying tempe mendoan
Cooked tempe mendoan

This variation is often found in Purwokerto. The word mendoan originates in the Banyumas regional dialect, and means "flash-fried". The tempeh is first dipped in spiced flour before quickly frying in very hot oil, resulting in a product that is cooked on the outside, but raw or only partially so on the inside. It has a limp, soft texture compared to the more common, crisp, fully fried tempeh.

Tempe kering

Also known as kering tempe (lit: "dry tempeh"), or sambal goreng tempe if mixed with plenty of hot and spicy sambal chili pepper sauce. It is a crispy, sweet and spicy, fried tempeh.[29] The raw tempeh is cut into small sticks and thoroughly deep-fried until no longer moist, and then mixed with palm sugar, chili pepper or other spices, or with sweet soy sauce. Often it is mixed with separately fried peanuts and anchovies (ikan teri). This dry tempeh will keep for up to a month if cooked and stored properly.

Tempe orek or orak-arik tempe

This variation is almost identical to tempe kering, but is more soft and moist.[30] The sweet taste is due to generous addition of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).[31]

Tumis tempe or oseng tempe

Stir-fried tempeh with vegetables such as green bean, basil, or onion, with spices.[32] Other recipes might add coconut milk for a milky-colored, and rather moist, stir-fried tempeh.

Tempe penyet

Fried tempeh mixed with sambal chili paste in a mortar and pestle. Usually served in addition to other penyet dishes, such as ayam penyet (chicken) or iga penyet (ribs).

Tempeh satay

Tempeh skewered and grilled as satay.

Sate kere (Javanese for "poorman's satay") from Solo in Central Java is made from fluffy tempe gembus.[33] Ground tempeh can also be made into a thick sauce, such as in sate ambal, a chicken satay from Kebumen, Central Java where tempeh flavored with chili and spices replaces the more common peanut sauce.[34]

Kripik tempe

Kripik tempeh snack crackers; a thinly sliced tempeh, battered and deep fried until crispy. It is popular across Java, but notably produced in Bandung, West Java.

Grilled tempeh

Grilled tempeh over charcoal or fire.[35]

Tempeh sandwich or tempeh burger

Fried, grilled or otherwise cooked tempeh patties, sandwiched between slices of bread or hamburger buns with salad, sauces or seasonings.[36]


Freshly made, raw tempeh remains edible for a few days at room temperature. It is neither acidic nor does it contain significant amounts of alcohol. It, however, does possess stronger resistance to lipid peroxidation than unfermented soybeans due to its antioxidant contents.[37]

Cooked as tempe kering, the deep fried and seasoned bits of tempeh can last for a month or more and still be good to consume, if cooked correctly and stored properly in air-tight jar. The deep frying process removes the moisture, preventing further fermentation and deterioration, thus prolonging its shelf life.

