History of Tempeh - Page 3

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi


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The Americanization of Tempeh (1970 to 1980s) . The 1960s, a decade of creative scientific research on tempeh, laid the foundation for the 1970s, when tempeh began to enter the American diet. The main forces spurring increased production and consumption of tempeh after 1970 were the three closely related movements working to popularize natural foods, meatless and vegetarian diets, and soyfoods. From the late 1970s on there was a rapid growth of interest among many Americans in health, nutrition, and fitness, in low-cost protein sources, meatless diets, and world hunger, in ecology, and simpler, more satisfying lifestyles. Specific factors popularizing tempeh were the various promotional efforts, books, media coverage, and increased availability of good fresh tempeh. By the early 1980s the growing mainstream concern with cholesterol and saturated fats, had also become a significant factor.

During the 1960s the Cornell University group under Dr. Steinkraus and the USDA Peoria group under Dr. Hesseltine and Dr. Wang had completed most of their basic research on tempeh. But a few important discoveries remained to be made during the 1970s. At Cornell, the most important findings concerned the production of significant amounts of vitamin B-12 during tempeh fermentation. In 1977 Liem, Steinkraus and Cronk showed tempeh to be one of the best vegetarian sources of vitamin B-12. Curtis, Cullen and Steinkraus (1977) showed that the B-12 was produced by the bacterium Klebsiella . (Nutritional analyses of commercial tempeh done by independent scientific laboratories during the late 1970s and early 1980s showed that typical samples contained an average of 8.8 micrograms of vitamin B-12 per 100 gram portion, or 293% of the US Recommended Daily Allowance of 3 micrograms.)

The most significant research work on tempeh done by the Peoria group during the 1970s concerned the development of improved, larger scale methods for making tempeh starter cultures. The group showed that rice or a mixture of rice and wheat bran yield the most viable spores, and they developed methods whereby individuals or tempeh manufacturers could make good quality tempeh starter by themselves.

But much more important than the research work of these two groups during the 1970s and early 1980s was their "extension" work. Members of both groups summarized the results of their research on tempeh in at least 35 articles, both scientific and popular. They also gave many speeches. This brought tempeh to the attention of many more scientists and lay readers. Starting with the Mother Earth News in May 1976, a number of major magazine articles listed the USDA NRRC at Peoria as America's only source of tempeh starter. Over the next few years the Peoria group sent out some 25,000 tempeh starter cultures and instructions for making tempeh, free of charge to people and organizations requesting them; by 1981 the number had reached 35,000. Partly to stem the flood, in June 1977 Wang, Swain and Hesseltine wrote "Calling All Tempeh Lovers" for Organic Gardening magazine (circulation 1,350,000) describing an easy method for making this rice-based tempeh starter at home. Steinkraus organized a Symposium on Indigenous Fermented Foods, held in Bangkok, Thailand, in November 1977 in conjunction with the fifth United Nations-sponsored conference on the Global Impacts of Applied Microbiology (GIAM V), and attended by over 450 scientists from around the world. There 17 papers were presented on tempeh, more than any other single food. In 1983 Steinkraus edited the monumental Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods , containing 94 pages of information about tempeh, much of it from the 1977 Symposium. Hesseltine, Wang, and Steinkraus also did a great deal to help America's first generation of Caucasian tempeh manufacturers start their businesses and deal with their production problems. They patiently answered hundreds of phone calls and letters from young entrepreneurs trying to educate themselves in the basics of applied microbiology--all in the best tradition of using tax dollars to serve the people and promote American agriculture and business. For their two decades of pioneering research, more than 65 publications on tempeh, and highly effective extension work, the US tempeh industry owes the Peoria and Cornell groups an immense debt of gratitude.

