Both tempeh and tofu, or “fake meats” as some would call them, are very popular foods, especially among vegans and vegetarians.
Most people associate them to plant-based protein sources. However, not too many are aware of the difference between them.
People are also divided about the quality of these two meatless options. There are constant debates on whether tempeh and tofu are good for your health and whether they should be eaten at all.
That’s where this article comes in. We will go over everything you need to know about tempeh vs tofu and the two of them as a whole.
Let’s start with one of them and proceed to the other, shall we?
Everything You Need to Know about Tempeh
The first meat alternative, tempeh, is made from cooked and fermented soybeans at temperatures of 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The soybeans are then pressed into the recognizable shape as we have come to know tempeh. They are dry, firm, and brown.
At this point, it might be quite obvious why vegans and vegetarians use tempeh to mimic meat products such as bacon and sausage.
Although soy is its main ingredient, tempeh may also contain flax seeds, brown rice, and millet.
Tempeh is quite rich in nutrients. Here are what one serving (approx. 100g) of cooked tempeh contains:
- Calories – 195
- Protein – 20g
- Fat – 11g
- Fiber – 0g
- Sodium – 14mg
- Carbohydrates – 8g
You can understand its viability as a meat alternative from the high protein and fat content. An interesting fact is that tempeh is also rich in isoflavones, compounds which, according to some studies, have cancer preventative properties. Aside from that, tempeh also contains around 10% of your daily iron and calcium needs.
Since tempeh is fermented, it can balance the healthy bacteria located in your gut, therefore leading to a strengthened immune system. It can also improve the quality of your skin.
Tempeh that is made by traditional methods and without any additives is much less processed.
Although it is believed that tempeh was first made on the Indonesian island of Java, there isn’t any concrete information on its origins.
Tempeh can be mixed with plenty of other foods to whip a variety of dishes. For example, it can be added to stir-fries, roasted meat, sliced salads, etc.
Although traditionally cooked tempeh can improve your health, the commercial varieties of tempeh (which are highly processed) can do quite the opposite. That’s why you need to check the ingredients and be careful where you are buying your food.
What you also need to keep in mind is the fact that a high percentage of soy products sold the United States are genetically modified (GMO), often for the purpose of making the plants resistant to glyphosate, the most popular weed killer in use.
Numerous academic papers and essays have been written about GMO soy. The public is aware of all the horror stories of GMO soy, even though there isn’t a consensus among the experts. In any event, it is out of the scope of this article. If you want to be absolutely sure, just look for the non-GMO label when you shop for tempeh or tofu.
Everything You Need to Know about Tofu
Tofu is another soy-based meat alternative. To be exact, tofu is made out of condensed soy milk that is later pressed into blocks.
There is quite a lot of information about tofu when it comes to its origins. This food originated in China. The story has it that tofu was discovered accidentally about 2000 years ago from an accidental mixture of nigari (what remains after you extract salt from seawater) and fresh soy milk.
As for the nutrients, tofu is high in protein and also contains all 9 amino acids that are essential to the human body.
Here is the nutritional info for one serving of tofu (~100g):
- Calories – 70
- Protein – 8g
- Fat – 4g
- Fiber – 1g
- Carbohydrates – 2g
- Zinc – 6% RDI
- Iron – 9% RDI
Tofu is quite a nutrient-dense food since it’s only 70 calories per serving. Of course, that’s due to the very high water content of tofu.
Just like tempeh, tofu also contains isoflavones. To be exact, tofu contains around 20.2mg of isoflavones per 100 grams.
Research shows that tofu may reduce the risk of heart diseases. As such, a diet that’s high in legumes (beans and peas including soybeans) might help those with heart disease.
Another research implies that women who eat soy products on a regular basis have as much as 50% lower risk of breast cancer. It was also shown that soy products might be beneficial for other types of cancer (prostate, digestive system cancer).
On top of that, tofu has other potential health benefits such as:
- Improving brain function
- Weight loss
- Strengthening bones
- Reducing the risk of diabetes
Although it has many health benefits, tofu can cause problems in some people. Doctors usually advise people that suffer from thyroid issues to avoid eating tofu as it contains goitrogen.
Which One is Better?
So it all comes down to tempeh vs tofu. Which is the better option?
In terms of nutrition, both are quite similar. It all comes down to the water content. Tofu may contain up to 90% water while tempeh contains less than 10%. You will have to eat a lot more tofu to feel as full as tempeh.
In addition, these two foods don’t taste the same. Tofu is near flavorless which means that it can be mixed with pretty much any recipe, but tempeh has a heartier taste.
Tempeh has perhaps even more culinary uses. If you’re going to make a vegetarian dish that looks like meat, tempeh is your only choice as tofu doesn’t look like any meat at all.
The main difference is found in the production. They are both from soy but tempeh is made from cooking and fermenting, while tofu is made from condensed, unfermented soy milk.
So, what’s the verdict
At the end of the day, it all comes down to you. Both of these foods are very similar in more ways than one, including their health benefits. However, their benefits depend on the way that they are made, which means that they can even damage your health if they are processed.