Where is tempeh from? - Answers (2024)

Tempeh is the only major traditional soy food that did notoriginate in China or Japan. It originated in what is nowIndonesia, perhaps as long as 2,000 years ago on the island ofJava. At that time the people of Java, without formal training inmicrobiology or chemistry, developed a family of fermented foods.Besides cooked soybeans, they learned to make tempeh from oil-seedpresscakes (the protein-rich cakes left after pressing the oil fromseeds such as peanuts or coconuts) and okara (the soy pulpremaining after making soy milk or tofu).

Before the Javanese learned to make tempeh, the Chinese weremaking a similar product, the soybean koji for their soy sauce,produced by inoculating cooked, de-hulled soybeans with wild moldssuch as Aspergillus oryzae. Early traders could have brought thismethod from China to Java. The Javanese could have modified it tosuit their own tastes, and used Rhizopus due to its betteradaptation to the Indonesian climate.

Soybeans may have been introduced to Indonesia at the time thatregular trade started with south China in about 1000 AD, althoughone Sundanese (West Javan) name for soybeans is kachang jepun(Japanese bean). Tempeh may have developed from an application tosoybeans of an earlier fermentation used to make coconut presscaketempeh (tempeh bongkrek).

In 1603, the Dutch East India Company was formed, and Indonesiacame under the influence of the Dutch. The Serat Centini, aJavanese story set in the reign of Sultan Agung (1613-45), tells ofthe adventures of students wandering in the Javanese countryside insearch of truth. The story gives detailed information on manysubjects of Javanese culture and life. In a description of areception at Wanamarta, a prosperous place, it mentions "onions anduncooked témpé," without giving any further description.

Dutch botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius reported in 1747 thatsoybeans were being used in Java for food and as green manure.

Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg discovered and named the fungigenus Rhizopus in 1820. The earliest known reference to tempeh(actually témpé) in Indonesia by a European appeared in 1875 in aJavanese-Dutch dictionary. In 1895 the Dutch microbiologist andchemist H.C Prinsen Geerligs made the first attempt to identify thetempeh mold. A year later, when this article was published inGerman, he identified the name of the mold as Rhizopus oryzae andhe identified the product as tempeh.

The oldest method for making tempeh inoculum was the sandwichedhibiscus leaf method, in which inoculated soybeans were sandwichedbetween hibiscus leaves and incubated until the molds producedspores. The finished inoculum was known as laru, waru, or usar. Thespores on the leaves were rubbed over warm soybeans to inoculatethem.

Tempeh's popularity in West Java (where the culture isSundanese), and its spread to other Indonesian islands and othercountries of the world, probably began in the 20th century. In 1900Dr. P.A. Boorsma, a Dutch resident of Java, published a 13-pagearticle on soybeans. In a detailed 4-page description of thetraditional process for making Tempe kedeleh, Boorsma reported thatthe soybeans were parboiled, soaked in water for 2-3 days, drained,steamed in a steamer, spread in a layer several centimeters thickon woven bamboo trays in shelves, and covered completely withbanana leaves. They were then inoculated by mixing in"mold-containing residues of a previous preparation" and coveredlightly with banana leaves. Boorsma then described the rise intemperature to 10-12°C above ambient temperature during the tempehfermentation, and the likelihood that stories about non-soy tempehscausing food poisoning were true.

In 1900 and 1901, German microbiologist Carl Wehmer studiedJavanese ragi (starter culture cakes, also called "Chinese yeast")occasionally used for making tempeh. In 1902 Dutch physicianAdolphe Vorderman discussed in detail two processes he observed forwrapping and fermenting soy tempeh. In the first and best-known waythe soybeans were incubated between banana leaves; in the secondthe soybeans were wrapped in banana leaves to form a packet 20 cmlong and 7 cm wide, then wrapped in a jati leaf. The packets werestacked in a bamboo basket for 24 hours covered with bags, thenremoved to prevent overheating and spread on the floor for 24 hoursmore.

In 1923, Dutch biochemist Barend Coenraad Petrus Jansen showedthat fermentation reduced the "anti-beriberi vitamin" (later namedvitamin B-1 or thiamine) in tempeh.