Also in America during the 1970s, many other researchers published on tempeh. Chen, Packet, and co-workers (1969-72) at the University of Kentucky published three papers on antioxidants in tempeh. In 1970 Noznick and Luksas of Beatrice Foods were granted a patent on a powdered tempeh made by liquid submerged fermentation. Kao (1974) at Kansas State University wrote his PhD dissertation on tempeh made from chick-peas (garbanzos), horsebeans (broad beans), and soybeans. James Liggett of Foundation Foods developed a tempeh meat analog containing sesame seeds ( Soybean Digest 1975). Jurus and Sundberg (1976) were the first to convincingly demonstrate that the tempeh mold hyphae penetrated deep into the soybeans; this helped explain the rapid physical and chemical changes during tempeh fermentation. Beuchat (1976) in Georgia, studied peanut presscake tempeh. Charles and Gavin (1977) from the Biotechnology Research Center at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, used a creative engineering approach to investigate the microbiological, biochemical, physical, and nutritional changes occurring during tempeh fermentation. Other studies were done by Souser and Miller (1977, Rhizopus lipase), Aramaki (1978, acceptability of tempeh made from bulgur wheat, millet, and azuki beans), Zamora and Veum (1979, fermentation improved the quality of tempeh protein), Gomez and Kothary (1979, tempeh from red kidney beans), Yueh et al. (1979, patent assigned to General Mills Inc. for a process for producing a soy & potato fried tempeh snack food), Rathbun and Shuler (1982, 1983, heat and gas transfer during tempeh fermentation).

During the early and mid-1970s, in addition to the groups at Cornell and Peoria, there were four other main groups that played leading roles in introducing tempeh to America: The Farm in Tennessee, The Soyinfo Center in California, Rodale Press in Pennsylvania, and the food- and counter-culture media.

A great deal of the credit for introducing tempeh to the American public goes to The Farm, a large spiritual and farming community of "long-hairs" living on 1,700 acres in Summertown, Tennessee. People at The Farm pronounced the name of this food as TEM-pi, instead of the standard TEM-pay. In late 1971 Alexander Lyon, a member of The Farm with a PhD in biochemistry, learned about tempeh while doing library research on soy-based weaning foods. In 1972 he helped The Farm to set up a small "soy dairy." While serving as its first manager, and using starter culture and literature supplied by Drs. Hesseltine and Wang at the USDA in Peoria, Illinois, he worked with Dianne Darling to make an occasional small batch of tempeh for the soy dairy crew. In 1972 or 1973 Dianne wrote a ten-step kitchen method for making tempeh using spore suspension for inoculum. Soon Deborah Flowers made two large batches of tempeh, incubated in the boiler room at the Canning and Freezing plant, and many Farm members had their first taste. The group developed a method for growing tempeh starter on chopped, sterilized sweet potatoes with cultures in test tubes. This was America's first Caucasian-run tempeh shop, although it was not a commercial shop. Tempeh was an immediate hit in The Farm's vegan or total vegetarian diet--a diet containing no dairy or other animal foods. In 1974 Stephen, The Farm's spiritual teacher, visited Amsterdam on a European trip and came back with a new realization of the potential of tempeh for The Farm and for a new industry in America.

In 1974 Cynthia Bates joined the Soy Dairy crew and learned the basic lab techniques for making tempeh starter from Alexander. She built a tempeh incubator out of an old refrigerator and by November 1974 was making 20-30 pound batches of okara tempeh, using the soy pulp (okara) left over after making soymilk. By January 1975 The Farm Tempeh Shop was making 80-200 pounds of tempeh a week. The incubator was expanded into a used bean dryer and sporulated okara tempeh (dried and ground) started to be used as a starter. In 1975, in order to share their discovery with people across America and around the world, the community (now having 1,100 members) featured a section on tempeh (written by Cynthia Bates) in their widely read Farm Vegetarian Cookbook , including the first tempeh recipes to be published in any European language (Farm 1975).

In 1975, after Wang, Swain and Hesseltine at the NRRC published their paper on mass production of tempeh spores, Bates set up a little laboratory and began making tempeh starter for use on The Farm. The starter was grown on rice, using the syringe inoculation technique and a spore suspension of starter sent periodically and kindly by Dr. Wang. By 1976 powdered pure-culture tempeh starter, made by Bates at the Tempeh Lab, was being sent out or sold to interested people. Publications were now needed to explain how to use the starter to make tempeh, then how to cook the tempeh. In 1975 or early 1976 Alexander Lyon typed up a three-page flyer called "Tempeh Instructions," which contained the first instructions in any European language for making tempeh at home, and listed The Farm as a source of tempeh starter. Bates wrote and The Farm printed a 2-page flyer titled "Tempe," which described how to make five pounds of tempeh and contained four recipes, including the world's first Tempeh Burger recipe. This flyer was distributed with the starter, along with "Fermentation Funnies," cartoons introducing tempeh. In 1976 Bates and co-workers wrote a 20-page article titled "Beatnik Tempeh Making" (later retitled "Utilization of Tempeh in North America") for the Symposium on Indigenous Fermented Foods in Bangkok. By 1976 The Farm's satellite farms had established commercial tempeh shops in San Rafael, California, and Houma, Louisiana. A number of America's early tempeh shops (such as The Tempeh Works in Massachusetts or Surata Soyfoods in Oregon) were started by people who learned the process on The Farm. America's first soy deli, set up in August 1976 at the Farm Food Company's storefront restaurant in San Rafael, featured tempeh in Tempeh Burgers, Deep-fried Tempeh Cutlets, and Tempeh with Creamy Tofu Topping, the first tempeh dishes sold in an American-style restaurant.

