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Tempeh Making

 
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I don’t want to address the ethical considerations of eating meat but as a long-time vegetarian (after seeing a cow slaughtered at an uncle’s farm in my youth) I have been constantly on the search for a “meat-substitute”…  What I mean by that is that I have been searching for something vegetarian but nonetheless dense and flavorful (umami?) to “build” a meal around.  It is encouraging that meatless products have lately become so popular but their price makes them completely unpractical and unrealistic for me.  What comes closest invariably involves beans of various sorts.,,,  chickpeas, lentils and pinto beans are my favorites.,, tofu is very good…
I have always enjoyed the taste of tempeh  at Thai restaurants and wished that it was more available and affordable.  At $5+ for a one pound package it just seemed too “pricey” to use often.   About 6 months ago I decided to try to make my own,…  It is a bit complicated in that it involves soaking, de-hulling, cooking, innoculating and packaging the soybeans and then fermenting them at around 90 degrees for a day and a half.   That sounds more difficult than it really is.  After three disappointing failures at attempting to make it I have finally figured it out.   The result is that I now have been consistently making delicious tempeh for around $.40 cents a pound.  I make about 10 pounds at a time and it keeps wonderfully well in the freezer and lasts me about two weeks.   I use it in making my own fake hamburgers.  I put a patty of them on my home-made pita bread (also frozen) and pop them in the microwave for a minute,… add mustard, ketchup, pickles.., etc.   I am very pleased with the result.
   Here are a few tips that I have learned along the way…
I buy the soybeans from a local feed store,..   $18 for 50 pounds  (yes I know it is  GMO  and that it might not be so “clean”  but the little bits of chaff that I sometimes find in it is absolutely worth the difference to me between paying $.35/pound and $1.75/pound at the health store..
  Get a big pot to make it in,..  It makes it far easier.
 Ebay is a good inexpensive source for the tempeh innoculant, and for the thermostatic control that I used in making my incubator (under $10).  By the way, You could probably use a large cooler or any sort of a box or maybe even your oven but I made a large incubator out of a styrofoam sheet that I cut up and glued into a box shape,..  I added a small 20 watt light inside and coupled that to the thermostatic switch that keeps the temperature at 88 degrees.
  After the beans are soaked overnight they need to be dehulled.  This involves squeezing them with your hands in the water which splits the beans in half and takes off their covering hull.  I am not sure that this step is absolutely necessary and have seen where some people say that it isn’t..  I think that it is important because I suspect that the hulls if left in might prevent the mycelium from spreading evenly through the beans and making a firm cake.  I will soon try skipping this step as it is a bit laborious involving squeezing the beans and then trying repeatedly to float the hulls out of them…
Boil the beans until relatively soft, drain them very well, add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to make for the acid conditions that the mycellium seems to favor, add a tablespoon of tempeh starter, mix well..  Put the beans into plastic sandwhich bags with holes punched in them,..  Place them into your temperature controlled box and Voila…  32 hours later you should have the delicious tempeh.
 Youtube has several good instructional videos that address all of these procedures.
  As I said, my first three attempts were disappointing failures in that the white mycellium did not form.  These are the mistakes that I made and that hopefully you will know to avoid.  First, it is really important to get the cooked beans to be quite dry before placing them in the bags..  (apparently the mycellium “drowns” if too wet)..  I have read that some people place the beans on a towel to dry them..    
I drain them in a colander for quite a while and then place them back in the pot on the stove and stir them to help evaporate more of the moisture… Another problem I had is that mysteriously the temperature in my incubator suddenly shot up to 100 degrees after about 10 hours.  I thought that my thermostat had failed but then I realized that the fermenting process generates its own heat…  I ended up having to actually vent the box to keep it at the desired temperature.   A final tip is to punch the required holes into the plastic sandwich bags with a paper hole punch. I do ten bags at a time…    I have written too much I know,..  Just wanted to share my good experience regarding tempeh...   Can share more regarding it if anyone is interested...
 
pollinator
Posts: 2871
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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I enjoy making my own tempeh with Rhizopus oligosporus mycelium, when this same inoculatant is used to with peanut it is called black Oncom it is also used with coconut too, really it can be used with any beans.

I mostly make my Tempeh/Oncom with white navy beans, I dont even take off the skin. I recommend having amazake/koji fermentation going on in the house too, but it is not required, just something I usually do and it makes it easier. I have even just made batch in the same pot that I cooked 1lbs of dried beans, The bottom got wet feet so I flipped it over and then it dried out and firmed up. Its really good fried.

I have tried adding koji to my beans, like I did to my cooked rice to make amazake/rice syrup. The koji did liquefy/mushify the beans, but I wasn't too keen about eating it.
I did put them in a jar to ferment them to the miso/soy sauce stage, but I got fearful because it is a 9 month long fermentation process to make soy sauce and I started getting citrus odor from one and nail polish odor form another.
 
