My adventure in learning how to make a perfect tempeh
I make tempeh every week to provide fresh tempeh for my family. My tempeh making adventure started a year ago when I moved to the States. After a lot of experimenting, now I have found the best and easy way how to make tempeh at home.
In this article I'll share with you how to make delicious and good-looking tempeh easily using commonly found household items. Yes, you don't need to buy extra equipment to make tempeh. I hope this simple guide will inspire you to make your own tempeh, the tasty and healthy food, for your own family too.
All photos were taken by the author unless otherwise stated.
My Latest Homemade Tempeh - Ready for Cooking
The story behind my tempeh making journey
Why I start making homemade tempeh
I was born and raised in Indonesia, the country where tempeh comes from. In Indonesia, tempeh is well known as an affordable source of protein. And it is sold very cheaply, compared to chicken and beef. Just as a comparison, one package of tempeh (measuring 8x8x1 inches) in USA costs around US$3.00, while a similar block of tempeh in Indonesia costs only Rp 1000.00 (or equal to 10 cents in USD). Not only affordable, tempeh is also very nutritious. No wonder, my mom loves to include tempeh in our daily menu since my childhood. Don't be surprise that I used to eat tempeh almost every day. It's just like a must-have dish in my family.
When I live in Singapore, I realized that tempeh is much more expensive. In the traditional market, I get 3 little packages of tempeh for SGD$1.00, which is just enough for 4 servings. In the supermarket (I bought mine from NTUC Fair Price) it is even more pricey, 1 medium package for SGD$1.30. So I resisted myself from buying too much. But things changed when I got married. My husband is a die-hard fan of tempeh. Then again, tempeh came to our daily menu again.
After we moved to the States, on of my friend showed me the frozen tempeh sold in one of Asian store. It is expensive. But, out of curiosity I bought one to try, that was the first time I bought a frozen tempeh. Previously I always ate fresh (refrigerated only) tempeh. To our surprise, the tempeh we bought was very inferior in terms of taste and texture. We were disappointed. We do have local co-op here that sells fresh tempeh, but the price is even higher. I don't want to fork out more money again to buy something that I may not like it.
And that's how I begin making my own tempeh. My mom was very kind, she gave a pound of tempeh starter (made in Indonesia) to me before I left Singapore. My experiment began, starting from a very small batch, not even enough to make one dish for our little family. But then I have committed to make tempeh more frequently. Therefore I started making tempeh every week. The more I make my homemade tempeh, the more I learn how to make a perfect one.
And proudly presented below, how to make a perfect tempeh.
Ready to make some tempeh?
Check out this book to learn the details
Things you need to make tempeh
Here are things that you need to make tempeh. I will keep this list as simple as possible as I will discuss some of them in details in the subsequent paragraphs.
You can buy soybeans from Asian market (they usually sell in packages), from local co-op, or if you are lucky like me, you can buy them in bulk from Winco Foods. If you just starting making tempeh, a pound of soybeans would be a good amount.
- Tempeh starter
It is a magic powder sprinkled into soybeans, which will transform them into the white, meaty tempeh cake.
- Tempeh incubator
Tempeh needs a special place to grow its mold, where the temperature is controlled in certain range. Don't step back, it's actually very easy to make an incubator from several things that you already have at home.
- Plastic containers / plastic bags
This is where the soybean is placed before going into the tempeh incubator.
- A stockpot or 4-quart pot to soak the soybeans
- A large tray and kitchen paper to spread the tempeh and mix it with the starter
Fried battered tempeh, so yummy
Tempeh Starter - Where to buy the tempeh starter?
If you are looking for tempeh starter, here are several places where you can get it online.
- Tempeh.Info (European-based tempeh starter distributor)
This is where I order my tempeh starter. Not only they distribute free samples, they also charge flat-rate shipping no matter where you are and how much do you buy. My suggestion is try the sample to check if it works for you, and buy in bulk once yo
- Cultures for Health
This tempeh starter sold here is suitable for first timer. Its content is enough to make 4 batches of tempeh (each batch uses 2 cups of soy beans)
- Gem Cultures
This is a US-based tempeh starter distributor. They not only distribute tempeh starter, but also other types of starter (including the one for making tofu). The only thing I don't like about this one is they only accept check payment (means you need
- Top Cultures
This is another company selling tempeh starter, with flat shipping rate and accepts online payment. I suggest, buy the smallest package first to try, and then buy in bulk once you are ready to make some more batches.
Tempeh Incubator - A warmer for your tempeh making process
In a simple term, tempeh incubator is just a warm place to put your soybeans so that it can transform into tempeh.