The media blitz for tempeh that began in 1977 created a booming little business on The Farm for tempeh ingredients. A January 1977 article in Organic Gardening listed The Farm as the only known source of split, hulled soybeans. Orders began to arrive. Soon Dr. Wang at the USDA in Peoria, flooded by orders for tempeh starter, was forwarding many of them to The Farm. Then articles by The Farm (Cynthia Bates and Deborah Flowers) about tempeh in Mother Earth News (Sept. 1977) and East West Journal (July 1978) led to a surge of orders for both starter and split soy beans. By 1977 the Tennessee community, with Suzie Jenkins as head tempeh maker, was producing at least 60 pounds of tempeh a day, and they were using a centrifuge to dewater the soybeans after cooking and before inoculation--a technological breakthrough that soon caught on among commercial tempeh makers.

In 1977 Farm Foods was founded; it took over marketing of the tempeh starter, together with hulled soybeans and revised editions of the tempeh instructions (1977, 1978). The three items were sold nationwide as America's first Tempeh Kit by mail order and in some natural food stores. The starter was also sold separately with the leaflet. During 1978 Farm Foods promoted its tempeh starter and tempeh kit by serving grilled tempeh at numerous natural foods trade shows. A large sidebar in the February 1978 issue of Organic Gardening magazine listing Farm Foods as the best source of tempeh starter and split beans, followed by letters of referral from Rodale Press thereafter, stimulated sales. Also in 1978 Hagler edited a revised edition of the Farm Vegetarian Cookbook ; it contained 12 pages on tempeh, including many recipes. In 1982 Farm Foods began actively advertising and selling bulk, powdered tempeh starter to America's growing number of tempeh shops, and by 1984 they had captured a majority of the market.

Prior to 1979 tempeh had been available on The Farm only on special occasions. In that year, however, a Tempeh Trailer, developed in Louisiana by John and Charlotte Gabriel, was brought to The Farm. The tempeh incubator was moved out of the Canning and Freezing building and made into a walk-in incubation room in the trailer. John Pielascyzk became head tempeh maker, and thereafter any Farm member could go at almost any time to the Farm store, open the freezer, and take home tempeh. In 1981 Margaret Nofziger, Farm nutritionist, wrote an article on "Tempeh and Soy Yogurt," with five tempeh recipes, for Vegetarian Times .

In late 1983 and early 1984 The Farm underwent a major financial restructuring. Farm Foods became financially independent from The Farm and in May 1984 the Tempeh Lab (under the directorship of Cynthia Bates) became independent of Farm Foods. Both became "for-profit" companies. In March 1984 The Farm published Tempeh Cookery , America's fourth popular book about tempeh and the first with full-page color photos (Pride 1984). To promote this book (and tempeh), in June 1984 Farm Foods and its sister company, The Book Publishing Company, served samples of deep-fried tempeh and several tofu dishes to 20,000 attendees of the American Booksellers Association Convention in Washington, D.C. Farm Foods was also planning to have one or more large tempeh companies (perhaps one on each coast of the USA) make private labeled tempeh, which would then be sold nationwide through the company's extensive soymilk ice cream (Ice Bean) distribution channels. Farm Foods could then also use the tempeh, the starter, and the book to promote each other.

