This photo depicts the two plant-based protein powerhouses, tofu and tempeh. The tempeh and block of tofu is arranged naturally on a backdrop of a wooden pallet with various dried soybeans dotted around the dark wood tabletop, there is also a bowl of cubed unseasoned tofu on the left of the image.

Tofu and Tempeh: What’s The Difference?

Both tofu and tempeh are fantastic additions to a plant-based diet and flexitarians, and both are products of soy, with tofu being made from soybean milk and tempeh directly from soybeans. But that is where their similarities end.

Tofu is more widely known whilst tempeh often flies under the radar. They have entirely distinct flavours and textures, tofu is mostly bland and soft, whilst tempeh has a much more earthy taste and a chewier texture.  

We like to think we have a lot of expertise in this field. After all, we do know a thing or two about our tempeh, its benefits, and how it differs from other plant-based alternatives! So allow us to take  you on a little educational journey through the world of tofu and tempeh.

What is Tofu?

Produced in a method similar to cheesemaking, tofu is made by condensing soy milk into solid blocks, and can be eaten baked, fried, steamed or raw. It originated in China and has a simple, nutty taste, but its texture means that can easily take on the flavours of the food it is cooked with.

This image shows some plain white unseasoned tofu, cut into cubes and placed in a bowl in the centre of the frame. Around the wooden chopping board on which the bowl is placed are an assortment of ingredients that can be used to flavour the tofu; including limes, whole garlic bulbs, soy sauce and salt and pepper.

What is Tempeh?

Hailing from Indonesia, tempeh is a soybean block with a unique texture. By packing and fermenting whole soybeans together, the outcome is a dense block that tastes nutty and earthy. It  contains more protein, fibre and vitamins when compared to tofu, and holds a stronger flavour. It can be enjoyed fried, baked or even barbecued. 

This image shows a block of tempeh, sliced to show off the cross-section of the whole beans pressed into a cake shape, producing a dimpled effect on the inside. The tempeh is placed atop a dark wooden surface and fronds of a bamboo plant fill the corners of the image.

Nutritional Value

It would seem that not all soy products are created equal, so let’s assess the face value of tofu and tempeh. Tempeh boasts 22g of protein per 100g which is twice as much as tofu and eggs, and three times as much as lentils. It is also full of fibre, even more than brown bread per gram. Tofu is high in iron and calcium, but also has more fat than tempeh. Whilst it does contain vitamins, it is low on fibre. As tofu is made with soy milk (which is made from processed soybeans) it is not a whole food, unlike tempeh which is produced with whole soybeans. 

Production

Tempeh is produced through fermentation, which is hailed for improving the nutritional value of food and beneficial for gut health. The process is simple and takes a few days, using only three natural ingredients. The fermentation  kickstarts the digestion process and makes nutrients easier for us to absorb. Research has shown that in order to improve digestion and take care of your gut microbiome, you should eat “a wide range of plant-based and probiotic foods”, as the live cultures “might encourage more microbes to grow” (BBC Food). Tempeh certainly fits the bill here. Tofu is not usually fermented so the production process is quicker but it contains quite a few steps due to its cheesemaking-like production. 

Cooking

Both products are wonderfully versatile and can be enjoyed in a huge variety of ways. Tempeh’s firmer texture allows it to be baked, fried and added to wholesome dishes such as curry, stir-fry, pasta and many more. It marinades incredibly well and is super adept at soaking up flavour. Tofu is softer in its consistency, allowing it to be substituted for ingredients such as egg and cheese. Someone looking to substitute meat, for example, would find tempeh easier to cook with, as it retains its firm texture when cooked. 

So, who comes out on top? Well, tofu and tempeh have their own separate benefits, and you don’t necessarily need to choose! It may be, that you are a flexitarian looking to substitute meat in your weekly meals, and tempeh’s texture and flavour is more suitable. You could be fully plant-based and wanting to recreate scrambled eggs, so tofu allows you a softer consistency. Whichever suits you, both of these soy products are a wonderful inclusion in your cooking. 

However, we are most certainly biased on this subject, and definitely prefer tempeh overall for a few key reasons. We love its super flavoursome taste, firm texture and high nutritional value, and  find that overall we’re able to simply do more with tempeh. Whatever their similarities and differences, we’re just head over heels for this Indonesian superfood!

Tofu Vs Tempeh: A list of key differences. Tofu is: made with soy milk, curdled and pressed, has a spongy soft texture, a plain taste and contains 12g of protein per serving. Tempeh is: made with whole beans, fermented using good bacterias, has a firm and meaty texture and a nutty taste, and contains 22g of protein per serving.

Sources: 

BBC Food. (2019, August 27). What should I eat for a healthy gut? https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/what_should_you_eat_for_a_healthy_gut

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