To make a good tempeh incubator, here is what you need to note:
- The temperature of incubator should be around 82 to 90 F (or in Celsius, it would be 28-32 C).
- Ideally, the incubator should have some shelving system to allow the soybeans to breath (wired shelves or something similar would be the best).
I had a few experiments with the incubators. I don't want to fork out extra money to buy one so I just use what I found in my house.
- Kitchen cabinet
Check the temperature of your kitchen cabinet. Usually the cabinet above the stove or microwave oven will have warmer temperature compared to the rest. If the temperature is around 75-78 F, you can easily wrap your bagged soybeans with hand towel and put them in that particular cabinet. When I first time made tempeh, I always use this method. I would say, the chance of success is 50-50. Sometimes you get a nice tempeh, sometimes you don't.
- Your oven.
If you have oven, then you have an incubator. A gas oven usually will have a tiny pilot light which if lit, it will make your oven temperature somewhere between 82-90 F. So, what you need to do is just lit up the pilot light (no, you don't need to turn on your oven), and put your soybeans on the rack. Voila, you're done.
In my house, I have an electric oven which does not have a pilot light. Instead, it has a big oven light, which if turned on, will create a 104 F temperature inside the oven. What I do, is I turn on the oven light, cover it with a small carton box to make it dimmer, and prop the oven door open with a kitchen towel (1-2 inches gap would be the best).
- Your laundry room.
This is another option if you don't have oven at home. In my house, my washing machine and drier are located inside a small room (just nice to fit them) with some shelving installed above them). So what I do, I put a table lamp inside the room, lit it on, and voila, I have a new tempeh incubator. This way, I don't need to worry if I need to bake something but my oven is still used to incubate my tempeh.
More ideas to build a cheap tempeh incubator
You can use an old fridge, cardboard box, or a styrofoam cooler to build a tempeh incubator. Old fridge is ideal because it already has a built-in rack to put your tempeh. Otherwise, you simply need to build a cheap rack using either some set of bamboo skewers / chopsticks or simply use a cookie cooling rack or a grill tray. No, I don't ask you to buy a new cooler (why not check some thrift stores, who knows you can get a good deal on them, or even free).
Now that you have the box with the rack, you need a heat source to increase the temperature of your preferred incubator box. Heat source can come from a light bulb (and preferably a dimer to control how bright the light is lit up) or you can even use a heating pad. Put your heat source on the base of your incubator, and put your packaged soybeans on the rack, and you have a nice and cheap tempeh incubator.
For more detailed information, I have listed here useful links to some creative ideas on creating tempeh incubator.
- Tempeh incubator
Learn how to make an incubator to grow tempeh. This classic page shows you a brief idea how to make incubator using an old fridge.
- Kirill Levchenko's Tempeh Incubator
This tempeh incubator is a bit on higher end. It takes several extra items such as wooden planks to make, but I guarantee you won't be disappointed once you make one.
- Making tempeh
Here is a creative solution to use a yoghurt maker as a tempeh incubator. Wow!
- DIY Tempeh Incubator from A Cardboard Box
This is a DIY tempeh incubator made from a cardboard box and thermostat.
A well-made tempeh incubator from old fridge and chopsticks.
- Tempeh Incubator from Styrofoam Box
Here is the tempeh incubator made from styrofoam box and bamboo chopsticks.
- Shagebark - Lights Out Tempeh Maker
A bright idea using a hot watercooler as a heat source for tempeh incubator. No light bulb installation needed.
How To Make Tempeh Step by Step
- Soaking the soybeans
Place your soybeans into the stock pot (here I use a 4-quart pot), covered it with plenty of water. The soybeans will expand, so make sure you have plenty of water inside the pot. As a rule of thumb, the water level should be more than 1 inch height from the soybeans.
Soak it overnight, and after that your soybeans is ready for dehulling process. To make the task easier, soak soybeans with water, squeeze the soy beans with a kneading motion. The hulls will float and you can pour off the water to remove the skins. Repeat this task continuously until the amount of soybean skins is negligible (usually I do this 7-10 times). Note that you don't aim for a clean, skin-free result, a few soybeans with hulls intact should be fine.
- Cooking the soybeans
Wash the already dehulled soy beans, cook the soybeans on a pot (filled with enough water) just for about 30 minutes. Drain any excess water using a colander.
- Drying the soybeans
Dry the soybeans furthermore to remove any water. You can use several ways:
(1) Put the soybeans back into the pot, on low fire, stry fry them for about 5 minutes until the beans feels dry to touch.
(2) Spread the soybeans onto a large tray (lined with paper towel), and use hair dryer to dry the soybeans.