William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi of The Soyinfo Center were also active in helping to introduce tempeh to America. They first became interested in tempeh in March 1975 after reading The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook . In their Book of Tofu (1975), they included a recipe for homemade tempeh and seven Indonesian-style tempeh recipes (learned from an Indonesian tempeh maker in Tokyo), the first such recipes ever published in English. This whole section was published in Mother Earth News in May 1976. In late 1976, during a two-week visit to The Farm in Tennessee, they wrote (with Cynthia Bates) a 4-page pamphlet titled "What is Tempeh?" which they enlarged and published in early 1977. In May 1977 they spent a month in Indonesia studying tempeh, and in June their article "Favorite Tempeh Recipes" was published in Organic Gardening magazine. In January 1978 William Shurtleff presented a paper and demonstration on how to make tempeh from winged beans at an International Seminar on Winged Beans in the Philippines. In July 1979 Harper & Row published their Book of Tempeh , the first book in the world devoted entirely on tempeh. It contained the first sizeable collection of American-style and Indonesian tempeh recipes (130 in all), the first illustrated descriptions of making tempeh, tempeh starter, and onchom on various scales in Indonesian tempeh shops, the first history of tempeh, detailed discussion of tempeh in Indonesian culture and of the many varieties of Indonesian tempeh, and the first recommendations for commercial names for the more than 30 types of tempeh that could easily be made in the West. It also contained chapters and reviews of the literature on tempeh nutrition and the microbiology and biochemistry of tempeh fermentation, plus the largest bibliography on tempeh to date (including many new Indonesian references), an annotated listing of 61 people and organizations around the world connected with tempeh, and the first list of tempeh companies in the West. By mid-1984 some 20,000 copies of the paperback edition and 960 copies of the enlarged professional hardcover edition had been sold. In early 1985 Harper & Row published a revised second edition of the book. Between 1976 and 1982 Shurtleff and Aoyagi wrote eight articles on tempeh for popular and trade magazines. In March 1980 The Soyinfo Center published Tempeh Production , the first book describing how to start and run a commercial tempeh plant in industrialized or Third World countries.

In 1981 Shurtleff and Aoyagi wrote a book on tofu, miso, and tempeh that was published in Mexico in Spanish, and in 1982 they published books containing bulk tempeh recipes and tempeh labels. Starting in 1982 Shurtleff did extensive annual surveys of the tempeh industry and market in the USA, which were published yearly by The Soyinfo Center in Soyfoods Industry and Market: Directory and Databook . The Center also developed and sold color slide sets on "Tempeh," "Tempeh Production in the USA," and "Tempeh Production in Indonesia." In 1985 The Book of Tempeh was published in German as Das Tempeh Buch .

Another early pioneer of tempeh in America was Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, best known as the publisher of Organic Gardening and Prevention magazines. In the spring of 1975 Rodale's R&D department decided to follow up on the work with tempeh done by Hesseltine and Wang at Peoria. In early 1976 R&D food technologist Mark Schwartz began to work with Dr. Wang in Peoria to develop a simple, inexpensive way to make tempeh at home. They devised a tempeh kit including an incubator made from an inexpensive Styrofoam picnic cooler heated by a light bulb. For a Reader's Research Project, they sent the kit with instructions and a questionnaire to 60 readers across the country, and asked for feedback. The unanimous response was that people found the new food easy to make and delicious (Podems 1976). This R&D work led to five major articles in 1976 and 1977. In March 1976 Brenda Bortz in "The Joys of Soy" introduced tempeh and Rodale's tempeh research to readers of Organic Gardening (OG). In January 1977 OG ran "Tempeh Keeps 'em Coming for More Soybeans." Jack Ruttle, a Rodale staffer, summarized the results of Rodale's research on tempeh to date and gave detailed instructions for making tempeh at home. This was the first major popular article on tempeh published in America. In June Prevention , the largest health-food magazine in America, ran a cover story and editorial by Robert Rodale titled "Tempeh, a New Health Food Opportunity." He visited America's first Caucasian-owned tempeh shop (run by Gale Randall), encouraged others to start tempeh shops and to "get in on the ground floor of a new industry," and predicted that tempeh might well become America's most popular way of using soybeans as part of the "coming soy boom." "Tempeh is on its way up," he wrote. "Before long it will be eaten widely and lovingly across this land of ours." Also in June OG published Shurtleff and Aoyagi's "Favorite Tempeh Recipes" and Wang, Swain, and Hesseltine's "Calling all Tempeh Lovers." In addition Rodale Press published books with extensive information on tempeh: Home Soyfood Equipment (Wolf 1981) and Tofu, Tempeh, & Other Soy Delights (Cusumano 1984). Wolf's book included a new method for making tempeh at home using unsalted soynuts, which took less time and cost only about 28% (10 cents) more per pound than the traditional method. Detailed plans for making a home tempeh incubator were given. Organic Gardening (March 1982) summarized Wolf's quick tempeh method.