In 1931, Dutch botanist Jacob Jonas Ochse published Vegetablesof the Dutch East Indies, a 1005-page book, in Java. TheEnglish-language book described the tempeh-making process indetail, including the fact that the mold used was Rhizopus oryzae,and that it was obtained from a former batch of tempeh. In 1932 and1935, Dutch microbiologist Dr. Andre G. van Veen furtherinvestigated the content of thiamine and riboflavin in tempeh andfound it to be a good source of both. In 1935, British botanistIsaac Henry Burkill published A Dictionary of the Economic Productsof the Malay Peninsula, a two-volume, 2,400-page work, in England.It contained six pages of information about tempeh and other soyfoods, including a description of the tempeh-making process. In1936, biologist Dr. Lewis B. Lockwood and his co-workers studiedthe physiology of R. oryzae at the USDA Northern Regional ResearchCenter (NRRC) at Peoria, Illinois.

During World War II most of the Malay archipelago was occupiedby Japan. In New Guinea, tempeh production stopped and the localNew Guinea starter cultures were all lost. Tempeh was served as animportant food in other parts of the archipelago during the war,both for the native population and for foreigners in Japaneseprisoner of war (POW) camps there. Dutch botanist P. A. Roelofsenwas a POW in Japanese camps in Indonesia, where many Europeans werestarving on a sparse diet of corn, sweet potatoes, chilies, andsoybeans. Roelofsen made the soybeans into tempeh using pulverizeddried tempeh as an inoculum. Andre van Veen was also a POW inIndonesian camps where tempeh was widely served.

In 1946, van Veen reported that even POWs suffering fromdysentery and edema, who could not digest cooked whole soybeans,were able to digest tempeh. Fuel was sometimes so scarce in thecamps that the soybeans, served as whole beans or used for tempeh,were inadequately cooked. The tempeh process helped to make theseunder-cooked soybeans much more digestible. Van Veen concluded thatmany POWs owed their survival to tempeh. That same year, Roelofsenalso reported the important role of tempeh in reducing deaths inthe camps. Also in 1946, Swiss plant pathologist Gerold Stahel,director of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Paramaribo,Suriname, a Dutch colony in South America, wrote an article abouttempeh in Suriname and in New Guinea, which was published in theJournal of the New York Botanical Garden. A summary appeared inNovember of that year in Soybean Digest. Stahel described how,during World War II, the United States shipped soybeans to NewGuinea in order to feed the Europeans and Indonesians living there.Indonesians, accustomed to eating fermented soy foods, consideredplain cooked soybeans to be unpalatable. Stahel, asked to furnishnew starter cultures from Suriname, sent both fresh tempeh cakesand pure-culture starters to the Netherlands Indies CivilAdministration (NICA) in New Guinea. NICA kitchens all over theterritory started using the US soybeans to make tempeh. In April ofthat year, a Dutch couple founded a tempeh company called EersteNederlandse Tempe Industrie (ENTI) in Holland. While living inIndonesia, they had learned to make tempeh. Bringing their starterculture and recipe to the Netherlands, they began to make Europe'searliest known tempeh there on a home scale for friends andrelatives. Gradually ENTI grew and became a commercialoperation.

The Dutch people who settled in Indonesia during colonial timeswere overwhelmingly male, and many of these Dutch men marriedIndonesian women. This created a new group of people, theDutch-Eurasians (Indische Nederlanders), also known asIndo-Europeans or Indos. The Chinese population also grew rapidlyduring the colonial period when workers were contracted from theirhome provinces in southern China. During the four-year revolutionthat led to Indonesian independence in 1949, tens of thousands ofDutch, Indo, and Chinese families fled the country. Many of theIndos did not want to emigrate to Holland, which was much colderthan Indonesia, and many of the Chinese did not want to live in anewly Communist China.

In 1950, the United States set a quota allowing 25,000 refugeesto immigrate from Indonesia. Only about 10% were culturally nativeIndonesian; the rest were Dutch-Indonesians or Chinese-Indonesians.Most went to warm states such as Florida, with an estimated 500arriving in California in 1950. That same year, Andre van Veen andG. Schaefer published first study in English on the chemical andmicrobiological changes occurring during tempeh fermentation. Theirpaper, based partly on van Veen's experiences in the POW camp,described the tempeh-making process, and attempted to show whytempeh was so much more digestible than soybeans. Also in 1950Dutch botanist Pieter Merkus Lambertus Tammes published a detaileddescription of how tempeh was made in Java, including a descriptionof how tempeh starter (ragi) was made.

