Does Tempeh Need to Be Cooked? Can It Be Eaten Raw?

Tempeh is one of my favorite ingredients. It packs a crazy amount of protein for a vegan option. But there is some confusion when it comes to tempeh, probiotics, and whether this food needs to be cooked. So let’s set things straight.

Pasteurized, store-bought tempeh does not need to be cooked. Only unpasteurized tempeh needs to be cooked for safety reasons. However, most people choose to cook their tempeh anyway because the taste of raw tempeh is bitter and plain.

This topic can be confusing at first… but I’ve sorted it out below. And I’ve answered some related questions, too: Does cooking tempeh kill the probiotics? How long should tempeh be cooked? Plus, I share some great tempeh prep tips!

Can You Eat Tempeh Raw?

Tempeh can safely be eaten raw as long as it has been pasteurized. Most store-bought tempeh is pasteurized, so it is safe to eat raw. Unpasteurized tempeh, however, should always be cooked to avoid infections from harmful microorganisms.

The tricky thing about the term “raw tempeh” is that it could actually mean different things.

First, the soybeans in tempeh are never raw. Eating raw beans is crazy and totally unappealing. So the beans in tempeh have already been cooked—that’s for sure.

Aside from that, there’s the fact that almost all store-bought tempeh is pasteurized. Pasteurizing is basically a form of cooking, done for safety reasons.

The question of whether you can eat tempeh raw, therefore, may reflect a misunderstanding about tempeh. The tempeh you buy in the store is not really “raw.”

But to be clear, you do not need to cook the typicaly tempeh you buy in the store. Most people cook it because it’s easier to get a desirable flavor with cooking. Uncooked tempeh is kind of bitter and mushroom-like in taste.

If you prefer to eat it without fully cooking it, many people like to steam their tempeh for 15 to 20 minutes before eating. Tempeh is firm and chunky, so it won’t crumble when steamed.

Morgan Bettini, RDN, explains why you *can* eat tempeh raw… but you probably don’t want to.

What Happens If I Eat Uncooked Tempeh?

Nothing bad should happen if you eat uncooked tempeh from the store, as it is typically pasteurized and the microorganisms have been killed. If you eat unpasteurized and uncooked tempeh, however, there is a chance you could fall ill from harmful microorganisms.

Since most store-bought tempeh is pasteurized, you can eat it right out of the package. If you have unpasteurized tempeh, however, you should cook it thoroughly to avoid the chance of illness. This is explained well in this page from tempeh producer Soy Boy.

How Long Does Tempeh Need to Be Cooked?

Most recipes recommend you “soften” your tempeh by steaming or simmering it for about 15 minutes before cooking it or adding to another dish. Then to bake, grill, or pan-fry it, that should take another 5 or 10 minutes. So it takes 20 to 25 minutes to cook tempeh according to many recipes.

Some people also add marination before cooking tempeh. One of tempeh’s best features is that it absorbs the flavors of sauces you add it to. But that absorption can take even longer.

All that said, remember: It’s safe to eat tempeh right out of the package. So just quickly steaming it or pan-frying it can also work just fine, depending on what you want.

How to Know If Tempeh Is Done Cooking

Tempeh is typically considered done cooking when it’s crunchy on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside. No matter how you’re cooking your tempeh, this usually takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

Remember there is no concern about raw tempeh being unsafe if you are using a store-bought, pasteurized tempeh product. So if you undercook it, there shouldn’t be an issue there.

The Best Way to Eat Tempeh Raw

I was doing some additional research for this post, and I found an awesome video about how to eat tempeh raw. The idea is eating tempeh raw with fruit.

As explained in the video below, when you combine tempeh with sweet fruit, you can barely even taste the tempeh. It just adds a bit of a nutty, chunky texture.

This means you get the health benefits of tempeh—like the 40+ grams of protein per block—and it just tastes like you ate fruit. I love this tip!

Josh from Vegan Fit explains how to eat raw tempeh with fruit for a sweet, high-protein meal.

Does Cooking Tempeh Kill the Probiotics?

There is mixed information online about whether cooking tempeh kills the probiotics. Some sources say only the probiotics on the outside of the tempeh get killed, while the probiotics on the inside survive.

But as Soy Boy explains on their website, this is part of an overall cloud of misinformation about tempeh and probiotics. They explain that probiotics are not a reason to eat tempeh.

  • First, unlike other strains of probiotics, tempeh culture has not been shown to have any benefit to human health.
  • Second, there is a danger is maintaining the fermentation conditions that allow tempeh culture to grow on the product. Harmful bacteria could grow in that same environment. For this reason, store-bought tempeh is pasteurized to make sure it’s safe.

So, to answer the question: Tempeh does not actually contain probiotics known to benefit human health. And the pasteurized tempeh you buy in the store shouldn’t contain any live probiotics.

That said, there is also some research showing that there may be health benefits to eating heat-killed probiotics anyway. (source)

So if tempeh cultures do end up being beneficial to our health, it’s quite possible that we could still get the benefit by eating pasteurized and cooked tempeh.

In summary, I would not worry about cooking killing the probiotics in your tempeh. Tempeh is not really a food to eat for probiotics after all (source). Eat it for the protein, fiber, and great textures and culinary versatility. Not probiotics.

Different Ways to Cook Tempeh

Tempeh bacon is just one of the many ways you can prepare tempeh!

One great thing about tempeh is that it’s great at holding its shape—much better than tofu. You can make steak by cutting tempeh into slabs, for example.

Tempeh can also be cut into cubes and tossed into stews, or on top of salads, or grilled on skewers. It also works great when shredded then added to stir-fries or pasta dishes.

Here are a few different ways to add tempeh to any of your dishes.

Steamed

Steaming is recommended, even if you’re going to cook tempeh in another way afterward. But you can eat it just steamed, too, either on its own or added to other dishes.

Marinated

Once it’s steamed, you can marinade tempeh before grilling or frying. This adds a whole new level of taste and texture to your tempeh. Try this basic Oven-Baked Marinated Tempeh dish.

Grilled or Pan-fried

You can cut up tempeh into cubes or 1/4 -thick slices. Then, place them on the skewer, or pan, and grill them for crispy edges and a chewy interior. My favorite recipe is this Sweet & Savory Grilled Tempeh.

Baked

Baking tempeh is a healthier choice because you just let the heat of the oven do all the work. No oil needed. The flavors sizzle and you end up with a delicious, mouth-watering meal, like this Vegan Barbecue Baked Tempeh.

Stir-Fry

A delicious way to add tempeh to your diet is through a stir-fry. And the best part is that the choices are endless. A savory recipe to try is this Sweet, Spicy & Sticky Stir-Fry with Tempeh and Brussels Sprouts.

Crumbled or Grated

Tempeh has a chewy texture. This makes it easy to crumble or grate it. After that, you can use it as a substitute in your tacos, burritos, and other meat recipes. A great one to try is the Vegan Burrito Bowls.

Two More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey

1. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in 13 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).

2. This is the best vegan starter kit I know of. It’s a bundle of 9 beautiful e-books that help you transition to a healthy plant-based diet—the right way. The advice is spot-on, and it has print-outs and checklists that make it easy to implement. Read my full review of Nutriciously here.

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