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First off, tempeh making is easy. Especially when you start with dehulled beans. Just keep everything clean and pay attention and you will be making great tempeh in your home in no time. And I promise you, this tempeh will be WAY BETTER than any tempeh, including Turtle Island tempeh that you can buy in a store!


I first started making tempeh at home in 1977. My first commercial batch of tempeh was made in December of 1980 (see the photo below.) Today we make about 16,000 pounds of tempeh a week and we think it is some of the best commercial tempeh on the market. Still, nothing compares in quality to the small batches of homemade tempeh that you can make at home with a few basic ingredients. These notes are meant to be as a supplement to the Making Tempeh at Home chapter (page 10) in The Tempeh Cookbook by Dorothy Bates which is available through Turtle Island Foods. 

Seth_at_Hope_Coop_incubator_1980Seth at Hope Coop incubator 1980

You will need for each batch:
  • 8 oz soybeans either whole or split (available from Turtle Island Foods)
  • 1 Tbls. Vinegar
  • Tempeh Starter (available from Gem Cultures, www.gemcultures.com or The Mail Order Catalog, www.healthy-eating.com )
  • Two zip lock bags with pin hole perforations every ½ inch or two approx 4”x6” aluminum trays with tight fitting cover also perforated every ½ inch
  • Small Incubator
  • Colander, small cook pot, stove.
  • Cooling fan or towels

Step 1. Splitting the beans.  To make good tempeh it is essential that all the hulls be removed from the soybeans.  If you have split, dehulled beans from Turtle Island, read no further.  If you are splitting whole beans, follow instructions on page 10 of The Tempeh Cookbook.  Note: this is your chance to be anal.   Leave no bean unsplit and spend some time getting all hulls possible out of the split beans (it is ok to have a few but basically they serve no purpose and can hurt quality of tempeh if there are too many).

Step 2. Cooking the beans.   I recommend cooking at a full boil for 50 minutes then drain in colander and let cool naturally for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a clean spoon. 

Step 3. Cooling the beans.   This is a critical step.  The beans must be cooled and dried in order for the tempeh to work.  Several methods will work here.  Knead cooled beans with several clean dry towels, blow air over beans with a small fan or even try spinning vigorously in salad spinner used for drying lettuce.  You don’t want the beans to be too dry (they will discolor or look brown), just want to spin off excess water to give a nice dry but still yellow look). 

Step 4.  Innoculate the beans.   Add one tablespoon of vinegar to acidify the beans.   Mix thoroughly with clean spoon.   Then add the tempeh starter (consult directions for amount) and mix again.

Step 5.  Place inoculated beans into incubation bags or trays.   If using trays, shake back and forth until level.  If using bags, seal and lightly tamp until smooth.

Step 6.  Incubate.  Place tempeh into incubator.  I recommend incubating at 86*F which gives you some room for error.   You never want the tempeh to get above 90F because other cultures prefer those temperatures.   The best tempeh comes from incubators with a steady temperature between 85*F and 88*F.   Check your temperature every now and then for first couple of hours.  If it stays in this zone, you are probably ok for next 12 hours.   After 12 hours, the tempeh will start producing its own heat.   If you overload your incubator, this can lead to spoilage so I recommend that you start out small, with 8 oz of dry beans which will make about 1 pound of tempeh.

Home_Tempeh_Kit_PhotoHome Tempeh Kit

Important Cowgirl Interlude: If setting up a Hova-bator style incubator, follow set up directions on the disc style thermostat provided.   Just loosen the small wing nut on top of the cover, then adjust the temperature up or down and tighten the wing nut.   It is best to adjust this before starting to make tempeh and get it to maintain 86*F for 20 minutes.   This incubator will easily make one pound of high quality tempeh but if you go over one and a half pounds you might have overheating problems.

Step 7.  Harvest.   After 20 to 24 hours, your tempeh should be covered in dense white mold with a clean, mushroomy smell.   Plastic bag tempeh will have the texture of a paperback book when you pick it up.  Very firm.  Tray incubated tempeh (or “free range” tempeh, my favorite), will have a beautiful thick white mold growing on the top of it approx 3/8” or more high.  Beads of water will be built up on top of the mold.  Tempeh should be able to be cut into very thin (1/16”) strips and still hold together when it is done.

Step 8.  Spoilage.  You will know your tempeh spoiled if you see any of the following problems:  slimy texture, weak growth that does not cover beans, any color other than black growing on mold (green aspergilis “bread mold” and pink pseudomonas “blood of Christ” mold are two common ones) or it may smell like soiled baby diapers (bacillus).   None of these molds are toxic but the tempeh should be discarded.

Finished tempeh can either be cooked lightly in oil (see www.tofurky.com for more tempeh cooking instructions) or frozen for future use.   It can also be refrigerated and eaten within 3 days.

Basic Tempeh 101

This recipe serves as the basis for stir frys, pasta sauces, sandwich strips and many other uses. We use this recipe in our quality control program. It makes a great appetizer when served with ketchup or other dipping sauce.


8 oz. of Turtle Island Soy Tempeh
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 cups water
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. fresh pureed garlic
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil


Slice 8 oz. of Turtle Island Soy Tempeh into thin 1/4" or less strips.
Marinate Tempeh for 20 minutes or more in soy sauce, water, ginger, garlic and sesame oil.
Sauté in 3 Tbsp. oil (safflower or sesame work best). Or broil 5 minutes on each side.

Option: Add 2 cups chopped veggies and 1 cup water to pan.
Steam five minutes until veggies are soft.
Serve over rice or pasta with your favorite sauce.

Happy Tempeh making!

Seth_Tibbot Seth Tibbot is the Founder and President of The Tofurky Company and Turtle Island Foods. 

Leigh-Chantelle is an International Speaker & Consultant; Author, Singer/Songwriter and Blogger.

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