In 1951 Dean A. Smith and Michael F. A. Woodruff wrote"Deficiency Diseases in Japanese Prison Camps." They reported thatthe POWs in had made soybeans (often inadequately cooked) intotempeh to make them more palatable and digestible. They alsoreported that prisoners in Japanese camps in Indonesia during WorldWar II obtained their original tempeh mold culture from thewithered petals of the hibiscus plant. M. W. Grant published asimilar article in Nature in 1952.

Dr. Paul György, a pediatrician and researcher at PhiladelphiaGeneral Hospital, and Professor of Pediatrics at the University ofPennsylvania, had been to Indonesia many times, knew tempeh well,and (like Marcel Autret and Andre van Veen) thought that it couldimprove the diets of infants and children in developing countries.György received his first tempeh from Indonesia in 1954.

In 1955 Marcel Autret and Andre van Veen, both working for theNutrition Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of theUnited Nations, outside the US, published "Possible Sources ofProteins for Child Feeding in Underdeveloped Countries" in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They were the first tosuggest tempeh as a protein-rich, nutritious, and low-cost food forinfants and children in developing countries. They mentioned tempehonly briefly and noted that soy milk would probably be bettersuited for feeding children.

In 1958, Dutch botanist Karel Bernard Boedijn reported that R.oligosporus could always be isolated from tempeh, implying that itwas the primary fermentation organism.

Yap Bwee Hwa, an Indonesian biochemist of Chinese descent whosename comes from the Hokkian dialect of Fujian province, worked inJakarta at the Nutrition Institute under Dr. Poorwo Sudarmo, aphysician interested in nutritious, low-cost foods for infants. Yapwon a Fulbright scholarship to the US and Sudarmo encouraged her tostudy tempeh. After reading the article by van Veen on the value oftempeh in POW camps, she made up her mind. The Fulbright committeesuggested that Yap study at Cornell University, so she wrote to Dr.David B. Hand, head of the Department of Food Science andTechnology at Cornell's New York State Agricultural ExperimentStation in Geneva, New York. She visited tempeh plants in Indonesiato study the process, collected tempeh from the Jakarta market,then dried it and put it in a bottle for later use as tempehstarter. Yap left Indonesia for the US in August 1957. In thesummer of 1958 she started to work in Dr. Keith H. Steinkraus'laboratory at Geneva, where she prepared what was probably thefirst tempeh ever made in America. Yap pursued her study of tempehas a nutritious food for infants and children, in part because ofthe high rate of infant mortality in Indonesia caused bymalnutrition.

In early 1959 Dr.Keith Steinkraus, while on a trip to check theUNICEF-supported Saridele soy milk plant in Indonesia, visited anumber of tempeh shops, becoming the first American to study tempehin its homeland. Also in 1959 Steinkraus' Cornell University groupbegan making tempeh for Dr. György in Pennsylvania. Followingmostly futile attempts to make tempeh in his own laboratory andlacking adequate facilities for making larger quantities of it,György arranged to have the tempeh made under the supervision ofDr. Hand and Dr. Steinkraus in Geneva, New York. Japanesenutritionist Dr. Kiku Murata worked with György in the USinvestigating tempeh during 1959 and 1960.

Ko Swan Djien began his studies at the University of Wisconsinat Madison in August 1959. Like Yap Bwee Hwa, he was an Indonesianof Chinese descent whose name comes from the Hokkian dialect ofFujian province. In September 1959 Steinkraus, Yap, Hand, and theircolleagues submitted "Studies on Tempeh-An Indonesian FermentedFood," which incorporated Yap's tempeh research, plus additionalinvestigations by Steinkraus' group on essential microorganisms,and mycelial penetration of the soybeans.

