Tempeh has a mildly nutty, earthy flavor and firm texture that makes it an excellent plant-based meat alternative in a wide range of recipes.
However, it’s also prone to bitterness and some people simply don’t enjoy it. Thus begins the hunt for a tempeh substitute.
If you want to make traditional Indonesian dishes without tempeh, have a sensitivity to soy, or simply want an alternative to tempeh in a wider range of dishes, here are some of the best substitutes and alternatives to tempeh.
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What to Look for When Substituting Tempeh
When looking for a tempeh substitute, here are a few key characteristics to consider:
Tempeh has a firm texture that holds its shape when cooking, and has a chewy, meaty texture in a finished dish.
A good substitute for tempeh would have a similarly firm, chewy texture.
Tempeh is suitable for frying, grilling, braising, and more.
Not all tempeh substitutes will be suitable for such a wide variety of cooking methods.
Tempeh has a fairly neutral flavor that quickly absorbs the taste of spices, sauces, and marinades.
Some tempeh substitutes will have a stronger inherent flavor, so recipes and cook times may need to be adjusted to give the final dish a similar result.
For people who eat little or no meat, tempeh is an excellent source of plant-based proteins.
When substituting tempeh, it’s a good idea to find a high-protein alternative or increase protein in other meals or dishes to compensate.
8 Best Substitutes for Tempeh
There is no single best tempeh replacement that shares all of its same characteristics.
Some substitutes will work better than others in different recipes and applications, so it may be necessary to mix and match based on your needs at the moment.
Read on to the following sections for my recommended tempeh substitutes.
Like tempeh, cauliflower has a firm texture and neutral flavor, and can it be used in a wide variety of recipes. Cauliflower can be a good flavor and texture substitute for tempeh, but it lacks protein.
Eggplant can be a tempeh substitute with a little work, although it does not have any protein.
When properly prepared, eggplant can have a firm, chewy texture that resembles tempeh, and it also has a neutral flavor that compliments a wide range of recipes.
To substitute eggplant for tempeh, slice it and salt both sides, and place eggplant on a paper towel or absorbent surface.
The salt will draw moisture out of the eggplant, and the drier it is, the firmer the texture will become.
Consider lightly dehydrating eggplant in order to substitute for tempeh.
While jackfruit doesn’t have any protein, it has a stringy, chewy texture and mildly sweet flavor that makes it a great substitute for tempeh.
Most vegan-friendly stores carry packaged jackfruit meat, and many of them are pre-seasoned so they are fast and easy to cook with.
Mushrooms are an excellent substitute for tempeh, which already has an earthy, mushroomy flavor.
While mushrooms have very little protein, they have a dense, firm texture that resembles tempeh, and can usually be easily substituted in a wide range of recipes.
Seitan is a classic substitute for tempeh because both foods have a very similar texture (that make them great substitutes for chicken).
Seitan is chewier and less nutty, but is a great source of protein, and easily adapts to a huge range of recipes and cooking methods.
Seitan is made of wheat gluten, so gluten-sensitive people should avoid it.
Textured Vegetable Protein
Textured vegetable protein is typically made from soy flour and, like tempeh, it is high in protein and fiber.
Textured vegetable protein comes in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and forms, and is a great substitute for crumbled or shredded tempeh.
Tofu is a great alternative for tempeh if you want a milder flavor without any of the earthy qualities that tempeh has, and still get lots of plant-based protein.
It also has a softer texture but is equally adaptable to the flavors of marinades, spices, and seasonings.
Choose extra-firm tofu to substitute for tempeh, and consider draining it and pressing it before cooking, to make tofu more texturally similar to tempeh.
Meat Alternative Products
Today, there are more plant-based meat and dairy products than ever before, and new products are being introduced all the time.
Since tempeh is so versatile, you may want to substitute a tempeh alternative that slices, crumbles, or fries like tempeh.
You may be looking for a specific size, shape, flavor, or texture.
You may want a tempeh substitute that is high in protein, doesn’t have soy, or has probiotics.
The truth is, there are hundreds of great tempeh alternatives, depending on your specific needs and preferences, but you may need to try a few different things to find the right one.
The best overall substitute for tempeh is seitan.
Both foods are high in protein, easy to use, and readily accept almost all seasonings and flavors.
Both seitan and tempeh are traditionally seasoned and then fried into a crispy texture, where they accompany a huge range of dishes.
But if seitan isn’t right for you, experiment with these other great tempeh substitutes to find the one that is best for you.
Tempeh is a delicious food that is loved around the world, but it isn’t right for every recipe, and isn’t right for every person.
Today, there are more options than ever before, so you can find the tempeh substitute you like best.