Foolproof Tempeh—Lessons from Experience

Tempeh is better if you make it yourself

Black-bean-&-black-rice tempeh — photo by author
Chickpea-peanut tempeh after it’s finished. I’m cutting it to fit the glass storage container. — photo by author

Discoveries from trial and error

Some of the things I discovered by trying them:

  • Do not mix spices or herbs with the beans before culturing. Spices and herbs tend to be anti-fungal, one reason they’re used in food preservation — as in summer sausage, for example. On the other hand, you can add spices and herbs to your heart’s content after the tempeh is made — as a marinade (e.g., tempeh bacon) or spices mixed in (e.g., tempeh sausage).
  • Do not add a little baking soda to the cooking water for the beans. Baking soda (about 1 teaspoon per cup of dried beans) makes the beans cook quicker, be more tender, and keeps the skins from splitting — all good, but the tempeh fungus requires an acidic environment. If the beans are alkaline (as from baking soda in the cooking water), the fungus will sicken and die.
  • Do not maintain a constant temperature of 88ºF (31ºC) after the initial stage of fermentation. That temperature works well to start the culture, but once the fungus is established and traces of mold begin to appear, the temperature must be lowered, otherwise the fungus will start to spore. The sporing bodies form gray or black patches — edible but unsightly. Once the tempeh fungus has taken hold (12 to 24 hours after starting it), remove the batch from the incubator and put it on a raised rack to continue fermentation at room temperature.

Step 1. Choose the ingredients.

Pick the kind of beans you like and that fit recipes you have in mind. Soybeans are great, and I make soybean tempeh often, but I also like to use other beans (black, pinto, garbanzo, or kidney beans, for example). I generally include a second ingredient—most often cooked intact whole grain (black/forbidden rice, kamut, spelt, red fife wheat, whole rye, or hulled barley, for example). I’ve also used peanuts as a second ingredient — see photo above. I cook beans and grain separately, then combine them in a bowl when I add the tempeh culture (and possibly vinegar — see Step 2).

Step 2. Cook, dry, and cool beans (and grain if using).

Beans and grains have different cooking times, so cook them separately. I normally make a 3-cup batch, which I measure before I cook. I start by measuring 3 cups of uncooked beans, or 2 cups of uncooked beans and 1 cup of grain, though I might not use all the grain. (Obviously, 3 cups of uncooked beans will make more than 3 cups of cooked beans — 1 cup of uncooked beans will make about 3 cups when cooked, and grain also expands when cooked.)

Step 3. Create an acidic environment for the fungus.

Rhizopus prospers in an acidic environment, which you get by using vinegar (apple cider, white, brown rice, or red or white wine vinegar—any will work: the acidity is what’s important).

Step 4. Add the tempeh culture and bag the beans (and grain if used).

After the beans (and grain) have been dried and cooled, put them into a bowl. If you’re adding vinegar using method (b), add 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of uncooked beans (and 1 tablespoon for 1 cup of grain, if you’re using it).

Chickpea-peanut tempeh immediately after bagging it in a fresh-produce bag. — photo by author

Step 5. Incubate the batch to get the fungus going, then transfer the batch to the countertop to finish.

Initial incubation can be done in an oven on the proofing setting (if your oven has that) or in an oven with the light on and the door slightly open. For various reasons I decided to build my own tempeh incubator using rigid 1″ foam insulation board (sold in 24″ squares for projects; three square provide enough, once cut, to make an excellent incubator — details at the link). I lay the bag on a raised rack over a seedling warming pad whose thermostat lets me regulate the temperature

Chickpea-peanut tempeh with fungus established. This is ready to leave the incubator. — photo by author

Step 6. When the tempeh’s done, cut it into sections and refrigerate

Once you decide that the batch is done, remove the block of tempeh from the bag. I cut the bag apart to do this since the tempeh grows tightly inside the bag. Once you have the slab of tempeh free, cut it into pieces to fit your storage containers and refrigerate it. The chickpea-peanut slab below has just been removed from the bag after a total fermentation time of 3 days 7 hours.

The finished chickpea-peanut tempeh, removed from the bag. — photo by author

Use in cooking

Tempeh is cooked before serving, and it can be cooked in various ways. I cut off a piece that’s a good size for whatever I’m going to make, and then I cut that up:

  • Dice it bite-size for chili, curry, stir-fry, stew, or soup.
  • Dice it small for quick cooking — for example, sautéed with a little olive oil, a chopped tomato, and chopped onion, perhaps with a pinch of Mexican oregano and smoked paprika, and use that in a dinner bowl.
  • Slice a slab into two or three thinner slabs, fry those in olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and cut into squares to serve as croutons in a salad or as a topping for soup. Or marinate thin strips cut from the slab and make tempeh bacon.
  • Mince it to use as an ingredient, as when you make tempeh sausage.



Wrote “Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way.” Blogs at Active on Mastodon. Likes cooking, movies, Jazz, & books.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Michael Ham

Wrote “Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way.” Blogs at Active on Mastodon. Likes cooking, movies, Jazz, & books.