Chatelaine Kitchen

The difference between tofu and tempeh

Get to know your soybean products — starting with the difference between these popular meat substitutes.


Tofu has long been a staple of Southeast and East Asian cooking, but it’s only in the past few decades that it’s become a regular part of Western cooking — and a staple of vegetarian and vegan diets thanks to its range of texture and ability to carry seemingly endless flavour combinations. Tempeh on the other hand, is just gaining momentum as of recently. But what’s the difference between these two soy-based products?

Although tofu comes in a wide range of consistencies (silken, soft, firm and extra-firm), it’s all made in using the same process: curdling heated soy milk with a coagulant. From there, each type is either strained or pressed, depending on the desired texture, leaving some super silky and creamy and others firm and meaty.

Why we love it: Silken and soft tofu can be used in ultra lush desserts, or served chilled as a summery dish, whereas the firmer versions stand up to the heat of pan-frying or a slow simmer. Plus, all tofu is high in protein, making it a no-brainer for vegetarian cooking.

Try it in:
Mocha chocolate mousse
Sweet chili tofu
Japanese tofu curry

Tempeh, on the other hand, is made using whole soybeans, which are soaked, hulled, then partially cooked. From there it’s mixed with a fermentation starter, spread out and left to ferment (often in a loaf form). This process makes the soybeans easier to digest and also gives it a nuttier, more intense flavour. Because it uses the whole soybean, it’s less processed and is higher in both fibre and protein.

Why we love it: Tempeh is super dense, giving it an almost meaty texture, making it a perfect substitute for any burger.

Try it in:
Superfood tempeh burger

Did you know? Tempeh can also be coarsely grated, then used as a substitute for ground beef.

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