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Cooking with Plant-based Proteins: To Tofu or to Tempeh?

March 25, 2019 by HealthyFamilies BC

Health Canada released a new version of Canada’s food guide this past January. As we’ve discussed in a previous blog, the new guide has changed quite a bit from its previous version, and with its new emphasis on plant-based protein foods, we thought it would be helpful to highlight a couple of them. 

Tofu and tempeh might be unfamiliar foods for some like they were for me growing up in an Eastern European household. I wasn’t introduced to either until I started university and was living on my own. But once I learned more about these foods and got out of my comfort zone a bit, I discovered how delicious and nutritious they can be!

Both tofu and tempeh are made from soy. Soybeans are incredibly versatile and have been used for centuries by peoples all around the world. Not only are they versatile, they are also very nutritious, being one of the only plant-based protein sources that contain all essential amino acids. This means that the quality of the protein found in soy is comparable to that found in meat, eggs, and milk. You can learn more about soy and its health benefits here.

Tofu: Tofu is made by heating and curdling soy beverage, collecting these curds and pressing them into a block. Tofu can be made into different levels of firmness such as soft, medium, firm and extra firm, so it can be incorporated into many types of dishes. It is a great source of protein, providing about 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving (125 mL). Tofu made with calcium sulphate is also an excellent source of calcium. 

To make your tofu even more flavourful, I recommend pressing the moisture out by placing the block on a cloth or paper towel and resting something heavy on top of it, like a stack of books. You might also try marinating the tofu overnight, much like you would with chicken. Here are some examples of dishes that can be prepared using tofu:

Tempeh: If you’re feeling ready to take the next step in exploring plant-based protein foods, then say hello to tofu’s more mature older brother, tempeh [pronounced tem-pey]. Tempeh’s processing varies quite a bit from that of tofu’s. It is made from whole soybeans and is left to ferment for several days. The end product is a “beany” or grainy product, with a nutty and earthy flavour. If you are looking for a meat alternative in recipes, tempeh is likely a better choice than tofu in terms of flavour and texture.

Much like tofu, tempeh is a great source of protein, with about 16 grams of protein per half cup (125 mL) serving. Tempeh is also a great source of fiber as it is made from whole beans rather than soy beverage like tofu. Here are some examples of dishes that can be prepared using tempeh: 

  • Use crumbled tempeh as an alternative to ground meat in pasta sauce (you can replace some or all of the meat)
  • Slice up some smoked tempeh and use it in a sandwich or on toast
  • Chop up tempeh into a veggie stir-fry

One of my favourite things about food is the potential to discover new items and products that I might really like, so I encourage you to try these and other plant-based proteins because you never know what you might be missing out on!

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Author: Hannah Zmudzinski
Hannah is a 5th year UBC dietetics student who is currently completing her practicum. She was born and raised in northern BC and loves getting outside and being active with her family and friends. Hannah is passionate about making healthy food accessible for all and working towards finding solutions to complex issues.  


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