Tempeh and tofu are both sources of plant-based protein made from soy, and although similar in nature, their method of production and nutritional values differ. So, what’s the difference between tempeh and tofu? And which one is healthier? Here is everything that you need to know about tempeh vs. tofu: what they are, how they are made, their health benefits, and nutrition facts.
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is a cake-like product made by cooking and fermenting soybeans. To make tempeh, soybeans are soaked and boiled, before being fermented with a piece of tempeh or genus Rhizopus. During fermentation, mold covers the beans and binds them together into a solid block, which is cut into smaller pieces. (1)(2) This traditional Indonesian food has a nutty taste and dense texture. Although typically made from soybeans, tempeh can be made from just about any bean, grain, or seed.
Tempeh is a good source of fiber and plant-based protein and, thanks to the fermentation of the soybeans, is also a source of probiotic bacteria, however, unlike other fermented foods tempeh cannot be eaten raw. It must be cooked before consumption, which may deactivate some of the beneficial bacteria.
What is tofu?
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made by coagulating soy milk into solid white blocks in a process similar to cheese making. First, dried soybeans are soaked in water, crushed, and boiled to create soy “milk”, salt coagulants are then added to separate the curds from the whey, which is poured into molds to allow the whey to run off, resulting in soft cakes known as tofu. (3)
Tofu can be made into extra-soft, soft, firm, or extra-firm cakes depending on the method of preparation. Similar to tempeh, tofu is a source of plant-based protein and fiber.
Tempeh vs. Tofu Nutrition
|NUTRITION PER 100 grams
CALORIES: A 100-gram serving of tempeh contains 167 calories, while a 100-gram serving of tofu contains 94 calories, making tofu the lower-calorie option.
PROTEIN: While both tempeh and tofu contain protein, tempeh contains more protein per serving. A 100-gram serving of tempeh contains 19.0 grams of protein, while a 100-gram serving of tofu contains 9.4 grams of protein.
FAT: Tempeh and tofu contain similar amounts of fat. A 100-gram serving of tempeh contains 5.4 grams of fat, while a 100-gram serving of tofu contains 5.3 grams of fat.
CARBOHYDRATES: A 100-gram serving of tempeh contains 11.9 grams of carbohydrates, while a 100-gram serving of tofu contains 2.4 grams of carbohydrates, making tofu the lower-carb option. However, in both cases, fiber is the predominant form of carbohydrate.
FIBRE: Both tempeh and tofu are good sources of fiber. A 100-gram serving of tempeh contains 8.3 grams of fiber, while a 100-gram serving of tofu contains 2.4 grams of fiber, making tempeh the higher-fiber option.
SUGAR: Neither tempeh nor tofu is a significant source of sugar; a 100-gram serving of tempeh and tofu both contain 0 grams of sugar.
VITAMINS & MINERALS: Given tempeh and tofu are both made from soybeans, they have similar micronutrient profiles containing iron, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and manganese. Per 100-gram serving, tempeh contains 9% of the Daily Value (DV) of calcium, 15% of the DV of iron, 9% of the DV of potassium, and 21% of the DV of phosphorus; while firm tofu contains 43% of the DV of calcium, 15% of the DV of iron, 5% of the DV of potassium, and 15% of the DV of phosphorus. (6)(7) However, it is important to note that most store-bought brands of tofu are made with calcium and magnesium. (8)
Other Factors to Consider:
Compared to tofu, tempeh has a much stronger taste. Tofu has a neutral taste and tends to absorb the flavors from the marinades and sauces it’s cooked in, while tempeh has an earthy, mushroomy, and nutty taste. Because tempeh is fermented, it has a lot of umami flavor, which also provides a savory meat-like taste.
Tempeh is firm and grainy with a slightly chunky texture, while tofu has a smoother texture and is available in varying levels of firmness; soft, medium, firm, extra firm, and super firm.
Both tempeh and tofu can be cooked in a wide variety of ways. Many recipes call for tempeh to be steamed first, this helps to kill the bacterial culture and add moisture, and then it can be fried, grilled, roasted, or baked. Tofu is incredibly versatile because it is available in so many different levels of firmness; softer versions can be added to smoothies, made into sauces, or used in desserts, while firmer versions can be fried, grilled, roasted, or baked. Both tofu and tempeh can be marinated prior to cooking for enhanced flavor.
Although brands will vary, gram per gram, tofu tends to be less expensive than tempeh. Tofu averages between $0.50 and $1.00 per 100 grams, while tempeh averages between $2.00 to $3.00 per 100 grams.
So, tempeh vs. tofu: which one is healthier?
Tofu and tempeh are both good sources of vegetarian protein and fiber. Compared gram per gram, tempeh is higher in calories, protein, and fiber, while tofu is lower in calories and carbohydrates, and neither contains sugar. Nutritionally speaking, both tempeh and tofu are healthy options and are a good way to add vegetarian protein to any meal.
The Bottom Line
Tempeh and tofu are both products made from soybeans. Tempeh is made from cooked and fermented soybeans pressed into a cake, while tofu is made by curdling soy milk in a process similar to cheese making. Both tempeh and tofu are good sources of vegetarian protein, fiber, and micronutrients, and can be included in a healthy diet.