(3) Put the soybeans inside a zipped cloth bag (I used a pillowcase with a zipper), and throw it to the clothes drier. Dry on low heat for 20 minutes. This is my favorite method, because I can do other things while waiting my soybeans to dry, and I feel confident that they are really really dry.
- Inoculating soybeans with the starter
Now that the soybeans already dry, spread it evenly on a large kitchen tray (lined with paper towel). Let it cool down for about 1 hour. After that, sprinkle your tempeh starter into the soybeans. How much? You can refer to the tempeh starter package as different package has different suggested amount. As for me, I will start with one teaspoon of tempeh starter and mix it evenly with the soybeans. I would again add and mix until all soybeans has some tempeh starter attached on it. From this step and the rest, I strongly recommend using a clean and dry wooden spatula to deal with the soybeans. This is to prevent any possible contamination that may hinder the yeast growth.
- Packing your soybeans
Now you are ready to fill your plastic container with the soybeans. If you are using plastic / ziplock bags, poke some holes on the bag at a distance of 1 cm apart in both of the two sides. You can use a toothpick to poke the holes. Fill the plastic bags with the soybeans and spread it evenly, leaving about 0.5 inch empty space at the opening. This empty space is important to help the tempeh yeast to grow. Finally, close the opening securely.
Similarly if you are using a plastic container (which I prefer), don't forget to make some holes at the base of the container and the lid. Fill it with soybeans until almost full. As a rule of thumb, when you close the container, the soybeans will still have a room to move when you shake the container.
Using a plastic container is better than plastic bags, because you can reuse the container and you don't need to poke holes every time you make tempeh.
- Fermentation process
Now, put your packed soybeans inside the incubator to start the fermentation. Make sure that your incubator is warm enough when you are putting your soybeans there. Usually I start lit the light in my incubator 1 hour prior to use. After 30-36 hours, the fermentation will be complete, and the soybeans will be evenly covered by white mycellium, making it looks like a white cake.
I notice that the tempeh in plastic bags completes its fermentation faster than the one in plastic container. So, by 30 hours, the tempeh in plastic bag is ready to be removed from incubator. For tempeh in plastic containers, I will only remove them from the incubator after 36 hours.
- Storing your tempeh
You can store your tempeh in refrigerator (up to 7 days), or in freezer if you want to keep it longer. I like to store my tempeh in freezer so that whenever I want to cook them it still looks fresh. I don't recommend storing tempeh (even though in freezer) for too long. Usually I try to finish my tempeh within 1 week (or at most 2) while storing them in freezer. When I feel I get some extra, I give some to my friends.
Tips on how to make tempeh easily
If you plan to make tempeh in a large batch, you may be taken a back by the tedious dehulling process. But wait, for my personal use, I prefer to dehul the soybeans by hand because I am making a small batch; thus it does not take long to dehull all the beans. For larger batch, I would strongly recommend to own a meat grinder to crack the soybeans before the soaking process.
My very first tempeh, I was experimenting by putting it in different warm places
I started making tempeh using ziploc bags. I didn't even use a tempeh incubator, I only wrapped my beans with hand towel to keep it warm. However I was not satisfied with the result. My tempeh easily crumbles when sliced.
Next batch of tempeh, bigger portion with more confidence
Then I started using oven as my incubator, adding a shallow dish of warm water to help with the humidity. After all, tempeh comes from a very humid country. My tempeh became better, but still, the result is not pretty consistent. There are weeks where my tempeh was a huge success, and there are somewhere I simply threw them to the garbage because the fermentation fails.
My tempeh still crumbles when sliced, despite the better look
I was wondering could that be that my tempeh starter (my very first tempeh starter was made in Indonesia) is not suitable for use in 4-climate zone. Or is it simply because the humidity level here in Idaho is so low such that it prevents the yeast to grow well. After a few months using my first tempeh starter, I heard that Indonesian tempeh starter was being recalled due to possibility of Salmonella contamination. I used this opportunity to get a free sample starter from tempeh.info.
About the same time, my oven light got broken and I could no longer use my oven as an incubator. Actually, I tried to put a table lamp (after removing the lamp shade) inside the oven, and cover it up with some kitchen towel. But the kitchen towel got burnt and my husband forbade me from using it again. Then, I went on search experimenting several spaces inside my home to find a perfect place to grow my tempeh. I tried the kitchen cabinet, kitchen drawer, space below the heater, and finally I found my laundry room to be the perfect one.
After I change my tempeh starter and change my incubator, now my tempeh is perfect.
Finally, a perfect tempeh
How much do you save when making a home made tempeh?
Perhaps you are wondering how much I save when making my own tempeh, as compared with if I buy the ready-made ones from store. So here's my rough calculation.