In June 1960 Yap, as part of her graduate degree in nutrition,submitted her MS thesis titled "Nutritional and Chemical Studies onTempeh, an Indonesian Soybean Product." Innovations in tempehproduction described in her paper included using lactic acid toacidify the soybean soak water, incubating the tempeh in stainlesssteel trays, dehulling the soybeans mechanically, growing thestarter spores on bran, and dehydrating the tempeh in a circulatinghot air oven. Also in 1960, a second US tempeh research program wasstarted under the direction of Dr. Clifford W. Hesseltine at theUSDA NRRC. Ko Swan Djien arrived at the NRRC in February of thatyear to study industrial fermentation. Hesseltine suggested that hestudy tempeh; Ko showed Hesseltine and his group how to prepareit.

In 1961 Ko and Hesseltine authored an article titled "IndonesianFermented Foods." It contained detailed information about tempehmaking and recipes in Indonesia. Ko noted that there were thousandsof tempeh shops in Indonesia and estimated that half or more of thecountry's soybean production was used to make tempeh. That sameyear, György wrote "The Nutritive Value of Tempeh." He graduallymoved his research away from a focus on child feeding programstoward the more narrow study of antioxidants in tempeh, which mightprevent rancidity of tempeh or other foods.

The first immigrant from Indonesia to start a tempeh shop in theU.S. was Mary Otten, who in 1961 began making tempeh in herbasem*nt on Stannage Avenue in Albany, California. She sold it toher friends and served it at parties that she catered. For starterculture she used ragi (an Indonesian starter that comes in smallcakes) flown in from Java, until she learned how to make her own 12years later.

In 1962 Hesseltine published "Research at Northern RegionalResearch Laboratory on Fermented Foods." That same year, afterobserving 50 strains of tempeh mold from various sources,Hesseltine identified R. oligosporus as the primary tempehmold.

In 1963 Hesseltine and co-workers published their first majortempeh study "Investigations of Tempeh, an Indonesian Food." Thatsame year they discovered a mold inhibitor in soybeans.

In 1964 Dr. Alcides Martinelli, a Brazilian scientist studyingtempeh at the NRRC, and Hesseltine developed a new method forincubating tempeh in perforated plastic bags. It soon became widelyused by commercial tempeh producers in both Indonesia and NorthAmerica. In the same paper they described fermenting tempeh inmetal and wooden trays, dry de-hulling soybeans, and preparingtempeh from full-fat soy grits. In May 1964, Ko Swan Djienpresented an article at the International Symposium on OilseedProteins in Tokyo, discussing tempeh's history, traditionalproduction methods, inoculum, packaging, chemistry, microbiology,contamination, shelf life, recipes, and price. He also described atempeh pilot plant being developed in Bandung with a mechanicalroller-mill de-huller, water flotation hull removal, heatedincubator and trays, and improved inocula, and referred to the useof okara (soy pulp) in tempeh. That year, Ko also described animproved soybean-based starter.

Until the mid-1960s many microbiologists thought R. oryzae wasthe primary microorganism responsible for the tempeh fermentation.In 1965, a summary of Ko's work on tempeh was published inIndonesian; it included details of a survey of 81 samples of tempehfrom various places in Java and Sumatra. Isolation of 116 purecultures revealed that R. oligosporus was always present ingood-quality tempeh, establishing that it was the dominant speciesused. Indonesian researchers, however, maintain that the bestquality tempeh contains a mixed culture.

In 1966 and 1967 Hesseltine and Dr. Hwa-Li Wang publishedstudies showing that tempeh could be prepared using soy-and-grainmixtures (including wheat and rice) or cereal grains alone. In 1967the Indonesian Department of Agriculture published Mustika Rasa("Gems of Taste"), a 1,123-page cookbook containing 35 Indonesiantempeh recipes. Also in 1967 several types of tempeh were includedin the official Indonesian Food Composition Tables. That same year,Mary Otten started Java Restaurant in California and served manytempeh dishes.

In 1967 and 1968, Ko Swan Djien developed and tested an inoculumbased on cooked rice, incubated in aluminum trays, then dried,pulverized, and stored it sealed in a cool place. The processrequired no sophisticated equipment. In 1968 Ko joined theDepartment of Food Science at the Agricultural University,Wageningen, in the Netherlands, where he began to stimulate newinterest in tempeh in Europe.

