Tempeh

Tempeh is a mold-fermented soy bean product that originated many centuries ago in Indonesia, where it remains a major food staple and an inexpensive source of dietary protein. Unlike other fermented soy products, tempeh produc tion has spread to only a few other countries, including Malaysia, the Netherlands (Indonesia was once under Dutch rule), Canada, and the United States. However, Indonesia is by far the main producer and consumer of tempeh. Current per capita consumption in Indonesia is about 15 grams per person per day. Although tempeh production has been industrialized, a substantial amount of the more than 500 million kg of tempeh produced in Indonesia per year is still made in the home or in small "cottage-sized" production facilities.

It is remarkable, given the fact that tempeh was not discovered by American consumers until the last twenty to thirty years, that it has become quite popular (relatively speaking) in the United States. Undoubtedly, this sudden popularity is due, in part, to interest in vegetarian cuisine and non-meat alternative food products ("faux" meats). However, the popularity of tempeh in the United States may also be due to its nutritional properties. In particular, tempeh is a rich source of protein (19%) and, in addition, is one of only a few plant-based foods that contains vitamin B12 (discussed below). Since this vitamin is often lacking in vegetarian diets, tempeh serves as a modest source of this essential nutrient (a 100 g serving provide 6% of the 2.4 ^g of B12 recommended for a healthy adult, according to USDA estimates).

Another reason, perhaps, why tempeh has attracted interest in the United States relates to its versatile applications and organoleptic properties. In its raw state, tempeh has a bland, mushroom-like flavor. However, cooking transforms this plain-tasting material into a pleasant, nutty, flavorful product. If one can get past the fact that tempeh consists entirely of moldy beans, its flavor, especially when it is sauteed or fried, resembles that of cooked or roasted meat (sort of). After all, tempeh and muscle protein (i.e., meat) both derive much of their flavor from the Maillard reaction products that result when amino acids and reducing sugars are heated at high temperature.The lipid component of soy beans may also serve as a precursor for meaty flavor and aroma development. Finally, the development of a tem-

peh "industry" in the United States and consumer interest in tempeh as a food have likely been driven by academic researchers, particularly Keith Steinkraus at Cornell University and C. W. Hesseltine and H.L. Wang at the USDA, who played key roles in understanding many of the microbiological and technical issues related to tempeh manufacture.

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