tempeh troubleshooting + Bloodroot’s Korova Cookies


the stuff of clouds: ur-tempeh’s baby mycelium after only about 10 hours of fermentation

September 2012 update: from our blog reader pal Amita comes this amazing pic of her amazing red rice tempeh—see her comment about it below. Amazing!!

Delicious TV, a veggie cooking show, recently visited my Bloodroot pals to do a segment on them. It’s not online yet, but you can see their Korova Cookie recipe showcased in this video–it’s a really amazing cookie. (And I haven’t forgotten the cookie recipe I mentioned a while ago, I will post it soon.)

Delicious TV also has a segment on tempeh making, check it out. It was fascinating to me because the tempeh makers apparently don’t cook their beans! It seems that they also don’t try to separate the hulls from the beans, or use vinegar, all of which I do. Wow. The end result looks exactly like my tempeh, but I can’t help thinking that it might be a little hard to digest, even with the fermentation, but who knows. They might ferment theirs a lot longer than mine.

Fermentation is always malleable, which is why my savory chef’s mind (as opposed to a precise pastry chef’s mind) likes fermentation projects so much. Tempeh can be made in a million different styles and with many different techniques and still turn out wonderfully. Adaptation, interpretation and improvisation are essential.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of tempeh improvisation lately. Ever since Sandor Katz told me about some sweet potato/black-eyed pea tempeh he made (!!!!!) I’ve been on a quest to make soy-free tempeh. So far it’s failing. The failures are teaching me so much, though, that I don’t really mind. The farmer who picks up my compost* has been happy to enrich his soils with rotten not-quite-tempeh, and tempeh is so cheap that a failure isn’t a tragedy.

I’ve made tempeh with between 50-80% soybeans and 50%-20% other grains and beans with success, but a recent batch of 100% black bean tempeh sucked it pretty hardcore.

I’m so used to the rhythms of soy tempeh—how long the beans need to cook, how often to skim off the hulls, that I completely forgot that black beans would need about half as much time to cook as soy beans. I pretended to myself that the super mushy beans I had on my hands would be OK if I waited until they were extra dry before mixing them with the spore and packing them into the tempeh forms, but deep down I knew it was probably a doomed experiment.

Here’s what I was pretending I didn’t already know: the big enemy of tempeh is excess moisture—you need non-mushy beans so that the mycelium (which is what makes tempeh tempeh) has space to grow around each bean fragment. I spread the beans out on sheet trays to dry for a few hours, then halfheartedly mixed them and packed them and incubated them. It wasn’t a complete failure, but it was very very loosely bound with the mycelium and never fermented quite as much as it should have.

Next week, Round Two:


No, that’s not frosting. Adzuki bean/amaranth tempeh failure: the mycelium, such as it is, is not threaded throughout the “tempeh” but is just sitting on top of the overly mushy mess, which was too dense to be colonized by the mycelium and turned into real tempeh.

The next week I learned absolutely nothing from the black bean mistake. I tried to make adzuki bean/amaranth tempeh, and in hindsight I see so clearly why it didn’t work: adzuki beans cook in a fraction of the time black beans do, so yet again I overcooked them. In addition, amaranth cooks into a mushy, porridgey mess. Mush is, of course, exactly the opposite of what you want in tempeh.

I probably won’t try this combination again, but if I did I wouldn’t cook the amaranth at all (the fermentation cooks it enough, maybe I would even dry-toast it first!) and I would just barely cook the adzuki beans.

For two weeks after that I made regular 100% soy bean tempeh, and it was flawless. Now, wounds licked, down but not out, I will continue experimenting (I have good feelings about chickpeas mixed with a little short grain brown rice) and will come back triumphantly sooner or later. To be continued…


Check out the original How to Make Tempeh post for more info on tempeh from scratch!

*I have two packed Earth Machines at the kitchen, and my compost heap at home is a stinky drive away, so thank you, Farmer Dave (not musician Farmer Dave, but thank you also, what the hell), for picking up my compost!

PS: If you’re interested in fermentation, be sure to take a look at the forums at wildfermentation.com!

16 Responses to “tempeh troubleshooting + Bloodroot’s Korova Cookies”

  1. Joshua May

    Man, I’ve wanted to make my own tempeh a while now. So many guides on the ‘net are all like “yo, just order some tempeh starter online”. This doesn’t work so well in Australia.