In 1969 Dr. Hwa-Li Wang and her co-workers discovered thatRhizopus oligosporus in tempeh produces an antibacterial compoundor antibiotic, which is active against a number of Gram-positivebacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis,and which retains this property even after cooking. This supportedthe view of Indonesians and of some scientists that people who eattempeh daily have fewer intestinal infections.

Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s a number of changesbegan to take place in the process for making tempeh in Indonesia.The most noticeable of these was the use of polyethylene bags (and,to a more limited extent, wooden trays lined with plastic sheeting)in place of banana leaves as the container in which the tempeh wasincubated and sold. These were techniques developed by Martinelliand Hesseltine at the USDA NRRC in Peoria, Illinois.

Nasruddin Iljas wrote his MS theses on tempeh at Ohio StateUniversity in 1969. In 1970 he published a short article withcolleagues at Ohio State on ways of preserving tempeh. In 1970Dakimah Dwidjoseputra wrote his PhD dissertation on themicrobiology of ragi (tempeh starter) at Vanderbilt University inTennessee. That same year, Dwidjoseputra and Vanderbilt biologyprofessor Frederick Taylor Wolf studied the microorganisms intempeh inocula.

In 1971, Dr. Mahmud Hermana and Digiteng Roedjito were the firstto publish a method for the use of steamed rice (plus cassava andsoy flour) as a tempeh inoculum substrate. Also in 1971, Hesseltineand Wang sent samples of their tempeh to Dr. Doris Calloway at theUniversity of California, Berkeley. She found that tempeh, unlikemost foods made from beans, does not cause flatulence. Thio GoanLoo, an Indonesian of Chinese descent, introduced tempeh and othersoy foods to Zambia that same year. Later that year, AlexanderLyon, a member of The Farm, a large spiritual and farming communityon 1,700 acres in Summertown, Tennessee, learned about tempeh whiledoing library research on soy-based weaning foods.

In 1972, Lyon, who had a PhD in biochemistry, helped The Farm toset up a small "soy dairy." While serving as its first manager, andusing starter culture and literature supplied by Drs. Hesseltineand Wang, he worked with Dianne Darling to make an occasional smallbatch of tempeh for the soy dairy crew. Dianne wrote a ten-stepkitchen method for making tempeh using spore suspension forinoculum. Soon Deborah Flowers made two large batches of tempeh,incubated in the boiler room at the Canning and Freezing plant, andmany Farm members had their first taste. The group developed amethod for growing tempeh starter on chopped, sterilized sweetpotatoes with cultures in test tubes. Tempeh was an immediate hitin The Farm's vegan diet. That same year, Hesseltine and Wangreported that bulgur wheat was mixed with soybeans to maketempeh.

In 1974, Mary Otten and her daughter, Irene, started Otten'sIndonesian Foods. That same year, Simon Rusmin and Ko Swan Djienwrote an article on rice-grown tempeh inoculum and Ko showed thatthe tempeh mold prevented aflatoxin production by Aspergillusflavus. Also in 1974, Cynthia Bates joined the Soy Dairy crew atThe Farm and learned the basic lab techniques for making tempehstarter from Alexander. She built a tempeh incubator out of an oldrefrigerator and by November 1974 was making 20-30 pound batches ofokara tempeh, using the soy pulp (okara) left over after makingsoymilk.

By the mid-1970s, some larger manufacturers began to use aprepared, rice-based tempeh inoculum; a key supplier was theDepartment of Microbiology at Bandung Institute of Technology.Tempeh was known in even the most remote rural areas throughoutmost of Java, where it is served in a wide variety of populardishes. By the mid-1970s it was being made from at least 17indigenous seeds and presscakes by more than 41,000 shops, usingsimple, traditional methods. In Indonesia the great majority of alltempeh was soy tempeh (témpé kedelé) and by the mid-1970s itconstituted an estimated 90% of all tempeh produced. Well-knownvarieties of soy tempeh included thick Malang tempeh andone-bean-thick Purwokerto tempeh. Other traditional types of tempehincluded: okara tempeh (tempe gembus or onchom hitau),soybean-hulls tempeh (tempe mata kedele), peanut presscake tempeh(onchom hitam), the occasionally poisonous coconut presscake tempeh(tempe bongkrek), velvet-bean tempeh (tempe benguk), leucaenatempeh (tempe lamtoro), mung bean tempeh (tempe kacang hijau), mungbean pulp tempeh, plus several other minor varieties. The okaratempeh, presscake tempehs, and other non-soy tempehs were consumedmore by lower-income people.

