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Tempeh as a Healthy Food Alternative

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Nutrition
Wordcount: 3043 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Right now, people are striving to find foods that give them a healthy alternative to some of the less healthy options available. The world’s population is also getting greater and different food choices would help. A food product that could help feed a lot of people and is healthy could be Tempeh. Tempeh is not very well known in western countries but has is known well in Asian countries. Tempeh started out as a “traditional Indonesian dish that is made by fermenting soybeans using a Rhizopus species (Vital, 2018).” Rhizopus is a type of mold that they culture. This might make certain people cautious about trying Tempeh because “there is a sort of prejudice that comes when people hear mold they think about spoiled food or bread that’s gone bad (Katz, 2012).” People should not be too worried because it is important, it has health benefits, there are other products similar to it, and it could be helpful for our future.

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 The making and consumption of Tempeh goes far back in Indonesian culture.  The word Tempeh in Indonesia means “a variety of fermented foods usually involving cooked legumes held together by thick mycelium of Rhizopus mold into compressed cakes (Shurtleff, 2007).” The common legumes that are used for making Tempeh are soybeans. Tempeh is not the first product to be fermented from soybeans but is the only “that cannot trace its origins to Japan or China (Shurtleff, 2007).” The Tempeh was first made in “Indonesia very close to Java (Shurtleff, 2007).” Nobody is absolutely sure what year it was first created. People believe that it is at least “older than the 1800’s but could go back as far as a thousand years for all we know (Shurtleff, 2007).” Part of what makes historians think it originates prior 1800’s is due to some writings at the time. The book that made historians believe this is the “Serat Centini, published in 1815, made a reference involving onions and uncooked Tempeh (Shurtleff, 2007).” This book’s premise is that “it tells the experiences of Javanese students exploring for truth while recounting what the culture of Java was at the time (Shurtleff, 2007).” The book may have been published in 1815 but the subject matter could have been older since “the story took place during reign of sultan Agung which lasted 1613-1645 (Shurtleff, 2007).” Another theory for when Tempeh production began is that “when China started trading soybeans with Java during 1000 A.D. Java became inspired by a similar process China was using at the time to make soy sauce Java could have tried replicating this using Rhizopus and that could lead to what exists today (Shurtleff, 2007).” With all the research done so far nobody can completely narrow down exactly when Tempeh was first made. Tempeh really started getting worldwide attention in nineteen-sixty when scientist was lots of experiments on it. The major groups experimenting at the time were “food scientist at Cornell university, the Agriculture Experiment Station in Geneva New York, and the USDA Northern Regional Research Center at Peoria Illinois (Shurtleff, 2007).” One of the scientist who helped with a lot of the research going on at Cornell was an Indonesian scientist named Ms. Yap Bwee Hwa.  Yap Bwee Hwa came to the United States when “she had received Fulbright scholarship for the United States which would allow her to work on Tempeh research (Shurtleff, 2007).” While in America she “ran and published some of the first Tempeh experiments in America while at Cornell and focused on her own research about Tempeh being a nutritious food for infants in an effort to battle child mortality rate in Indonesia (Shurtleff, 2007).” Right now, Tempeh is far more well-known and studied throughout the world but, there are still several people who have never heard of the product.

