Tempeh: A Fermented Soybean with Many Probiotic Benefits

June 22, 2017
Tempeh - Dr. Axe

Tempeh is a fermented soybean that originated in Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and a controlled fermentation process that includes adding a tempeh starter, which is a mix of live mold. When it sits for a day or two, it becomes a cake-like, fermented food product.

Tempeh is becoming popular, and today more and more grocery stores hold tempeh products. This is because tempeh is known to reduce cholesterol, increase bone density, reduce menopausal symptoms and promote muscle recovery. In addition to these amazing benefits, tempeh has the same protein quality as meat and contains high levels of vitamins B5, B6, B3 and B2.

Tempeh Nutrition Facts

Tempeh’s fermentation process and its use of the whole soybean gives it a higher content of protein vitamins and minerals. It has a firm texture and an earthy flavor, which becomes more noticeable as it ages. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine. Its ability to take on many flavors and textures makes it a great substitute for meat products.

100 grams of tempeh has about:

  • 196 calories
  • 11 grams fat
  • 3 grams saturated fat
  • zero cholesterol
  • 9 grams carbohydrate
  • zero sugar
  • 18 grams protein
  • 0.4 milligrams riboflavin/vitamin B2 (21 percent DV)
  • 2.1 milligrams niacin (11 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (10 percent DV)
  • 21 micrograms folate (5 percent DV)
  • 0.5 milligrams pantothenic acid (5 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams thiamine (4 percent DV)
  • 0.1 micrograms vitamin B12 (2 percent DV)
  • 1.3 milligrams manganese (64 percent DV)
  • 0.5 milligrams copper (27 percent DV)
  • 253 milligrams phosphorus (25 percent DV)
  • 77 milligrams magnesium (19 percent DV)
  • 2 milligrams iron (12 percent DV)
  • 401 milligrams potassium (11 percent DV)
  • 96 milligrams calcium (10 percent DV)
  • 1.6 milligrams zinc (10 percent DV)
  • 14 milligrams sodium (1 percent DV)

7 Tempeh Benefits

1. Contains Probiotics

The consumption of fermented, probiotic foods has many benefits. The microflora that lives in fermented foods creates a protective lining in the intestines and shields it against pathogenic factors, such as salmonella and E.coli.

Tempeh and other fermented foods lead to an increase of antibodies and a stronger immune system; plus, they regulate the appetite and reduce sugar and refined carb cravings. In fact, fermented vegetables can help treat candida in the gut. Probiotics are also able to break down sugars so they’re more easily digested, break down carbohydrates, control harmful bacteria in the body, fight diarrhea, help with indigestion, fight chronic inflammation and boost immune system function. 

2. Reduces Cholesterol

A scientific review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated 11 studies that were conducted between 1990 and 2006. Researchers found that soy isoflavones, which are found in tempeh and other soy products, significantly decreased serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. They also noticed that soy proteins that contained enriched or depleted isoflavones also significantly improved lipid profiles.

The niacin in tempeh is also considered an important treatment option for helping reduce dangerously high cholesterol levels. Niacin, or vitamin B3, has been proven to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with mixed dyslipidemia.  Dyslipidemia is an elevation of plasma cholesterol, triglycerides or both.

A 2011 study done at the University of Kansas Medical Center found that supplementing with niacin has been shown to be very effective at lowering cholesterol naturally for those who are at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke or other forms of heart disease due to having high LDL cholesterol levels, low levels of HDL cholesterol and elevated triglyceride levels.

3. Increases Bone Density

The calcium provided by tempeh is involved in the growth and maintenance of bones. Calcium, together with other essential minerals like vitamin K and vitamin D, is needed to maintain bone mineral density and prevent weak, brittle bones and fractures. It helps form a part of hydroxyapatite, the mineral complex that makes your bones and teeth hard; this complex maintains bone density and helps bones heal. People with a calcium deficiency are susceptible to having weak and pliable bones, increasing the risk of fractures.

Copper, another mineral present in tempeh, also plays an important role in growing bones, in addition to aiding connective tissue and muscle growth. A copper deficiency can show up in brittle bones that are prone to breaking and not fully developing, plus it leads to osteoporosis, low strength and muscle weakness, weak joints, and more.

Research done at the University of Akron in Ohio suggests that copper consumption increases the rate of bone healing and plays a key role in the maintenance and repair of tissue. State-of-the-art approaches to treatment of bone diseases, including the lengthening of bone and repairing fractures, can be improved by paying closer attention to the role of copper as a mineral required for optimal treatment.

4. Reduces Menopausal Symtoms

The isoflavones in tempeh are known to serve as a natural remedy for menopausal relief. In 2000, the North American Menopausal Society established a goal to develop an evidence-based consensus opinion on the role of isoflavones in menopausal health. After evaluating animal and human studies, the most convincing health effects were attributed to the actions of isoflavones on lipids. The main biological functions of lipids include storing energy, signaling and acting as structural components of cell membranes.

Studies associated isoflavones with statistically significant reductions in low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides, as well as increases in high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Data even supported the efficacy of isoflavones in reducing the incidence and severity of hot flashes, but some studies did not find any difference between the isoflavone recipients and the controls. The researchers suggest that although more evidence is needed to determine specific doses, clinicians should consider recommending whole foods that contain isoflavones, like tempeh, to menopausal women, especially for the cardiovascular benefits of these foods.