By January 1975, The Farm Tempeh Shop was making 80-200 poundsof tempeh a week. The incubator was expanded into a used bean dryerand sporulated okara tempeh (dried and ground) began to be used asa starter. That year, the 1,100-member community featured a sectionon tempeh (written by Cynthia Bates) in their widely read FarmVegetarian Cookbook, including the first tempeh recipes to bepublished in any European language. After Wang, Swain, andHesseltine at the NRRC published their paper on mass production oftempeh spores, Bates set up a little laboratory and began makingtempeh starter for use on The Farm. The starter was grown on rice,using the syringe inoculation technique and a spore suspension ofstarter sent periodically by Dr. Wang. In the spring of 1975 theR&D department at Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, decidedto follow up on the work with tempeh done by Hesseltine and Wang atPeoria. That same year, Slamet Sudarmadji wrote his PhDdissertation on tempeh at Michigan State University. He found thatthe phytic acid in soybeans (which can bind dietary minerals) wassignificantly reduced during the tempeh fermentation. WilliamShurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, in their Book of Tofu (1975), includeda recipe for homemade tempeh and seven Indonesian-style tempehrecipes.

The first commercial tempeh shop owned by a native-born Americanwas started in the winter of 1975 by Gale Randall in Unadilla,Nebraska. The former high school teacher had retired four yearspreviously and moved his family to the farm in Unadilla where hehad grown up. He read about tempeh in several magazines, and hecontacted Dr. Wang at the USDA NRRC in Peoria for starter andinstructions. Randall made tempeh for his family for most of theyear, then built a tempeh shop in the basem*nt of his home andbegan selling the product commercially. At night he worked in thepost office in Lincoln.

In early 1976, Rodale's R&D food technologist Mark Schwartzbegan to work with Dr. Wang in Peoria to develop a simple,inexpensive way to make tempeh at home. They devised a tempeh kitincluding an incubator made from an Styrofoam cooler heated by alight bulb. They sent the kit with instructions and a questionnaireto 60 readers across the country, who found the new food easy tomake and delicious. In March 1976 Brenda Bortz in "The Joys of Soy"introduced tempeh and Rodale's tempeh research to readers ofOrganic Gardening. In May 1976 Mother Earth News ran a long excerpton tempeh from The Book of Tofu by Shurtleff and Aoyagi. Thatarticle and others listed the USDA NRRC at Peoria as America's onlysource of tempeh starter. Over the next few years the Peoria groupsent out some 25,000 tempeh starter cultures and instructions formaking tempeh, free of charge to people and organizationsrequesting them. That same year, Cynthia Bates began making andselling powdered pure-culture tempeh starter from the Tempeh Lab.Alexander Lyon typed up a three-page flyer called "TempehInstructions," which contained the first instructions in anyEuropean language for making tempeh at home, and listed The Farm asa source of tempeh starter. Bates wrote and The Farm printed a2-page flyer titled "Tempe," which described how to make fivepounds of tempeh and contained four recipes, including the world'sfirst Tempeh Burger recipe. This flyer was distributed with thestarter. Bates and co-workers wrote a 20-page article titled"Beatnik Tempeh Making" (later retitled "Utilization of Tempeh inNorth America") for the Symposium on Indigenous Fermented Foods inBangkok. The Farm's satellite farms established commercial tempehshops in San Rafael, California, and Houma, Louisiana. America'sfirst soy deli, set up in August 1976 at the Farm Food Company'sstorefront restaurant in San Rafael, featured tempeh in TempehBurgers, Deep-fried Tempeh Cutlets, and Tempeh with Creamy TofuTopping, the first tempeh dishes sold in an American-stylerestaurant. In late 1976, during a two-week visit to The Farm,Shurtleff and Aoyagi wrote (with Bates) a 4-page pamphlet titled"What is Tempeh?" which they enlarged and published in early1977.

