tempeh starter

Tempeh Starter: A Helpful Illustrated Guide

Fermented products, such as tempeh, require a starter to initiate the chemical process that breaks down molecules. Without a proper starter, micro-organisms may corrupt the food making it uneatable or even, in some cases, poisonous. We’ll take a look at what fermentation is and how to make your tempeh starter. 

Tempeh starter is created by controlled fermentation with a starter culture that contains rhizopus mold spores and is cultivated within a warm environment until mycelium grows into soybeans that form a dense white cake. 

It sounds tricky, but it’s a matter of patience and nurturing the tempeh by maintaining the right temperature for the culture to grow. With the versatility of tempeh, there are many approaches to getting started. 

Understanding Tempeh

Traditional tempeh is a fermented soybean cake that has become a basic necessity in the kitchens of vegetarians and vegans for its high protein and versatility. Tempeh may be marinated or fried, and due to it’s nutty and savory taste, it complements several dishes ranging from sandwiches, salads or stews.

It originated from Indonesia perhaps a thousand years or more. The mycelium is a white filament that binds beans together, creating a dense cake that makes an earthy, mildly savory taste comparable to mushrooms. It’s such a neutral base for almost any dish that it is often used in place for meat or can absorb the condiment or spices that are on the plate. 

How To Make Your Own Tempeh Starter 

Supplies

  • Dehydrator 
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Spoon

Ingredients

  • A slab of tempeh (store-bought)
  • 1 tsp. Rice Flour (or desired flour)

The easiest way to start making tempeh is by utilizing store-bought tempeh. This piece will serve as the starter. 

1. Select any tempeh; fresh or frozen will work fine. 

2. Cut tempeh into thin slices. Thin slices will help the tempeh to be dried faster. 

3. Cut tempeh into small pieces.

4. After cutting, place tempeh in a food dehydrator for 7-8 hours. Keep the temperature between 110-125 F; this will help the process speed up without causing the tempeh to dry out. The goal is to keep the fungi still alive and nurtured within the warm environment. 

5. Once the tempeh appears to have dried out, grind (or blend) the tempeh into flour or dust. This powder will serve as the tempeh starter. 

6. Optional: Add one tsp. of desired flour; this is because each bag of soybeans (or beans of your choice) requires 2 tsp. of homemade tempeh starter. Adding flour will help increase the amount of coverage of the beans to ensure distribution. 

Viola! The tempeh starter is ready and can store for up to six months. 

How To Dehydrate Tempeh

There’s a handful of ways to dehydrate tempeh that doesn’t require purchasing a dehydrator. The objective is to reduce its moisture content, and that can be done by:

  • Oven Drying: Although not the most efficient, the oven works great in a pinch! Make sure your range will go below 140 F as anything about this will cook the food instead. 
  • Sun Drying: There’s a reason why this method has been around for nearly 12,000 years as it’s effective when there are no appliances but is more of a time investment. Using a mesh screen to lay it on will do the trick, avoid anything galvanized, and cover the tempeh with a second screen to prevent insects. A temperature of 86 F with relative humidity below 59% will work.  

Is Tempeh Healthy For You?

Tempeh is high in protein and loaded with probiotics that can improve digestion and even reduce inflammation symptoms. Tempeh is known for its high amounts of calcium and may prevent the development of diseases associated with bone loss (i.e., osteoporosis) by keeping bones healthy and dense. 

Studies have shown that tempeh may work against free radicals due to its antioxidants. Because of its properties, it fights to prevent the accumulation of free radicals, chronic diseases, and the risk of oxidative stress. 

Though tempeh has many health benefits, it may not be something for everyone to incorporate into their diet. Individuals who experience an allergic reaction when having tempeh may have a soy allergy and may want to avoid the traditional recipes altogether. However, because of tempeh’s versatility, substitutions may be made to still glean the health benefits, just with a different bean. 

The Ingredients of Tempeh

Tempeh is renowned for its ability to be made with various ingredients and is customizable to an individual’s taste and preference. Beans and grains are often substituted, and seeds of all variety are often added, most notably sesame or sunflower.  

Here are some different ingredients you will find in tempeh:

Beans: Tempeh is usually comprised of soybeans; however, you can make tempeh out of nearly any bean. The most typical substitutes are chickpeas or black beans. 

Flour: In most starters, rice flour is typically used, but can either be substituted with barley, brown rice, or millet. Flour can also be eliminated from the ingredient list entirely as it is only added to mix with the fungi’s distribution on the beans later on in the recipe to ensure that all beans are coated. 

Tempeh Starter: The starter is a bit of a process that includes mycelium, a vegetative cycle that enables fungi to grow. Tempeh’s starter culture can either be from rhizopus oligosporus or rhizopus oryzae; either will create the right mycelium for the starter. 

Seed: Seeds can sometimes be added to the tempeh, depending on personal preference and desired taste. Seeds that are generally added include sunflower, sesame, flaxseed, or pumpkin. 

As mentioned before, there’s room to create tempeh that works with a specific diet or preference. Though the amount of flour to bean ratio will remain the same when making the tempeh. 

How To Make Tempeh at Home

Supplies

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Towel
  • 2 Large Plastic (1-gallon Zip-Lock) Bags or Banana Leaves
  • Toothpick(s)

Ingredients

  • 1 300-gram bag of soybeans (or desired bean)
  • 2 tsp. of homemade tempeh starter
  • 1 tablespoon desired flour

Prep time just under 37 hours. Yields one slab of tempeh:

1. First, soak beans overnight.

2. Remove all skin from beans. Then, boil beans for 20 minutes. Try checking on them periodically to ensure they do not overcook and become mushy. 

3. Once beans are cooked, spread them on to a cutting board and dry with a paper towel. This is to remove any excess water from the beans. 

4. Once done drying, move beans into a bowl.

5. Add the tempeh culture.  Add one tablespoon of rice flour. Mix together. 

6. Once beans are well coated, transfer soybeans into a plastic bag or banana leaf. 

7. Using a toothpick, poke holes so the spores can have air circulation to colonize onto the beans. 

8. Place the bags, or banana leaves, on a flat service and cover with a towel. Creating a dark environment will help speed up the process. 

9. Store beans in a warm area for 20 hours. 

10. Once you’ve reached hour 20, you may notices moisture on the bags. This moisture indicates that the spores have begun colonization. 

11. After hour 36, tempeh will be ready to use. 

When taking proper precautions, tempeh is an easy and fun way to expand the palate and experiment in the kitchen. It’s imperative to recognize when the tempeh is no longer edible that it is necessary to discard its contents and start again to avoid personal harm. However, with proper diligence, it is a process that can be completed with ease and well worth the wait!

“Sliced raw tempeh” by SaucyGlo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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