    I eventually (after trying all the good grocery typed stores) went to the local soy/tofu shop – he assures me that making my own tempeh is a bad idea, and I’ll never be able to get tempeh starter in this country without lab conditions. Personally, I think he’s just being a perfectionist..what, with soy being his entire life and all.

    I will prove him wrong. Even if I have to go to North America to do so!

  2. lagusta

    Oh no! Don’t be discouraged—tempeh starter is a dry powder and not especially perishable at all, I see no reason why you couldn’t have some shipped to you. Have you tried emailing the good folks at Gem Cultures and seeing if they will ship you some? It looks like they will: http://www.gemcultures.com/international.htm

    If worse comes to worse, I could just ship you some of mine….or sneak it in the country with my sweetheart the next time he goes to Australia on tour! Hmm….sneaking a powdery substance into a country, maybe that’s not the best idea, actually.

    You can also make your own starter. I have never done it, but I know Sandor Katz has and he says it’s not too difficult. The Book of Tempeh, I believe, has guidelines for doing it. I am pretty sure you need some starter to start your starter though.

    I’m so amazed that you have a local tofu shop! But this dude is totally wrong!

    We will make this happen!

  3. veronica

    Mmm, chickpea tempeh sounds really yummy.

    I made a batch of kimchi from the bloodroot cookbook!
    Today was the third day fermenting, and the waiting part is killing me. I’m so excited!

  4. brittany

    i want to be excited about your tempeh, but all i can think about is how this looks a lot like what happens inside my garbage pail. :)

    • lagusta

      That’s because the batch in that picture WAS trash!!! Well, compost.

  5. Andi D.

    Hey lagusta – I’m so happy that you are trying to make non-soy tempeh, because I’ve been working on non-soy tofu recipes, and kind of nervous about making the jump to tempeh with my limited success. So glad someone is taking up the task, because a recipe would be so nice. To that end, I would like to suggest trying to make the tempeh with quinoa. I have heard from reputable sources that quinoa makes a mean tofu, so you might have some success with it in your tempeh. Hope you try it, and let us know how it goes. -Andi

  6. Agapi

    I am interested in making 100% black bean tempeh with local black turtle beans being grown and marketed in our area. So, did you just do a straight substitution: black beans for soybeans, or were there some other tricks?
    If this works for us, we’ll be doing a workshop for a non-profit organization that works with folks to increase food security and access to local foods. Hope you can help! Thanks!

    • Jaslyn

      Hi Agapi, the process of making the black beans tempeh or any kind of beans/grains tempeh is the same. you would just have to adjust the soaking and cooking time of the medium that you are using accordingly.

  7. lagusta

    COOL! Yep, a 1-to-1 substitution should work just fine. My only tip is what I said above, just to try to remember not to overcook the beans, since they take so much less time than soybeans to cook, and if they get mushy the tempeh will not be great. Let me know how it goes!

  8. JB

    Just in case anyone doesn’t know, you need a different type of starter to make non-soy tempeh, than you use to make soy tempeh. But it’s possible! also I’ve heard that an old non working fridge makes a great ferment-er as long as it’s in a warm (85*) area.

    • amita buissink

      HI all. Yes it is totally fine to use the same starter for soy and non soy tempeh.
      I have been making tempeh with all sorts of beans and combos of added grains and different rice types with great success.
      As Lagusta and other have found out: dont overcook , rather undercook…the fermentation process will finish it off.Maybe need to experiment a few times but you will be successful!
      I am not sure how to post a photo here but if you visit facebook and try to find: mister tempeh tofu I have posted there some photos of Red Rice tempeh… now that is a mean tempeh!

      If you get exited and are in need of tempeh starter pls visit http://www.mrtempeh.com.au , will ship worldwide and comes with full instructions.
      Good luck and enjoy your delicious home made tempeh!
      cheers Amita

  9. johnlennon10

    >tempeh is so cheap that a failure isn’t a tragedy.

    But the starter is fairly expensive.?

  10. Michael Janos

    Hello folks.
    Have any of you succeeded in making aduki bean tempeh? If so, I would like to pay a substantial and sensible fee to have a small quantity made and shipped to my home here in Baltimore, Maryland. With cold winter temps outside and expedited shipping service, there should be no problem with shipping spoilage. I’ve read where folks have had success making great aduki bean tempeh using medium grain brown rice, red rice, or barley as the accompanying grain.
    If anyone can accommodate my request, I can be reached at michael.janos7777@gmail.com
    Thank you very much.


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