See also


  1. ^ "Tempeh". Dictionary.com. 
  2. ^ Bennett, Beverly Lynn; Sammartano, Ray (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Cooking. Penguin. p. 17. ISBN 9781592577705. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Dragonwagon, Crescent; Gourley, Robbin (2002). Passionate Vegetarian. Workman Publishing. p. 639. ISBN 9781563057113. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Hendri F. Isnaeni (9 July 2014). "Sejarah Tempe" (in Indonesian). Historia. Retrieved 30 May 2015. 
  5. ^ The Book of Tempeh, 2nd ed., by W. Shurtleff and A. Aoyagi (2001, Ten Speed Press, p. 145)
  6. ^ "What is tempeh starter?". Tempeh.info. 
  7. ^ Shirtleff, William; Akiko Aoyagi (1979). "The Book of Tempeh". Soyinfo Center, Harper and Row. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-08-19. 
  8. ^ Watanabe, N.; Fujimoto, K.; Aoki, H. (2007). "Antioxidant activities of the water-soluble fraction in tempeh-like fermented soybean (GABA-tempeh)". International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 58 (8): 577–587. doi:10.1080/09637480701343846. 
  9. ^ Mother Earth News editors (September–October 1977). "How to Make and Cook Tempeh". Mother Earth News. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Liem, IT; Steinkraus, KH; Cronk, TC (December 1977). "Production of vitamin B-12 in tempeh, a fermented soybean food". Appl Environ Microbiol. 34 (6): 773–6. PMC 242746Freely accessible. PMID 563702. 
  11. ^ Truesdell, Delores D.; Green, Nancy R.; Acosta, Phyllis B. (1987). "Vitamin B12 Activity in Miso and Tempeh". Journal of Food Science. 52 (2): 493–494. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.1987.tb06650.x. 
  12. ^ Allison A. Yates. "National Nutrition and Public Health Policies: Issues Related to Bio-availability of Nutrients When Developing Dietary Reference Intakes (from January 2000 conference: Bio-availability of Nutrients and Other Bio-active Components from Dietary Supplements" (PDF). 
  13. ^ Keuth, S; Bisping, B (May 1994). "Vitamin B12 production by Citrobacter freundii and Klebsiella pneumoniae during tempeh fermentation" (PDF). Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 60 (5): 1495–9. PMC 201508Freely accessible. PMID 8017933. 
  14. ^ "Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It?". Vegan Health. Archived from the original on 2008-11-03. 
  15. ^ Amanda Rose. "Soy and Phytic Acid: Stick with Fermented Tempeh and Miso". Reducing Phytic Acid in Your Food: A visual analysis of the research on home kitchen remedies for phytic acid. Rebuild Market. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  16. ^ "Five Ways to Prepare Tempeh". Kitchn. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  17. ^ a b Safira, Maya. "Tempe Gembus yang Empuk Menthul-menthul Kayak Kasur". detikfood (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  18. ^ a b Mustinda, Lusiana. "Apa Benar Tempe Gembus dan Tempe Bongkrek Nutrisinya Rendah?". detikfood (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-18. 
  19. ^ Wijaya, Kirana (2014-03-01). Lauk Tempe, Tahu, & Oncom (in Indonesian). DeMedia. ISBN 9789790822061. 
  20. ^ Maharrani, Anindhita (2016-08-26). "Menjes, tempe khas dari Malang". Beritagar (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  21. ^ Aoyagi, William Shurtleff, Akiko (2010). History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Southeast Asia (13th Century To 2010): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook. Soyinfo Center. ISBN 9781928914303. 
  22. ^ Liputan6.com (25 September 2003). "Bahaya Tempe Bongkrek Kurang Sosialisasi". liputan6.com (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-18. 
  23. ^ Setiarto, Raden Haryo Bimo. "Waspadai Toksoflavin dan Asam Bongkrek Yang Dihasilkan Bakteri Pseudomonas" (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-18. 
  24. ^ "New Vegetarian Food With Several Health Benefits". ScienceDaily. May 30, 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2018. 
  25. ^ "Arti kata godhong (godhong) dalam kamus Jawa-Indonesia. Terjemahan dari bahasa Jawa ke bahasa Indonesia - Kamus lengkap online semua bahasa". kamuslengkap.com (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  26. ^ "Mikrobiologi Tempe Daun Waru". Scribd (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  27. ^ "Fried Tempeh & Tofu | Tahu Tempe Goreng". www.lestariweb.com. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  28. ^ "Tahu dan Tempe Bacem (Braised Spiced Tofu and Temphe)". What To Cook Today. 2017-07-21. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  29. ^ "Crispy And Spicy Fried Tempe (Kering Tempe)". Indonesian Recipe. 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  30. ^ "Tempe Orek Recipe | Another Classical of Cooking Tempeh". indonesianfoods-recipes.blogspot.co.id. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  31. ^ "Orek Tempe". Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  32. ^ "4.971 resep oseng tempe enak dan sederhana". Cookpad (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  33. ^ "11 resep sate tempe gembus enak dan sederhana". Cookpad (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  34. ^ "Recipe for Sate Ambal". chickensatay.org. Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  35. ^ "How to Master Grilled Tempeh - Organic Authority". Organic Authority. 2011-08-24. Retrieved 2018-01-20. 
  36. ^ "Tempeh Vegan Club Sandwiches Recipe - Love and Lemons". Love and Lemons. 2017-04-06. Retrieved 2018-01-20. 
  37. ^ Umm al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods
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