 Tempeh is a traditional food of Indonesia that has become desired by people worldwide but how exactly is Tempeh produced. Tempeh gets produced by using “Rhizopus oligosporus mold and growing it on soy beans most of the time (Katz, 2012).” The plant that is used with the mold does not have to be soybeans, but it should be some kind of legume. The first step when making Tempeh with soy beans is to “make sure you remove the hulls from the soybeans then add them to a mixture of boiled water (Katz, 2012).” Starter culture is very important for getting the first fermentation going. Cracking open the hulls of the soy beans helps out by “making it easier for the mold to gain access to the proteins found inside (Katz, 2012).” The soybeans in the mixture sit there for around a twenty-four-hour period. This waiting period allows for “an acidification of the beans giving it a PH range between 4.5-5.3 that keeps out unwanted bacteria forming (Katz, 2012).” This step determines how the final product will turn out and helps the mold growth out. Some recipes have it where “vinegar is added to the water during the soak to speed up the acidification (Katz, 2012).” The next step in the process is to “cook the beans for about forty-five minutes until they are almost completely cooked and then begin drying them (Katz, 2012).” The soy beans should be dried to around body temperature so that the culture does not get killed. Colling can take a while depending how much soy beans you have. The following part is when you “stir in the starter culture throughout the mixture then once completely mixed begin wrapping them into banana leaves (Katz, 2012).” Banana leaves are not the only leaves that can be used that is just how they are traditionally wrapped. Then the banana leaves are “put into some sort of container with holes punctured in it for air and they are stored in an incubator (Katz, 2012).” The type of container does not matter to much as long as it can allow some air in. This is important because the Rhizopus mold requires oxygen in order to grow. When incubating the soy beans, they should be “watched carefully because once the growth stats taking off the beans temperature will spike so the temperature should be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit so that the culture is not killed (Katz, 2012).” There is not a required time for fermentation but there are signs to let you know when it is ready. Typically finished Tempeh will “have a thick layer of mycelium that binds them together and will give off aromas that have yeasty or mushroom like quality (Katz, 2012).” While the Tempeh is in incubation, “the Rhizopus consumes raw materials inside the beans that allows the increase of nutrients (Anggrahini, 2018),” this part of the fermentation is part of what makes it called a health food. Most of the time Tempeh is consumed immediately but some people freeze it for later. It is also prepared in a variety of recipes using different methods. These methods do not all include soy some are just made with “peanuts, (peanuts & soy), millet, (millet & soy), (rice & soy), (wheat and soy), okra and many other things (Shurtleff, 1979).”

Following the process above will give you the tempeh you look for but, how can someone go about propagating the spores used in tempeh to make a starter culture. The process of sporulation is “known as the reproductive phase in mold growth (Katz, 2012).” The signs that sporulation is taking place are noted by “dark patches that form on the surface of tempeh (Katz, 2012).” sporulation of this mold is increased with “high oxygenation and a dry environment (Katz, 2012).” One of the simpler way of extracting Rhizopus spores is by “crushing up over ripened tempeh put it in a jar with water that is then shaken up to disperse the spores the big chucks of tempeh are then strained, and the liquid left behind is your starter (Katz, 2012).” What you get from this process may not last as long and is a small amount but, it will still inoculate tempeh. The last process mentioned is just for extracting spores if you want to grow the tempeh spores there are other processes. A good way to grow spores is by first “soaking some rice in a jar covered in cloth and allow to cool before adding an inoculant then wait about a week and crush the product into a powder (Katz, 2012).” The starter made this way has a longer availability than the one extracted through water. The reason it last longer is due to the spores being dry. Rice seems like an odd thing to grow your Rhizopus on, but research has shown that “Rhizopus grown on rice had a greater spore count than when grown on wheat, wheat bran, or soybeans (Katz, 2012).” These methods mentioned above are pure cultures which differ from how they are made in Indonesia where “the traditional fermentations always use a mixed culture (Katz, 2012).”    