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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S Benji wrote:

but I got fearful because it is a 9 month long fermentation process to make soy sauce and I started getting citrus odor from one and nail polish odor form another.

I have read that making soya sauce is a *really stinky business*. The fact that you got two different smells would have worried me too, but I really want to try making it anyway.

So many of the traditional sauces that provided many necessary micronutrients to our ancestors were made by fermenting some really gross stuff. The poor used them and seemed to tolerate the smell and taste and that may be because their body craved something that was now bio-available that wasn't in the rest of their diet. A well documented and less stinky example is Nixtimizing corn (not sure about the spelling) which uses wood ash (lye) to produce B vitamins that would otherwise be absent. Most modern sauces are really just sugar water and flavoring. What used to be a fermented product which would also have supported our gut biology, is often empty calories. Some soy sauces do specify that they are made of fermented soybeans, but I worry that by the time the product is bottled according to health codes, that the benefits of the fermentation will be gone or mostly gone.

Of course - first I need to grow the soybeans, and they can't be planted until late May in my locale!
 
pollinator
Posts: 1573
Location: northern California
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I've been making tempeh for over 30 years, and it's so yummy that it's a daily item in my diet (and I'm not even vegetarian)  Once you get the hang of it, it's really no more difficult than something like homemade bread or wine or sauerkraut or any other ferment.  Getting the right temperature is critical.  When I was off-grid I was always moving it multiple time a day further or closer to the woodstove or sunny window (kept covered) or indoors/outdoors.  Now I have a small chick brooder heater in a large cardboard box, which can keep it right between 85-90 consistently no matter the outside temp or the heat produced by the tempeh itself (which is significant as it finishes and is often the cause of overheating failure).  A few tweaks to the general process I now use are prefermenting the beans...this is simply soaking them after the first boil and dehulling for 24-48 hours in a warm place.  I add a bit of inoculant like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut juice, kombucha, homemade wine....basically an acidifying microbe of some sort.  This acidifies the beans and eliminates the need to add vinegar.  Another thing I do is make my own starter...basically you let some tempeh (made in a container like a tupperware with holes punched in it, rather than a plastic bag---this can be re-used many times also, so better than bags anyway)go over-ripe till it gets dark and powdery on top....then let dry out till it's hard and then break up and stir around in a wire strainer....or just grind up to powder in a blender, and the powder is the new starter.  I've done up to ten or twenty generations before going back to bought starter.  I get my starter direct from Indonesia (tempehstarter.com)   My other cutting edge is making tempeh from other legumes besides soybeans, since they must be bought....they aren't well adapted to my Mediterranean climate.  I've had some luck with favas...they need an elaborate, manual dehulling and only a brief boiling, or they get too mushy.  Going to try lupin beans soon!  Oh....and for dehulling soybeans, the classic method in Indonesia is to trample on them in a bamboo basket with bare feet.....I do this in a shallow bucket.  Much much quicker than by hand, and since there are two boilings between them and food, it's okay clean-wise!
 
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Thank you so much for sharing your experience with making tempeh. You have inspired me to give it another shot after failing miserably on my first attempt.

David Fraleigh wrote:
I buy the soybeans from a local feed store,..   $18 for 50 pounds  (yes I know it is  GMO  and that it might not be so “clean”  but the little bits of chaff that I sometimes find in it is absolutely worth the difference to me between paying $.35/pound and $1.75/pound at the health store..



I apologize but I do have the be 'that guy' that takes issue with your decision to cut costs by buying GMO soybeans.
In my opinion, going cheap on nutrition and your health is not the best way to save money. Also, I believe the only true vote you have is with your dollar. Buying GMO is supporting the type of agriculture that permaculture is trying to steer away from. I'm not trying to lecture you, I'm just sharing my thoughts. Thanks again for your insight!
 
pollinator
Posts: 420
Location: Clemson, SC ("new" Zone 8a)
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I would love it if some of you could post here pictures of the incubators and fermenting containers that you have built and/or modified in order to perfect your tempeh-making operations!  Thanks in advance : )
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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Photography is a bit difficult for me, but my incubator is basically a cardboard box about 30" long by 20" wide and high, opening at the top.  The brooder heater sits down in the bottom on a piece of metal.  Six sections of cardboard tube are taped in the corners of the box and in the middle of each long side...these end about three inches from the top and hold up a couple of old refrigerator or grill racks, on which the bags or containers of tempeh sit, along with a thermometer.  Since the heater has a thermostat it just maintains the right temp. once set, although I do put a blanket over the whole box if the weather is cold just so it doesn't have to run so much.  When the outside temperature gets into the 80's I put the tempeh in the box without the heater on, and then bring the racks out and just set them somewhere in the shade once the tempeh starts producing it's own heat.  If I'm making a batch when it's very hot....our summer regularly goes over 100, then I'll look for a cool place for it to finish, like under the house where I keep my wine.
 
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