Soybeans: I bought my soy beans in bulk from WinCo Foods for $0.91 per pound. Every time I make tempeh, I roughly use about 1 pound, so $0.91 per week for soy beans.
Tempeh starter: I bought the 75 gr package from tempeh.info for 18 euro. With shipping charges, it becomes 22 euro (or roughly US$30). I believe this starter package will last for about 6 months (or maybe more). Having said that, it means that I will spend at most US$1.25 for tempeh starter per week.
In total, I spend $2.25 to make my tempeh, which yields 4-5 packages of tempeh as compared to store-bought one. If I buy from store, I will spend at least $13 to buy 4 packages of tempeh. So I save $10 every week.
If I want to further calculate how much I have saved in a year (considering 1 year equals to 52 weeks), it would be around $520. Wow, isn't it fantastic?
I know this is just a rough calculation, since I don't take into account the water and electricity that I use to make tempeh. But yes, the important point here is you save so much when you make your own tempeh. So, why not start to make one now?
Image credit:401(K) on Flickr
Fried tempeh and veggie salad, ready for a feast
Alright, that's my tempeh making story, what about you? Ready to make some homemade tempeh?
Are you ready to make tempeh at home?
Emily Tack from USA on November 17, 2014:
I simply don't have time to add another thing to my daily agenda, but I do love tempeh, and enjoyed reading your article.
If I can find a way to do it at home, following your excellent advice, I should try it. As much as I like it, making it at home would save me a lot of expense!
happynutritionist on March 11, 2013:
This is excellent and very detailed...appreciate the tips on how to make the incubator. I just watched a cooking show with Japanese cuisine, I guess this is my night for Asian food...I love it!
Fran Tollett on February 12, 2013:
Your tempeh starter reminds me of sourdough starter. It's probably similar. Looks great and a very interesting lens.
fifta (author) on February 06, 2013:
@anonymous: I am glad that you think you can make it at home. Yes, definitely, you should try it!
anonymous on February 05, 2013:
Thank you for this very detailed lens. My family loves tempeh and it is very expensive where we live, this page makes me feel that I can make it at home.
fifta (author) on January 15, 2013:
@SuzieJames: thank you, Suzie.
fifta (author) on January 14, 2013:
@anonymous: Hi, after the soybeans have been dehulled and cooked, I prefer not to touch it bare hands. I use wooden spatula to mix it with tempeh starter and to transfer it to my tempeh container. Thanks for reminding me, I guess I need to add this info above.
Some people also prefer to add vinegar in the process, but I do not do this as I think it is not necessary.
SuzieJames on January 14, 2013:
You just made making tempeh look soooo easy! Its one of my very favorite foods and I really enjoyed reading your lens.
anonymous on January 12, 2013:
Thanks so much for your instructions on making tempeh. I heard that it is easy to contaminate it in the process of making. Could you share with us any other precautions we could take? Tks!
flycatcherrr on January 11, 2013:
Well done! You've given all the information we need (and a lot of inspiration, through your links and photographs) to make tempeh at home. I agree - frozen tempeh is not at all satisfactory! :)
Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on January 10, 2013:
I would love to taste tempeh. You make it sound really good and explained it very well.
Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on January 10, 2013:
I would love to taste tempeh. You make it sound really good and explained it very well.
fifta (author) on January 10, 2013:
@Elsie Hagley: Thank you kiwinana71. Yes, you should give it a try to I'm sure you will be addicted.
fifta (author) on January 10, 2013:
@applejacking: Hi, Rarity. Glad that you have visited Bali and tasted tempeh. Yes, it is cheap and tasty, that's why most Indonesians love tempeh.
Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on January 09, 2013:
Nice lens. This is something new to me, but you have done a great job in explaining it, that I must have a go at making some. Just looking at your photos, i am sure I will love it. Thanks for sharing.
applejacking on January 09, 2013:
It's delicious. I've tried tempeh before when I was in Bali about three years ago. So crunchy and it's cheaper than other Indonesian food.
fifta (author) on January 08, 2013:
@anonymous: Hey Dewine, glad that you love tempeh so much. Actually, there are more options to build tempeh incubators other than what I have mentioned, but you need to buy something extra, and I haven't tried them I guess I'll update my lens for additional explanation and include some links for them.
anonymous on January 08, 2013:
I love, love, love tempeh, but cannot buy it where I live (a village in South Wales). That means I have it maybe once or twice a year if I am lucky. As far as making it, I doubt I could even buy soya beans easily here. My central heating is set to 16 deg C, my gas oven does not have a pilot light and I do not own a clothes drier. So I cannot see any way to setting up a domestic soya plant :( Great lens, though!