In January 1977 Organic Gardening published "Tempeh Keeps 'emComing for More Soybeans." Jack Ruttle, a Rodale staffer,summarized the results of Rodale's research on tempeh to date andgave detailed instructions for making tempeh at home. The articlelisted The Farm as the only known source of split, hulled soybeans.Orders began to arrive. Soon Dr. Wang at the NRRC in Peoria,flooded by orders for tempeh starter, was forwarding many of themto The Farm. In June Prevention, the largest health magazine inAmerica, ran a cover story and editorial by Robert Rodale titled"Tempeh, a New Health Food Opportunity." He visited Gale Randall'stempeh shop, encouraged others to start tempeh shops and to "get inon the ground floor of a new industry." The article brought Randalland his shop instant fame. He eventually developed a diverse lineof tempeh products but conservative Nebraskans were slow to acceptthem. Also in June, Organic Gardening (circulation 1,350,000)published Shurtleff and Aoyagi's "Favorite Tempeh Recipes" andWang, Swain, and Hesseltine's "Calling all Tempeh Lovers,"describing an easy method for making this rice-based tempeh starterat home. In September Mother Earth News featured "How We Make andEat Tempeh Down on the Farm," by Cynthia Bates and Deborah Flowers,and in November Vegetarian Times published "Tempeh." The MotherEarth News article led to a surge of orders for both starter andsplit soy beans. On 21 September 1977, macrobiotic pioneer MichioKushi, speaking in Washington D.C. to the President's committee onfood policy, recommended the use of traditional, naturallyfermented soy foods such as soy sauce, miso, and tempeh. By 1977the Farm community, with Suzie Jenkins as head tempeh maker, wasproducing at least 60 pounds of tempeh a day, and they were using acentrifuge to dry the soybeans after cooking and beforeinoculation, a technological breakthrough that soon caught on amongcommercial tempeh makers. That same year, Farm Foods was founded;it took over marketing of the tempeh starter, together with hulledsoybeans and revised editions of the tempeh instructions. The threeitems were sold nationwide as America's first Tempeh Kit by mailorder and in some natural food stores. The starter was also soldseparately with the leaflet. Steinkraus organized a Symposium onIndigenous Fermented Foods, held in Bangkok, Thailand, in November1977 in conjunction with the fifth United Nations-sponsoredconference on the Global Impacts of Applied Microbiology (GIAM V),and attended by over 450 scientists from around the world. There 17papers were presented on tempeh, more than any other single food.That same year, Lindayati Tanuwidjaja studied the fortification oflow-cost presscake tempehs with soy flour to improve the diets ofthe very poor. Also in 1977, Steinkraus and his colleages showedtempeh to be one of the best vegetarian sources of vitamin B-12,which was produced by the bacterium Klebsiella. (Nutritionalanalyses of commercial tempeh done by independent scientificlaboratories showed that typical samples contained an average of8.8 micrograms of vitamin B-12 per 100 gram portion, or 293% of theUS Recommended Daily Allowance of 3 micrograms.)

During 1978 Farm Foods promoted its tempeh starter and tempehkit by serving grilled tempeh at numerous natural foods tradeshows. The February 1978 issue of Organic Gardening magazine listedFarm Foods as the best source of tempeh starter and split beans,which stimulated sales. In July 1978 East West Journal ran itsfirst tempeh story, "Make Your Own Soyburger" about the Farm'stempeh. Also in 1978, Louise Hagler edited a revised edition of theFarm Vegetarian Cookbook that contained 12 pages on tempeh,including many recipes.

By early 1979 there were 13 tempeh shops in the US, one inCanada, and four in the Netherlands. Prior to 1979 tempeh had beenavailable on The Farm only on special occasions. In that year,however, a Tempeh Trailer, developed in Louisiana by John andCharlotte Gabriel, was brought to The Farm. The tempeh incubatorwas moved out of the Canning and Freezing building and made into awalk-in incubation room in the trailer. John Pielascyzk became headtempeh maker, and thereafter any Farm member could go at almost anytime to the Farm store, open the freezer, and take home tempeh. InJuly 1979 Harper & Row published Book of Tempeh by Shurtleffand Aoyagi, the first book in the world devoted entirely on tempeh.It contained 130 American-style and Indonesian tempeh recipes. Thatsame month, Michael Cohen (who had formerly lived on The Farm) madehis first tempeh at The Tempeh Works in Greenfield, Massachusetts,a remodeled gas station with 1,200 square feet of floor space.Their tempeh was served at the annual Soyfoods Conference atAmherst. The company began regular commercial production inSeptember. Also in 1979, Thio Goan Loo introduced tempeh to SriLanka. That same year, Ko and Hesseltine wrote "Tempeh and RelatedFoods."

