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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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tempe (or tempeh) a thin cake made by fermenting soya beans, is the Indonesian solution to the problem of making this indigestible vegetable into a nutritious food. It plays an important part in the cuisine of Java, and related products appear all over SE Asia, just as that other important soya bean product, tofu, does further north.

Tempe is vital for the adequate nutrition of many Javanese, whose diet is rice based and contains little animal food. Rice is high in protein, but these proteins are low in the essential amino acid lysine. Soya beans have plenty of lysine, but even after the beans are cooked much of this protein is physically and chemically locked up and cannot be digested. The mould used in tempe fermentation produces enzymes which break up and ‘pre-digest’ the protein and make it accessible to human digestion. Indeed, as Sri Owen (1986) remarks:

Nutritionists and cooks must agree that tempe has a lot going for it. It contains about 40 per cent protein—more than any plant or animal food—carbohydrates without starch, unsaturated oil without cholesterol, all eight essential amino acids, Vitamin A and several B-complex vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium. It can be frozen at almost any stage in its manufacture or preparation.