Starting in 1971, the American media first began to take an interest in tempeh, when Food Processing magazine, in its "Foods of Tomorrow" section did an article on "Specialty Fermented Foods," discussing their potential acceptability in the American market. It concluded: "But of all fermented foods, tempeh, with its high ratings in taste, nutritional benefits, and simple, low cost processing techniques, appears to be the most likely candidate for Americanization . . . Tempeh may be one of the next to appear in the US market place." In May 1976 Mother Earth News (Issue #39) ran a long excerpt on tempeh from The Book of Tofu by Shurtleff and Aoyagi. Media coverage expanded significantly in 1977. First came the three major Rodale Press articles mentioned above. In September Mother Earth News featured "How We Make and Eat Tempeh Down on the Farm," and in November Vegetarian Times ran "Tempeh." In July 1978 East West Journal ran its first tempeh story, "Make Your Own Soyburger" about the Farm's tempeh. These many articles contained recipes and detailed instructions for home preparation, and some gave the address of the NRRC in Peoria, Illinois as a source of free tempeh starter. In less than 18 months, over 25,000 people requested starter and began making tempeh at home. This early media coverage for tempeh was a veritable blitz for a largely unknown food, and most of the publications had large circulations. In addition descriptions of tempeh began to appear in popular books, such as Beatrice Hunter's Fermented Foods and Beverages (1973).

The first commercial Caucasian American tempeh shop was started in the winter of 1975 by Mr. Gale Randall in Unadilla, Nebraska. Randall, a former high school teacher, retired in 1971 and moved his family to the farm in Unadilla where he had grown up. Looking for alternative ways of securing his basic life needs (food, shelter, and clothing), he got interested in single-cell proteins (SCP) and in about 1974 happened to read about tempeh in the proceedings of an international conference on SCP in Kyoto. He read of it again in 1974 in Today's Living , a popular health food magazine. He contacted Dr. Wang at the USDA/NRRC in Peoria for starter and instructions. As he later recalled: "She did everything possible to help me get started. She was wonderful." He made tempeh for his family for roughly 6-12 months, then built a tempeh shop in the basement of his home and began selling the product commercially. At night he worked in the post office in Lincoln. Robert Rodale's article in Prevention in mid-1977 brought him and his shop instant national prominence. Randall eventually developed a diverse line of tempeh products but conservative Nebraskans were slow to accept them.

The macrobiotic movement in America took a strong interest in tempeh, starting in the late 1970s. As early as 1974 Michio Kushi had stated (incorrectly) that "Tempe is used by Southeast Asian and Indonesian people like soy sauce." On 21 September 1977 Kushi, by then one of America's best-known teachers of natural foods and healing, speaking in Washington D.C. to the President's committee on food policy, recommended the use of traditional, naturally fermented soyfoods such as soy sauce, miso, and tempeh. Between 1978 and 1984 the East West Journal ran three major articles on tempeh (including one cover story) plus many additional recipes. The most important of these was Aveline Kushi's laudatory "My Favorite Tempeh Recipes" (August 1981). Aveline used tempeh extensively in diets for cancer patients. Those practicing a macrobiotic diet increasingly used tempeh as a basic daily protein source, and a number of them started tempeh companies.

Whereas the first generation of American tempeh makers had been Indonesian-Americans, the second generation were mostly long-haired, bearded Hippies or other members of the counter-culture, who were interested in natural foods, meatless diets, alternative lifestyles, and right livelihood as part of a spiritual life. In the midst of the world's largest meat producing country, they began to make tempeh as an alternative source of high-quality, low-cost protein. Many considered tempeh to be the finest "meatless meat" available.

By early 1979 there were 13 tempeh shops in operation in the US, 1 in Canada, and 4 in Europe, all in the Netherlands. Of the 14 North American shops, 3 were run by Indonesians and the rest by Caucasians; 7 were run out of a home, restaurant, or food retail store, and 7 were run in connection with a tofu shop. Thus, not one was a bona fide commercial plant in its own building, specializing in tempeh.

