Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Totally Tempeh: Local, Brisbane Tempeh Producer

I am a bit of a tempeh fan-girl, as you may have noticed. Beliebers ain't got nothing on me (probably because they don't like tempeh (or have really poor investigative skills)) because, dedicated hipster though I am not, I certainly enjoy being dedicated to a vastly misunderstand, and consequently rather unpopular, food item. The greatest reason for it's misunderstoodness (and unpopularity) is most likely because of the horrid array of products claiming to be tempeh, most of which taste somewhere between beige and ironing fluid.

One clear exception to this is Mighty Bean's Fresh Local Tempeh (which I know I go on about a bit), but I was very excited to discover the other day that, in fact, there's tempeh being made in Brisbane! No way was I missing out on that!

I got into contact with Lara, the owner/tempeh maker behind Totally Tempeh, and arranged to pick up some tempeh but, more importantly, learn a bit more about the process involved.

Lara lived in Indonesia (with her Indonesian husband) for some years, where tempeh is not some obscure item seen only in healthfood aisles, but a street food, consumed and appreciated by all. It was here that Lara learned how to make tempeh, a skill she brought back with her when her family returned to Australia. Though she and her husband made tempeh at home for themselves and friends, they recently decided that it was high time to share their tempeh with the wider world, and Totally Tempeh was born.

Tofu and tempeh are often erroneously lumped in the same basket (along with all other "soyfoods"), but not only did they originate in completely different areas, but the process by which they are made, and the result, are entirely different.

Probably the greatest difference is that tofu is made from soymilk, whereas tempeh is made from whole soybeans. To begin, the beans are boiled for about an hour, then poured into buckets full of water, where they are massaged to hull the beans: the hulls float to the top and can then be washed away. Lara explained that the tempeh starter culture cannot get through the tough hull, so they need to be removed.

The hulled beans are soaked for 12 hours, which removes enzymes in the soybeans that can sometimes result in a bitter taste. After they are soaked, they are boiled again to sterilise them, then laid out on a towel to air-dry. Once dry, the batch is divided into a few mounds, to ensure the starter is evenly distributed, the starter is added. Portions are then weighed off and bagged.

The bagged tempeh blocks are then kept at 30degrees for 36 hours: somewhat incredibly, in the final 12 hours they must be fanned as the culture generates so much heat that the blocks can overheat! (those who have sprouted will recognise the somewhat odd sensation of picking up a sprouting jar to find that it's hot).

After the 36 hours has passed, the process is complete! Lara pops the tempeh in the fridge, where it will last for 5 days (I suspect that some larger producers steam tempeh after the incubation period, which accounts for the longer shelf-life), or it can be stored in the freezer indefinitely (not that it'll last anywhere near that long!)

Yes, it's being kept in the fridge, but fresh tempeh should also not be stacked in the freezer, or it will heat itself up again! Gosh, what a crazy cat.

When we visited, Lara was kind enough to fry up some of her tempeh that she'd frozen. It was absolutely delicious, of course, and I think she's very lucky that there was any left (OK, Matt told me to stop eating it...). But then Lara brought out some of a more recent batch, and by "more recent" I mean "It finished incubating last night and was put in the fridge oh my gosh this tempeh is under 24 hours old". The outside I can only compare to Camembert: a undulating surface of delicate white, only occasionally broken by a cream-coloured soybean. And Lara cut into the block, I couldn't help but smell the block, and sniffed a delicate bouquet that was both familiar and excitingly new. I managed to contain myself and waited until the slices had been fried before having a taste.


I'm just going to say that again so you get what I mean


This is what tempeh is meant to taste like. Not covered in all kinds of sauces or hidden away in casseroles, but just lightly salted and fried, eaten while still piping hot.

Like chippies!

Once again, Matt told me to stop eating, as Lara's children ran in and grabbed a few pieces to nibble on (take note: children eating tempeh and loving it!). To be honest, I think Matt was telling himself to stop eating it as much as he was me.

We left with two blocks (one for us, one for Susan (if she's lucky!)), but I guarantee we'll be going back for more very soon.

At the moment, Totally Tempeh is still in the planning stages (check the facebook page: only created on the 16th!), and Lara's only making tempeh for friends, but you can help them get on their feet (and support an amazing local small business!) by contributing to their pozible project (for which you will most certainly be rewarded with amazing tempeh!)

Needless to say, I think I already have the star of my Favourite Things 2013...

You can contact Totally Tempeh through their facebook page, or by contributing to their pozible project (see below: and don't forget to check back on the project as new goals are set!).


  1. What a great review! Great because tempeh is a food I haven't really warmed to yet, and I can only handle it either as thin slices of marinated 'bacon' or if it's in reeeeally wee pieces and mooshed with something else. I've only ever bought prepackaged frozen tempeh so your review is really exciting because now I'm thinking it may juuust be possible for me to grow fond of it :)

    1. Absolutely! The first time I had tempeh it was that weird beige supermarket one and I HATED it. Then when I tried the Mighty Bean one, I loved it, but having it FRESH-fresh is just... wow. It's something else. You'll have to try it! (though pick up from Melbourne may be a bit of a hike :P)

  2. Wow indeed. I love good (read: not supermarket) tempeh, quite a lot. I'm sad that she's only selling in Brisbane for now! But, I wonder if I could make my own... you make the process sound easy!

    1. Hopefully as they expand they'll be able to get their tempeh a bit further afield! It might be possible to send it by mail in winter, but I worry with hot weather it may be a bit dangerous! Anyway, hopefully you'll get to taste it!

      And yes, I probably made the process sound easy but gosh am I glad that Lara's doing it, and not me!

  3. What a great blog post, and apt description of this fresh and unadulterated tempeh. I am now on my third batch, and I am obsessed. I love it cooked the way you describe, but admit I have been eating a little of it raw, and it is sensational.

    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoy it. I can't wait to get our next batch: I think there will be a bit of a battle as to who will eat it first!

  4. Replies
    1. They're in Salisbury. It's only about 20 minutes from inner north down the M3, so not as far as it may sound (depending on where you live!), and it's absolutely worth the drive (or I think one of the options is getting more blocks but delivered, which is also worth it!)

  5. Hello , I offer a traditional snack from Indonesia, tempeh chips , tempeh chips made ​​from tempeh. Tempe is a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia . It is made ​​by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form , similar to a very firm vegetarian burger patty . Tempeh is unique among major traditional soy foods in that it is the only one that did not originate from the Sinosphere cuisine.

    It originated in today 's Indonesia , and is especially popular on the island of Java , where it is a staple source of protein . Like tofu , tempeh is made ​​from soybeans , but it is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities . Tempeh 's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein , dietary fiber , and vitamins . It has a firm texture and an earthy flavor roomates Becomes more pronounced as it ages . Because of its nutritional value , tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine, where it is used as a meat analogue .

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  6. Does anyone know where I can find tepeh starter - the fungus used ? I have been living in Indonesia with my Indo boyfriend; his family in Sulawesi make and distribute tempeh for a living; so I have fallen in love with the real deal... but I will definitely try the Totally Tempeh if its still being made here in Brisbane (so glad to hear about that !)
    They also make sundried chippies from Cassava. Perhaps we could import some to here and get a local village economy rocking :)

    1. beb.. maybe you can bring fungus from java..hehe love ya

  7. I make my own tempeh also using the following process


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