 Part of the reason Tempeh has had so much research done on it is because it is thought to have desirable health benefits. Fast food has become more obtainable in the past few years to the point where any kind of food can be delivered straight to anybody’s door. This encourages a sedimentary lifestyle that can cause “metabolic syndrome, which has symptoms of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, hypertriglyceridemia, obesity, and low HDL in the blood (Huang, 2018).” The problems don’t stop there for people who have metabolic syndrome because “those with metabolic syndrome increase their chance of developing type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Huang, 2018).” There is a need to find something that can treat people with metabolic syndrome or prevent it and, Tempeh just so happens to have qualities that accomplish that. Tempeh produces chemicals when it is made these are “Isoflavones genistein and daidzein (Huang, 2018).” Isoflavones are known to help “prevent cardiovascular disease, cancers, metabolic syndrome and can provide treatment for osteoporosis because of how they can function like they are estrogen (Huang, 2018).” Isoflavones actually come in four different classifications these are “aglycones, glucosides, malonyl glucosides, and acetyl glucosides (Yuliani, 2018).” The Isoflavones that are found in Tempeh are “classified under the aglycones classification (Yuliani, 2018).” These Isoflavones have actually shown to help women from getting diseases that may be hormonal related. One of the diseases that Isoflavones can help prevent is cardiovascular disease. There was a study done where “premenopausal women were fed soy product with 45 mg of Isoflavones one day and then another day they were fed soy products without Isoflavones and the women overtime showed improvement in cholesterol compared with the other (Tham, 1998).” The study for this was kind of small but they did show a noticeable difference. The Isoflavones found in Tempeh can be very useful for people to fight certain cancers and, these types are “breast, ovary, endometrium, and prostate (Tham, 1998).” Research has shown “that the places in the world that have the most of these types of cancer come from western lifestyles with diets of high fat, meat based low fiber diets and the places where it least occurred had eastern lifestyles with diets that were plant based (Tham, 1998).” The decrease in cancer in those countries could be due to them eating things like Tempeh. The Tempeh would then give them more estrogen through the Isoflavones and this estrogen could help block the more hormone-based cancers. There has also been the possibility that Tempeh can help prevent the disease that affects mostly older women, Osteoporosis. The reason it affects older women so much is because “when women go through menopause their estrogen levels drop leading to an accelerated bone loss (Tham, 1998).” The damage done by osteoporosis is found to be “less likely for someone living in Asia to have an osteoporosis fracture than someone who was living in a western community (Tham, 1998).” The reason for this could be because “the Asian diet involves soybeans and lots of vegetables (Tham, 1998).” There may be other factors that affected these studies but, a diet of foods that produce Isoflavones like Tempeh greatly helped reduce their chance of getting these diseases. Isoflavones have also shown to help with diabetes research, “they help with modulating serum glucose levels in rats with diabetes (Huang, 2018).” The finished product of Tempeh has been cited in some sources to “prevent diarrhea, anemia, and is load with more vitamins and minerals than unfermented soy beans (Huang, 2018).” Cardiovascular disease causes some of the most deaths today with “7.4 million deaths in 2014 from atherosclerosis with a possible increase in cardio vascular disease of 23.3 million by 2030 (Dewi, 2017).” The problem that causes atherosclerosis is inflammation. Inflammation occurs when “fibrinogen is synthesized with C-reactive protein increase (Dewi, 2017).” Tempeh can serve as an anti-inflammatory with the company of the isoflavones and was proven so in an experiment where “Tempeh gembus pared with bromelain enzyme was able to reduce fibrinogen inside of rats (Dewi, 2017).” Tempeh can serve as a food that produces beneficial chemicals when fermented that can prevent harmful diseases. 

 Tempeh may have all these health benefits, but does it have a taste and feel that makes people want to eat it. Some people just don’t want to eat Tempeh because of its appearance. Some people try to change its appearance into a more “western styled product like a tempeh burger (Shurtleff, 1979).” Studies were done in Brazil to see what people thought of Tempeh burgers. The experiment had “82 testers untrained tasted a soybean burger and white bean tempeh burgers and gave their thoughts (Vital, 2018).” The result from it were that “they thought the white bean tempeh burger had a good crispiness to it, but the flavor was to beany for their taste (Vital, 2018).” This of course could be corrected by cooking the tempeh a little longer. This still means it could be marketable to the general population in Brazil. Tempeh can also be a useful food item for vegetarians. This is due to tempeh “having protein that can replace a lack of meat, chicken, and fish (Shurtleff, 1979).” Tempeh’s protein comparison to other meats is “19.5 percent protein in tempeh with 21% in chicken, 20% beef, 13% hamburger, and 13% eggs (Shurtleff, 1979).” Vegetarians should be consuming this because the comparison of protein in tempeh is only slightly less than real meat and there are not a lot of other foods that can give them that much protein. Tempeh is also the “best way to get vitamin B12 in a vegetarian diet (Omosebi, 2013).”

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 Tempeh is a food that has been around since probably 1000 A. D. but cannot be determined exactly it was not until around the 1960’s that it got really popular in the scientific community and a lot of people started studying it. The process for making Tempeh requires to be mixed together with Rhizopus spores and then fermented in an incubator until mycelium coats the whole batch. Spores for this food can be taken in any whether it is by extracting from an old batch of tempeh or growing it off of other foods. The done-on tempeh over the years have found that it is a kind of food that can help prevent diseases from cardiovascular disease like hyper tension to cancer and diabetes. Basically, tempeh is an interesting fermented food that has a lot of useful qualities surrounding. Tempeh just is not super well known outside of eastern lifestyle countries and needs to get name out there in western countries. People should also not be afraid to change the appearance of tempeh to something familiar to western countries, like tempeh burgers.      


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  • Dewi, K. P., Afifah, N. D., Rustanti, N., Sulchan, M., Anjani, G. (2017). The effect of tempeh gembus variations to serum levels of high sensitivity c-reactive protein (hsCRP) and serum levels of fibrinogen of Sprague dawley rats with aterogenic diet. Romanian Journal of Diabetes Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases, 25(1), 91-97.
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