In 1980 The Soy Plant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, developed Tempehof the Sea, containing sea vegetables such as hijiki, dulse, andarame, which resembled fish sticks. In August 1980 Island Springnear Seattle, Washington introduced the world's first commercialtempeh burgers, made on a small scale in individual petri dishes.By the end of its first year in September 1980, the Tempeh Works inMassachusetts grew to be the biggest tempeh producer in America atthat time, reaching about 3,000 pounds per week. Cohen sold histempeh refrigerated rather than frozen, and he developed the firsteffective steaming system to give such tempeh a long shelf life, 10days in summer and 14-21 days in winter. By 1980 articles about TheTempeh Works were published in regional and national magazines, andthe company ran ads for its tempeh to accompany many of thesearticles.

In 1981 Margaret Nofziger, Farm nutritionist, wrote an articleon "Tempeh and Soy Yogurt," with five tempeh recipes, forVegetarian Times. By that time, Otten's Indonesian Foods inCalifornia was making tempeh plus a full line of Indonesiantempeh-based foods under the brand name Joy of Java. These foodsincluded Sweet & Sour Tempeh and Sayur Lodeh Tempeh. That sameyear, Indian microbiologists I. M. David and Jitendra Vermasuggested that the antibacterial substance in tempeh might inhibitthe growth of gram-positive Clostridium bacteria, which are knownto produce gas in the intestines, and may be the reason tempehdoesn't cause flatulence. In August 1981, East West Journal printedAveline Kushi's "My Favorite Tempeh Recipes." Aveline used tempehextensively in diets for cancer patients. People practicing amacrobiotic diet increasingly used tempeh daily, and a number ofthem started tempeh companies. Rodale Press published Ray Wolf'sHome Soyfood Equipment, which included a new method for makingtempeh at home using unsalted soynuts, which took less time andcost only about 10 cents more per pound than the traditionalmethod. It also included detailed plans for making a home tempehincubator.

In March 1982, Organic Gardening summarized Wolf's quick tempehmethod. That year, Farm Foods began actively advertising andselling bulk, powdered tempeh starter to America's growing numberof tempeh shops.

In 1983 Steinkraus edited the Handbook of Indigenous FermentedFoods, containing 94 pages of information about tempeh, much of itfrom the 1977 Symposium.

By 1984, Farm Foods had captured a majority of the market forbulk, powdered tempeh starter, and became financially independentfrom The Farm. In May 1984 the Tempeh Lab (under the directorshipof Cynthia Bates) became independent of Farm Foods. Both becamefor-profit companies. In March 1984 The Farm published TempehCookery with full-page color photos. To promote this book (andtempeh), in June 1984 Farm Foods and its sister company, The BookPublishing Company, served samples of deep-fried tempeh and severaltofu dishes to 20,000 attendees of the American BooksellersAssociation Convention in Washington, D.C. Farm Foods was alsoplanning to have one or more large tempeh companies (perhaps one oneach coast of the USA) make private labeled tempeh, which wouldthen be sold nationwide through the company's extensive soy milkice cream (Ice Bean) distribution channels. Farm Foods could thenalso use the tempeh, the starter, and the book to promote eachother. Rodale Press published Camille Cusumano's Tofu, Tempeh,& Other Soy Delights.

Over the centuries, wherever Javanese people have gone, theyhave taken tempeh with them. Today, it is widely produced andconsumed in Suriname (where 30% of the population is Indonesian),and on the west and south coasts of Peninsular Malaysia. To alesser extent it is consumed in Singapore, New Caledonia, and theother Indonesian Islands (especially Sumatra). Tempeh is alsoincreasingly popular in the Netherlands.

Where is tempeh from? - Answers (2024)


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