Tempeh vs. Chicken (Similarities and Differences Explained)

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made of fermented soybeans. It’s a plant-based food that is an increasingly popular alternative to meat.

Some people also use tempeh as a substitute for chicken in their favorite recipes, but is tempeh a good substitute for chicken?

Here are the differences and similarities between tempeh vs. chicken.

tempeh vs chicken

What Is Tempeh?

Tempeh is a firm cake made of whole soybeans, which is fermented with starter culture for a unique flavor and nutrient profile.

It’s naturally high in protein and using the whole soybean increases other nutrients like fiber and certain vitamins.

As a fermented food, the carbohydrates and nutrients in the soybeans are more digestible and bioavailable than they would otherwise be.

In foods, tempeh has a mild flavor and readily absorbs the flavors of marinades, sauces, and spices.

Tempeh is typically sliced or crumbled into pieces, and often fried or stir-fried to impart a crisp exterior, or grilled or blackened to create a deeper flavor.

It can also be ground or grated for use in other types of dishes.

What Is Chicken?

Chicken is the most common poultry animal in the world and chickens outnumber humans on earth by more than two to one.

Because chickens are easy and affordable to raise, chicken meat and eggs are used in virtually every cuisine in the world, and chicken has been eaten since ancient Babylon.

It’s high in protein and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than red meat.

Because chicken has been eaten for thousands of years all over the world, there is virtually no end to its culinary uses.

Chicken is fried, grilled, broiled, baked, boiled, braised, and barbecued. It’s also frequently used in soups and stocks.

What are the Similarities Between Tempeh and Chicken?

Below are some of the key similarities between tempeh and chicken.

Complete Protein

Both tempeh and chicken are a “complete protein”, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids that our bodies require.

Most plant-based proteins do not have all nine amino acids, so vegans and vegetarians often have to pay special attention to the amino acids in their foods.

Chewy Texture

Both chicken and tempeh have a firm, chewy, meaty texture in foods.

Mild Flavor

While tempeh and chicken taste different from each other, both of them have a mild flavor that readily absorbs flavors from spices, sauces, and marinades.

Versatility

Both chicken and tempeh can be prepared and used in a wide range of ways, and used in a wide range of dishes.

What Are the Differences Between Tempeh and Chicken?

Despite all these similarities, there are also many important differences between tempeh and chicken.

Here are the most important differences:

Fermentation

Tempeh is a fermented food, which offers some special nutritional benefits.

Fermentation creates special flavor and nutritional compounds, and tempeh may help to improve your microbiome.

Chicken is not fermented and does not have these special properties.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin and is only available for humans in animal-derived foods.

Many plant-based foods like tempeh are fortified with vitamin B12, but chicken is a natural source of this essential nutrient, and tempeh does not normally contain it. 

Manganese

Manganese is an essential mineral, necessary for bone formation, metabolism, and free radical defense systems.

Chicken is extremely low in manganese, while tempeh is high in manganese.

Fiber

Fiber is important for healthy digestion. Tempeh is high in fiber, while chicken has none.

Soy Content

Tempeh is made from whole soybeans. For people who are sensitive to soy, tempeh is not a good choice. 

Sustainability

Tempeh has a lower carbon footprint than chicken and requires less water and energy to produce.

Tempeh is the more environmentally sustainable food.

Summary Table: Tempeh vs. Chicken

TempehChicken
Complete ProteinYY
Fermented FoodYN
Rich in Vitamins and MineralsYModerate niacin only
Good Source of Vitamin B12NY
Good Source of ManganeseYN
High in FiberYN
Mild FlavorYY
Versatile Preparation MethodsYY
Meaty TextureYY
High in SoyYN
Low Risk of Food ContaminationYN
More Sustainable and Eco-friendlyYN

In Summary

Because of its firm texture, mild flavor, and versatility, tempeh is a popular vegetarian or vegan substitute for chicken.

It’s high in vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, and is the eco-friendlier choice. Importantly, tempeh is a complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids humans need to survive, which many plant-based proteins lack.

Tempeh is a great choice for people who want a sustainable, non-meat alternative to chicken.