In July 1979 Michael Cohen (who had formerly lived on The Farm in Tennessee) made his first tempeh at The Tempeh Works in Greenfield, Massachusetts. It was served at the annual Soyfoods Conference at Amherst. The company began regular commercial production in September. This was America's first Caucasian-run tempeh company to make only tempeh in a commercial building. Other early companies making only tempeh in a commercial building were Pacific Tempeh in California (from August 1980), Higher Ground Cultured Foods in Wisconsin (Aug. 1980), Soyfoods Unlimited in California (Feb. 1981), and Appropriate Foods in New York (March 1981).

The Tempeh Works in Massachusetts quickly grew to be the biggest tempeh producer in America at that time, reaching roughly 3,000 pounds a week by the end of its first year (Sept. 1980). The business was started for $26,000 in a remodeled gas station with 1,200 square feet of floor space. Both the startup cost and the shop size were considered quite large at the time. The company's three main early problems (like many early tempeh shops) were learning how to prevent microbial contamination, undercapitalization, and owner-employee relations, due in part to hard work for long hours at low wages. Cohen chose to sell his tempeh refrigerated rather than frozen, and he developed the first effective steaming system to give such tempeh a long shelf life, 10 days in summer and 14-21 days in winter. By 1980 numerous articles about The Tempeh Works began to be published in regional and national magazines; the company ran ads for its tempeh to accompany many of these articles.

By the fall of 1981 The Tempeh Works was cranking out 6,000 pounds of tempeh a week in a shop that now looked far too small. Then with a capital infusion of $30,000, it had doubled floor space to 2,400 square feet (including 500 square feet of incubation room floor area), and was employing 12 long-haired workers. Soon the little dynamo was being called "The General Motors of the tempeh industry." Production in September 1981 hit a peak of 6,800 pounds a week, but then the roof fell in. In early 1982 five competitors invaded the Tempeh Works' previously unshared prime market areas of Boston and New York; production dropped 35% and the company almost went under. In January 1982 Tempeh Burgers and Five-Grain Tempeh started to be air-freighted in from California. Slow to introduce variety tempehs and second generation products, the company finally struck back. In May 1982 it launched and promoted heavily a 3 Grain & Soy Tempeh (soy plus equal parts rice, millet, and barley), in July "New England" Tempeh Burgers, and in early 1984 a line of spicy Tempté Spreads. All products were marketed as Kosher/Pareve. In late 1983 the company moved into a new 4,000-square foot plant in Greenfield and by March 1984 they were making 6,000 pounds of tempeh a week, second highest in the industry.

By May 1982 Pacific Tempeh in Emeryville, California, had passed The Tempeh Works in tempeh output to become the industry leader. Founded and run by Travis Burgeson, Pacific Tempeh had started operation in August 1980 with an initial dream of making low-cost okara tempeh, marketed like fish sticks. Startup funds of $40,000 secured a 1,000 square foot plant with a capacity of 5,500 pounds per week. From the outset, Pacific Tempeh sold the world's first vacuum packed tempeh, refrigerated, not frozen. In January 1981 they introduced America's second tempeh burger. Fried prior to packaging, it was the first to be made and marketed on a large scale. In March they began making all their own starter culture. In January 1982 they began, together with Soyfoods Unlimited, to air-freight their tempeh burgers to the East Coast, where the New England Soy Dairy distributed them to receptive natural foods stores and supermarkets. In March 1982 Pacific Tempeh developed a handsome full-color poster advertising their tempeh burger, and in April they introduced the first Tempeh Salad/Sandwich Spread called Deli Salad. By the spring of 1982 production of all their tempeh products had reached 5,000 pounds a week. Roughly 80% of this tempeh was sold as tempeh burgers. In February 1983 they introduced Tempeh Lite, America's first commercial okara tempeh; it contained 25% by weight brown rice. After lengthy discussions of a merger with Soyfoods Unlimited, Burgeson finally sold Pacific Tempeh on 1 July 1983 to Quong Hop & Co., a large manufacturer of tofu and soymilk that had not previously made tempeh. Pacific Tempeh was kept as the brand name for Quong Hop's line of tempeh products. By early 1984 production had risen to 7,000 pounds a week. Quong Hop's first new tempeh product was a tofu-and-tempeh burger, made of mixed scraps of each.

