I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of tempeh substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Tofu is the best substitute for tempeh but you can also use textured vegetable protein. And if you’re allergic to soybeans, seitan is your best bet. Young jackfruit is another good substitute that works best in dishes that require a shredded texture.
I made several batches of “tempeh” stir fry to try out different tempeh substitutes.
Tempeh is an Indonesian ingredient made from fermented soybeans. It has a nutty flavor and an umami twist because of the fermentation, but it’s mainly prized for its firm, chewy texture that will remind you of meat.
This, combined with its high protein content, makes it one of the more popular plant-based meat alternatives. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Use firm or extra-firm tofu
|Has a firmer, chewier texture
|Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
|Needs to be reconstituted before using
|Can be fried or grilled
|Naturally loaded with umami
|Comes in canned and dried forms
|Sold in cans in major grocery chains
Let’s start with an old favorite – tofu.
It’s made from soybeans like tempeh, but it’s processed differently, so has a softer texture and a more neutral flavor. But luckily losing out on tempeh’s nutty flavor isn’t a big deal because tofu is so great at soaking up the flavors of a sauce or marinade.
Just remember it’s best to avoid oil-based marinades because tofu contains a lot of water (even after being drained), which won’t mix well with oil.
One big advantage of tofu is how easy it is to find. Opt for firm or extra firm tofu to replace tempeh.
Pro-tip: you can also press your tofu (video below) to make it even meatier.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in a 1:1 ratio with firm or extra firm tofu.
Say hello to seitan – a soy-free alternative to tempeh! This wheat-gluten based alternative has gained popularity over the years as a meat substitute not for its flavor but for its fabulous texture.
It’s heartier and chewier than tempeh, and can even fool unsuspecting diners into thinking they’re eating real meat. The only issue with this chewy texture is that it won’t crumble in the same way as tempeh.
You can pick up a pack of seitan in most grocery stores nowadays, but it’s just as easy to make at home.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in a 1:1 ratio with seitan.
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is a classic meat alternative made from soy flour. It’s rich in fiber and is chock-full of protein, making it a solid substitute for tempeh.
But you’ll notice that TVP comes in dehydrated flakes or chunks, not in blocks like tempeh. Because of its pre-cut nature, it works best in dishes like chili and lasagne, or as a filler in stews or burgers. It won’t be a great replacement if tempeh is the star of the show.
You’ll need to rehydrate the flakes before using them, but this only takes 5-10 minutes. I always use broth rather than plain water to flavor the TVP. It can be very bland on its own.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in a 1:1 ratio with rehydrated TVP.
If you’re not opposed to incorporating dairy into your meal, paneer or halloumi are tempeh substitutes you could try. They’re both made with cows’ milk, which gives them a decent amount of protein.
And unlike your regular cheddar, the cheeses are acid-set, which allows them to withstand heat without melting. When it comes to texture, they’re firm and chewy and paneer is less dense than tempeh.
For dishes where tempeh is an ingredient, paneer works best because it’s more neutral in flavor. Halloumi can be very salty but is perfect for grilling or frying.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with paneer or halloumi.
Mushrooms are another fantastic soy-free alternative for tempeh. But not just any mushroom – go for meaty varieties like oyster and portobello.
Their texture is more tender than tempeh, but they’ll still provide a satisfying bite. And they’re full of flavor. Mushrooms are rich in umami and can have a strong earthy flavor depending on the variety you go for.
Oyster mushrooms are milder, while portobello mushrooms are more mushroomy. The only caveat I have with mushrooms is that they have less protein than tempeh. But you can always supplement this by adding other protein-rich veg into your dishes like spinach or asparagus.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with oyster or portobello mushrooms.
Beans might not seem like an obvious tempeh substitute, but they’re an excellent source of plant-based protein. Plus, they’re affordable, easily accessible, and come in loads of different varieties for you to choose from.
You can never go wrong with black beans for most dishes, but you can also try chickpeas or cannellini beans if you want to switch things up.
The downside with beans is you can’t exactly slice and fry them up like you would with tempeh. But you can transform them into crispy nuggets or patties.
When it comes to choosing between canned or dried beans, it’s all about convenience versus texture. Canned beans are a quick fix and perfect when you’re in a rush. But they tend to have a softer texture. Dried beans have a tender, creamy bite, but you need to plan ahead.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with cooked beans.
Young or unripe jackfruit makes a decent tempeh replacement, especially in dishes where you need a shredded texture. Think plant-based tacos or faux pulled pork sandwiches!
This soy-free alternative doesn’t have a distinct flavor of its own, which makes it a blank canvas for any seasoning or marinade. But it has the same issue as mushrooms in that it doesn’t contain much protein.
And no, you don’t need to hunt for fresh young jackfruit in the Asian market. Grocery chains like Walmart sell this in ready-to-use cans.
How to substitute: replace tempeh in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with young jackfruit.
Other substitutes to consider
The list above features my top picks for tempeh substitutes, but here are some more options you can use if you have them to hand.
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower may seem like an odd option, but you can slice a head of cauliflower into thick slices to replicate tempeh steaks. Prepping them this way allows you to fry, roast, and even grill them until they’re soft but not too tender.
- Homemade tempeh: I didn’t include this option on the main list because it’s not an easy DIY project. You only need three ingredients (soybeans, vinegar, and tempeh starter), but the entire process takes 49 hours. Check out this detailed recipe from Full of Plants if you’re interested.
Avoid using eggplant
Eggplant was one of the suggestions for tempeh substitutes I came across while I was researching, but I have to disagree.
Eggplant has a tender texture right off the bat and gets softer, even creamy, as it cooks, which is nothing like the texture you’d get with tempeh. It also doesn’t have much protein, unlike most of the substitutes listed here.
BEST Tempeh Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 2 cups split and peeled soybeans
- 6 cups water
- 1 tbsp white rice vinegar
- 1 tsp tempeh starter
- Rinse the soybeans under cold water then transfer into your Instant Pot. Cover with water until all the soybeans are submerged and close the lid. Set the valve to sealing.
- Pressure cook them for 40 minutes and let the pressure release on its own. This should take about 24 minutes. Once finished cooking, open the instant pot and drain the cooked soybeans.
- Transfer the cooked soybeans into a mixing bowl. Season with rice vinegar and mix until combined. Add the tempeh starter and stir again.
- Using a fork, pierce two freezer bags. Divide the soybean mixture into the freezer bags.
- Wash tine instant pot liner and place 1 cup of water in the bottom and the another cup on top with the steam rack. Place both prepped tempeh loaves on the steamer. Cover with the lid and press the yogurt button 3 times to set it to "less" mode.
- Set the timer for 16 hours and leave to cook. The white mold will start growing on the loaves. After 16 hours, remove the excess water and place the loaves back into the Instant Pot for another 25 hours. After 24 hours, the tempeh loaves should be be fully covered.