Easy, Low-Tech Homemade Tempeh Recipe

Tempeh is a protein-rich food made from fermented soybeans. It is filling, nutritious and versatile, and not as tricky to make as I thought.

tempeh farmpunkadvocateHere’s an easy way to make tempeh at home. You don’t need a fancy, temperature-controlled, aerated incubator at all. One thing I would recommend, though, is to GET DE-HULLED SOYBEANS! I just wanted organic beans and didn’t realize that there were hulled and de-hulled. There was only one option at my nearest health food store so I had no idea I would be spending the next 3 hours squeezing and sorting beans. Get de-hulled soybeans, and you will have learned from my mistake. Or you could prepare to binge-watch some Netflix to get you through a boring task.

Other than the de-hulling, this was really easy. You might think you need lots of fancy equipment, or that you don’t have a warm enough place in your house. . .but worry not!

As I checked them periodically over the 24-hour incubation period, and couldn’t see any visible change, I worried that I had messed up in every possible way. I didn’t dry the beans enough! I didn’t keep the temperature stable enough! I didn’t cook them enough! I ruined everything!

Nope – it turned out just fine. I made tempeh in my very cold house without a temperature-controlled incubator, and so can you!

Equipment & Ingredients:

Starter

First, you’ll need some starter – a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus.  I ordered mine from here and it came with detailed instructions. You’ll get a tiny plastic bag of powder but a little goes a long way – you only need 2 1/2 tsp.

Beans

As mentioned above – get de-hulled beans! I also strongly suggest organic, non-GMO soybeans.

Re-closeable Baggies

As per the instructions that came with my starter, I used Ziploc freezer baggies with holes poked in them for ventilation, although I’m not sure this is entirely necessary. Next time, I will make them directly in a glass lasagne pan, as I have seen on a few other blogs.

baggies farmpunkadvocate

Cooler

Instead of building an incubator like these guys, I went to Canadian Tire, and bought one of the only coolers available in mid-November. I think it was actually the first day of snow, and of all the things I could get at Canadian Tire (like road salt, hand warmers, or ice skates) I was buying a party cooler.  Mine is an unfortunate shade of safety-vest orange, but they do come in other colours. It cost me about $25. Wait for a reasonable time to buy coolers, like summer, and you can probably get a much better deal.

Coleman Party Stacker

Thermometer

I just used a cheap multi-purpose instant-read thermometer, also purchased at Canadian Tire, for under $5. It looks something like this

Magic Bag

I actually used a Magic Bag, because I just happened to have one, but you could just use a pillow case with some dried beans or grains in it, because that’s pretty much what a Magic Bag is anyway. The beans or grains can be heated up in the microwave and they act as a thermal mass that helps keep the cooler warm.  The only thing you need to be careful of is keeping the beans dry. There will be condensation inside the cooler from the tempeh, and it will drip from the top and settle on the bottom of the cooler. If you want to re-use your beans, you might want to put them in a plastic bag after you microwave them.
magic bag

Vinegar

Just plain old white vinegar. You’ll need 2 Tbsp

The Process

0. De-hull the beans

I really hope you don’t have to do this.

1. Cook the beans.

This takes a while, but you don’t have to be very involved. Just put them on the stove and forget them for about an hour. Check occasionally to make sure they still have enough water.

Farmpunk.ca: cooking soybeans for tempeh

2. Drain and dry the beans

Drain and DRY. You can dump them on some paper towel and pat them down, or you can put them back in the pot and keep stirring them on low heat. One blog I read suggests blow-drying them.  This is one of almost every step that I thought I had messed up. I put them back in the pot to dry them, but it took so long that I just lost patience and decided they were dry enough, when they were still somewhat moist. The recipe turned out fine anyway, but next time I will try the hairdryer. However you dry them, let them cool before proceeding to the next step.

Farmpunk.ca: cooking soybeans for tempeh

3. Add vinegar and starter.

Add the vinegar and mix well, then add the starter.

4. Incubate.

Pack the beans into a flat shape. You could use baggies with holes, or pack them into the bottom of a lasagne pan. I put a third in each bag, and packed and flattened them down to 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Incubate at 31° C for 24-48 hours.

This is another stage where I thought I might have messed up. I started with hot water in the bottom of the cooler, but soon realized that since I have to continually add more hot water to maintain the temperature, I would eventually need to drain it out or it would spill into the glass pan. That’s when I decided to use the Magic Bag instead. The Magic Bag wasn’t quite big enough, so I also put in a bunch of microwaved kidney beans.

 Farmpunk.ca: soybeans incubating in cooler

I checked the temperature regularly, and microwaved the kidney beans and Magic Bag every few hours, except in the middle of the night. No mycellium showed up until the last 3 hours or so, and I could definitely tell that it started developing unevenly – it grew fastest in the middle of the bags, where the heat stayed most stable. But it turned out fine! I just waited long enough for it to spread throughout, and it all turned into a solid cake eventually.

Farmpunk.ca: finished homemade tempeh

It’s BEAUTIFUL!

Farmpunk.ca: sliced homemade tempeh

Farmpunk.ca: sliced homemade tempeh

And, it’s flexible. I could bend it a little without it falling apart. I read that that’s a good thing for fresh tempeh.

Farmpunk.ca: flexible tempeh

Now you know all the ways you could mess up, so you don’t have to worry that you will!

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5 Responses

  1. wow! THANK YOU SOOOOO much for this step-by-step! I’m sending my Hubby out to buy ppkgd Tempeh for THE LAST TIME! yayyyyy.

  2. one question: have you ever tried adding different FLAVORS… like herbs or spices to this?

    • Caia says:

      I haven’t yet, but will soon. I don’t think it would hurt the process, and some packaged tempehs have herbs and spices. Good luck!

  3. Tempeh Man says:

    Great post and photos on how to make tempeh!

    I’m selling original tempeh starter from Indonesia. If you are interested check out my ebay http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Tempeh-Starter-Tempeh-Culture-500grams-/221702536148?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_15&hash=item339e803bd4

    If you want to buy direct you can email me: elmoy11@gmail.com

    cheers!

    Tempeh Man

  4. John Wright says:

    We live in northern BC.
    What distributor has dehulled soya beans? The only one I found is 4,000 Kms east at St-Lawrence Beans in Blenheim, Ontario.
    Do you still incubate in a styrofoam cooler, or have you graduated to a store-bought incubator?
    What starter do you recommend?

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