What is tempeh?

Tempeh is a traditional soya product originally from Indonesia. It's made from cooked, fermented soya beans and is a popular meat alternative.


Soya beans are soaked overnight and then de-hulled to remove their outer layer, then cooked and cooled before being mixed with a starter culture which contains rhizopus mould spores. The beans are left to ferment until they solidify into a cake-like structure, a process that takes a few days.

Tempeh is not typically found in supermarkets, but you can buy it from health food shops or online. Alternatively, you can make it yourself at home.

Tempeh benefits may include:

  • Plant-source protein
  • May help manage weight
  • Source of protective plant compounds
  • Source of phyto-oestrogens
  • May support gut health
  • May support bone health
  • May help manage cholesterol levels

Discover our full range of health benefit guides, then check out some of our delicious tempeh recipes, such as our chilli tempeh stir-fry or sticky tempeh, mango & lime noodle salad.

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Nutritional profile

A 100g serving of tempeh provides:

  • 166Kcal / 697KJ
  • 20.7g Protein
  • 6.4g Fat
  • 6.4g Carbohydrate
  • 5.7g Fibre
  • 3.6mg Iron
  • 120mg Calcium
  • 70mg Magnesium
  • 200mg Phosphorus

Tempeh is a compact product, more so than other soya products, which means it has a richer protein content. Check labels, as the nutritional profile may vary from brand to brand.

Pieces of pan fried tempeh in a frying pan

What are the health benefits of tempeh?

1. Plant source of protein

Soya beans are a useful source of plant protein, providing all nine of the essential amino acids that we need for growth, repair and functions like immunity; this makes it a useful complete protein for those following a plant-focused diet.

2. May help manage weight

Tempeh is especially rich in protein, which is known for its filling and satiating effect, this makes it a potentially useful for those looking to control appetite and manage weight.

3. Source of protective plant compounds

Soy isoflavones are powerful plant compounds with protective properties and as such, they may help minimise the damage caused by oxidative stress. Tempeh is thought to be especially good in this regard.

4. Source of phytoestrogens

Studies suggest that including soy foods in the diet may contribute to the health of post-menopausal women. These benefits may include reducing hot flushes and supporting bone health through improvements in bone metabolism.

5. May support gut health

Tempeh is typically cooked before eating, and some of commercial products are also pasteurised, meaning they're unlikely to retain the beneficial bacteria that promote gut diversity, despite being a fermented product.

However, tempeh is rich in fibre – in particular, the type of fibre known to be prebiotic. This fibre feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping them thrive and increase in number. Many of these gut bacteria produce compounds called short-chain fatty acids, which have beneficial effects on the gut as well as for our wider health.

6. May support bone health

Tempeh is rich in bone-friendly minerals including calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. In addition to this, the fermentation process involved in the production of tempeh breaks down compounds known as anti-nutrients, which may inhibit our uptake of some of these minerals. This makes fermented foods easier to digest and the nutrients they provide easier to absorb.

7. May help manage cholesterol

Soya products contain natural compounds called isoflavones, regular consumption of these has been associated with reduced cholesterol levels. Studies suggest this includes a reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the type often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol.

A bowl of tempeh with veg

Is tempeh safe for everyone?

Like other fermented soya foods, tempeh is generally recognised as safe for most people, unless you have a soy allergy, when it should be avoided. Soybeans are also considered to be goitrogenic, which means they interfere with the activity of the thyroid gland. Although in practice this effect may be minimal, if you have a thyroid condition you may wish to minimise your intake.

Those with a histamine intolerance may benefit from limiting the amount of fermented foods, like tempeh, in their diet – this is because these foods contain relatively high levels of histamine.

The consumption of soya has become controversial in recent years, with some animal studies suggesting a link with certain cancers. In support of the food’s safety, the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that soy isoflavones do not adversely affect the thyroid, breast or uterus in postmenopausal women.

Soya contains anti-nutrients, including trypsin inhibitors and phytates; these may inhibit our absorption of some of the bean’s valuable nutrients. Soaking or fermenting the soybeans before cooking may minimise these compounds, and this is why choosing traditional soya products like tempeh and miso can provide superior nutritional value.

Overall, is tempeh good for you?

Whether you follow a plant-based diet or not, tempeh may offer a number of health benefits. It is a complete source of plant-based protein, provides prebiotic fibres and offers a wide range of vitamins and minerals as well as protective plant compounds. Unless you have an allergy to soy, tempeh offers a nutritious option to include as part of a balanced and varied diet.

Enjoyed this? Now read:

The health benefits of tofu
The health benefits of soya
What is a plant-based diet?
Is soy ‘milk’ good for you?
Eat to ease the menopause

This article was last reviewed on 12 March 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the past 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including Good Food.


All health content on goodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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