Tempeh finds a new home in Japan

April 4, 2022

TOKYO– Tempeh gained recognition and began a unique evolution in Japan, aided by the country’s growing health awareness and expanding supply channels.

Tamaki Abe is one of a growing number of Japanese people who have recently fallen in love with tempeh, the Indonesian dish made from fermented soybeans. It didn’t register much when she first savored it years ago, but she’s come to love it over the past few months as she began to realize the how it pairs with spices popular with Japanese food lovers, especially curry.

“It’s so delicious in teriyaki sauce,” the Kyoto vegetarian in her 40s told the Jakarta Post. She gained a greater appetite for tempeh by becoming aware of the nutritional richness, including vitamin B12.

Like other imported dishes, tempeh evolves in its own way in Japan, or more precisely in Nagano, northwest of Tokyo.

Last December, Akiyoshi Otomo, 45, and his wife opened Tempeh Kitchen, a tempeh bento shop. Their lineup includes mapo tofu, teriyaki and lo bah png – bento main dishes mixed only with tempeh.

“I wanted to introduce tempeh to people’s palates,” Otomo said.

Like Abe, his fondness for tempeh grew over time. He previously worked as a logistics consultant in Tokyo, but at the age of 35 he suffered a stroke and later became more health conscious. That’s when he came across homemade garlic and soy tempeh made by one of his mountaineer friends.

Liking this very much, Otomo tried commercially available tempeh, but it never satisfied him. He then developed a tempeh-making machine and started selling it, before finally having the business idea of ​​starting his own outlet.

Target Market: According to an employee of a discount supermarket chain, tempeh attracts not only Indonesians, but also those who know tempeh, including vegans and vegetarians. (JP/Takehiro Masutomo) (JP/Takehiro Masutomo )

familiar taste

The bar for tempeh is relatively low for the Japanese, in part because their natto, a traditional food, is also chunked soy.

For example, Tokiwa, a natto maker in suburban Tokyo, has been supplying tempeh since 2004. According to owner Makoto Yusaku, tempeh sales now account for about 10% of total sales. “The way to make tempeh is similar to natto,” Yusaku said, adding that one of the few differences is the temperature of fragmentation.

The company’s raw tempeh with skin, suitable for salads, sells for 300 yen ($2.52) at a high-end supermarket in Tokyo and other health food products.

“In the past, tempeh required an explanation. I think now more and more people know about it,” Yusaku said. However, he also observes that its popularity is not high because it is not eaten right away but requires some processing. Therefore, he thinks collaboration with other existing dishes is necessary down the road.

He added that tempeh in Indonesia is infused with bacteria which gives it an umami flavor while unfortunately there is no room for such bacteria as conditions are strict when securing formal sales channels. in Japan.

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Tempeh bento shop: Opened in December 2021, Tempeh Kitchen offers mapo tofu, teriyaki and lo bah png – bento main dishes mixed with tempeh. (Courtesy of Tempeh Kitchen) (Courtesy of Tempeh Kitchen/Courtesy of Tempeh Kitchen)

For good health

Tempeh was first sold in Japan in the 1980s, but it did not sell well and many companies pulled it from production. Tempeh is now making a comeback, thanks in large part to growing health awareness.

Still, Yusaku committed to making tempeh. “There are only a limited number of fermented foods on our planet that don’t use salt. Natto and tempeh are among them, basically the only two. It’s very important to keep making them.

In a 2014 article for Onkochishin – a magazine run by a malt company on the topics of food, health and the environment – Miho Ota, a physician and president of the Japan Tempeh Research Association, clarified the effects intestinal regulators of tempeh in the human study. . Tempeh contains more dietary fiber than natto and may be helpful in preventing lifestyle-related illnesses.

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Good Nutrition: Doctor Miho Ota states in a review published in “Onkochishin” magazine that tempeh contains more dietary fiber than natto (traditional Japanese food made from soybeans). (JP/Takehiro Masutomo) (JP/Takehiro Masutomo )

Meanwhile, a popular discount supermarket chain in Japan is trying to boost sales of tempeh.

Gyomu Super began selling frozen tempeh directly imported from Indonesia in Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture, starting in July 2021. Due to high demand, there have been periods of temporary product shortages.

Speaking of his intentions, the responsible employee who did not want to be identified, said that at the price range, not only Indonesians living in Japan but also those who are already familiar with tempeh, including vegans and vegetarians, would buy it.

“We also thought that since it’s made from soybeans, a familiar ingredient in the Japanese, as long as people know how to eat it, it would be accepted by the general public, even those unfamiliar with tempeh.”

The person further explained that the grocery chain plans to expand its sales capacity in cooperation with the Indonesian consulate in Osaka while pledging to actively introduce recipes on its website and suggesting ways to use tempeh to gain recognition from a wider range of consumers.

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Variety: Cinta Jawa Cafe in Tokyo offers a selection of tempeh. (JP/Takehiro Masutomo) (JP/Takehiro Masutomo )

Additionally, the number of Indonesian restaurants in Japan has grown along with the growing number of Indonesians living in Japan. According to research, 26 out of 64 Indonesian restaurants across the country serve tempeh.

These prospects resonate well with Abe’s future vegetarian hopes. “I hope to see more and more stores in Japan where you can buy and eat tempeh. And one day, I would like to enjoy my homemade fluffy tempeh.”