Tempeh guide - Dr. Axe


5. Provides Muscle-Building Protein

A hundred grams of tempeh provides 37 percent of an adult’s recommended daily intake of protein — that’s a great source of protein! This is comparable to 100 grams of pork chops or chicken legs. And to boot, the fermentation process has already converted some of the protein into amino acids, so your digestive system doesn’t have to work so hard with tempeh.

Protein foods are important because they keep our metabolism running, our energy up and our blood sugar levels stable. Protein is used in every single cell of the body and is critical for building muscle mass, supporting neurological function, aiding in digestion, balancing hormones and keeping an upbeat mood.

Because high-protein foods like tempeh make us feel full and require more work for the body to break down and digest, they contribute to weight loss and are more beneficial than fast-acting refined carbohydrates.

6. Contains Diabetes-Fighting Manganese

With almost 65 percent of your daily value covered with 100 grams of tempeh, manganese is an important mineral present in this beneficial food. Manganese plays a role in numerous chemical processes, including synthesis of nutrients like cholesterol, carbohydrates and proteins. Manganese is also involved in the formation of bone mass, and it helps balance hormones naturally

One of the most important benefits of manganese — its ability to fight diabetes. Manganese is needed to help with proper production of digestive enzymes responsible for a process called gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis involves the conversion of protein’s amino acids into sugar and the balance of sugar within the bloodstream. Manganese has been shown to help prevent overly high blood sugar levels that can contribute to diabetes.

A 2013 study conducted at the Departments of Internal Medicine and Biochemistry at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City found that manganese supplementation in mice increased insulin secretion to improve glucose tolerance under conditions of dietary stress. These are promising results concerning the efficacy of manganese as a natural remedy for diabetes.

7. Treats Cancer and Inflammatory Diseases

Angiogenesis is the physiological process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels. This is a completely normal and vital process for growth and development, but it’s also a fundamental step in the transition of tumors from a benign state to a malignant one. This is why the use of angiogenesis inhibitors has become popular in the treatment of cancer.

A 2005 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition tested if isoflavones, the polyphenolic compounds found in soybean products, might be useful agents for the inhibition of angiogenesis. The results suggest that the isolated isoflavones from tempeh can be an important tool for the treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases.

A 1998 study published by the American Association for Cancer Research found that soy isoflavone consumption may exert cancer-preventive effects by decreasing estrogen synthesis and altering metabolism away from gene-damaging metabolites toward inactive metabolites. The study involved 12 healthy premenopausal women who consumed soy protein supplements for 100 days. Compared with the control diet, soy isoflavone proved to have cancer-treating effects.

Eighty percent of your immune system is housed in your gut, so it makes perfect sense that research has confirmed probiotic supplementation can stop tumor growth. In addition to supporting your immunity to disease, research has also shown that probiotics can improve digestive function, aid mineral absorption and heal leaky gut syndrome — all contributing to cancer prevention!

The History of Tempeh

On the island of Java, in Indonesia, tempeh is a stable source of protein. The soybean has been recognized in Java since the 12th to 13th century. The discovery of tempeh is connected to tofu production in Java. In the 17th century, the Chinese introduced the tofu-making industry in Java. According to legend, tempeh was discovered accidentally when discarded soybean residue caught the spores and grew a certain whitish fungi that was found to be edible.

To prepare tempeh, whole soybeans are softened by soaking them and then removing the outside covers; then it is partly cooked. A milk acidulent, usually vinegar, is sometimes added to tempeh to lower the pH; this creates a better environment for mold growth. A fermentation starter that contains the spores of fungus Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae is then mixed in to the softened soybeans. The beans are spread into a thin layer and are left to ferment for 24 to 36 hours at a temperature of around 86 degrees. Typically, the beans are then knitted together by a mat of white mycelium, filaments.

How to Use Tempeh

Tempeh is available to purchase at your local health food store. You may notice that some packages of tempeh include beans that have a white, feathery fluff growing on them, and this is totally normal and safe to eat. Tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator when eaten within a week or so, and it freezes well for later use.

You can eat tempeh raw or by boiling it and eating it with miso or soy sauce. It can also be used as a substitute for meat in any meal. It’s easy and fun to cook with tempeh because it absorbs other flavors quickly; plus it’s delicious — with a mild and nutty flavor. When cooking with tempeh, you can crumble it, slice it or cube it. Cooked tempeh can be eaten alone or used in chili, stir frys, soups, salads, sandwiches and stews.

Tempeh Recipes

For people who don’t eat meat, or want to have a meat-less day, tempeh is an excellent option that is still high in protein. That’s why I recommend you try adding tempeh to my Slow Cooker Bison Chili Recipe. You can swap out the bison and use tempeh instead, or use less bison and add tempeh as well.

Because tempeh easily crumbles, it would be the perfect addition or substitute for my Taco Salad Recipe and my Sloppy Joe’s Recipe.

It also makes a great base in place of beef in my  Spaghetti Squash with Red Sauce Recipe. You will love how tempeh absorbs the flavors of garlic, basil and oregano in this dish. It’s the perfect meatless (and healthy) option!

Possible Tempeh Side Effects

If you are new to eating fermented foods, take it slow at first — otherwise you may get a stomachache. Start by eating about a cup of tempeh.

If you have a history of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, avoid eating tempeh because it can elevate levels of estrogen and trigger breast cell reproduction. The research on this issue is mixed, but until there is a clear answer regarding tempeh’s ability to accelerate the causes of breast cancer when eaten in excessive amounts, it is safer to avoid the food altogether.

Read Next: Natto: The Fermented Soy Superfood

Josh Axe

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