Pacific Tempeh's arch rival in the San Francisco Bay area was Soyfoods Unlimited, founded and run by Valerie, John, and Gary Robertson. Incorporated in November 1980, they started making tempeh on 15 February 1981 in their state-of-the-art $100,000 plant in San Leandro, California. Their efficient, 1,850-square-foot operation had a capacity of 10,000 pounds a week. They were the first commercial company to do dry dehulling and hull removal from their soybeans prior to cooking; for this, they used a simple and ingenious mill and vacuum cleaner system designed by the Department of Food Science at the University of Illinois but modified and enlarged by the Robertsons. They started selling frozen soy tempeh, but after 2-3 months were selling 90% of their tempeh refrigerated, after steaming. In June 1981 they introduced Soy & Rice Tempeh (using brown rice), and in September they introduced America's first nonfried tempeh burger, which they vacuum packed. In January 1982, as mentioned above, they started air-freighting 1,800 pounds a month of their tempeh burgers to the East Coast and picking up other new distributors. Shortly thereafter they introduced a Tempeh Cutlet (a square tempeh burger with soy & brown rice) and then a Soy & Five Grain Tempeh. By the spring of 1982 production of all their tempeh products had reached 6,000 pounds a week, with tempeh burgers and soy tempeh being the two best sellers. In September they moved into an adjoining building, doubling their floor space to 3,700 square feet. In October they launched a magnificent full-page color ad for their tempeh burgers in several national vegetarian and counter-culture magazines. The catchy slogan ran "All the Sizzle... None of the Steak." Following sales of $100,000 in 1982 (but only $108 profit!), the company hit hard times in January 1983, when their master distributor on the East Coast (New England Soy Dairy) stopped carrying their products. But eventually they found new distributors, uncovered a large untapped market in Hawaii, and recovered strongly. In February they spent about $10,000 setting a lab to produce their own starter culture. In June Lon Stromnes, head of Namaste Marketing, started to work for Soyfoods Unlimited as full-time marketing director, and in October they bought a used $35,000 Kutter vacuum packager. In January 1984, with tempeh production at 5,800 pounds a week, they introduced a well-conceived media-release program and a tasty vacuum-packed tempeh lasagna, brand-named Leandro's, as part of a new line of Italian-style meatless tempeh products; it was called InterNaturals for the mainstream market. In May they again expanded into an adjoining building, increasing their floor space to 5,550 square feet. In May they debuted tempeh and Indonesian-style tempeh recipes at the International Food and Wine Show, but their Sambal Goreng Tempeh, Sweet & Sour Tempeh, and Bali Tempeh made only a small splash.

The fourth of the "Big Four" tempeh companies in America was White Wave. Founded in 1977 by Steve Demos in Boulder, Colorado, White Wave was initially a tofu shop and soy deli. Tempeh production started in 1979 and that year White Wave introduced Soy & Rice Tempeh, America's first commercial soy & grain tempeh. The company moved into a big new building in late 1980, and began to make their own starter culture, and to sell all tempeh frozen, after steaming. Tempeh burgers were introduced in 1983 and by 1984 they were the company's best-selling tempeh product, followed by frozen soy tempeh, soy & rice tempeh, then 5-grain tempeh. Accounting for a fourth of White Waves total sales in 1984, tempeh was now the company's most profitable line of products. With a production of 5,850 pounds of tempeh a week, White Wave had become America's second largest tempeh producer (after Quong Hop & Co.), and distribution had reached California.

US tempeh researchers developed a number of important innovations in processing equipment and techniques that helped greatly in adapting tempeh to America, and to temperate climate production in general. While some of these have been mentioned above, we will summarize the key ones here. In 1964 Martinelli and Hesseltine at the USDA/NRRC in Peoria, Illinois, developed the use of perforated polyethylene bags as tempeh incubation containers. This revolutionized the production process. In 1975-76 Hesseltine and Wang at Peoria developed techniques for mass-producing pure-culture tempeh starter on rice using simple equipment and techniques. In 1976 Nelson and Ferrier at the University of Illinois developed and patented a low-tech, build-it-yourself soybean dehuller. It worked well (Shyeh et al, 1980) and homemade variations soon came to be used by many tempeh companies (Fiering 1981). In 1977 The Farm had been the first to use a centrifuge to dewater their cooked soybeans prior to inoculation; in 1979 Island Spring became the first of many commercial shops to use this technique--a major advance. In 1979 The Tempeh Works developed a steam pasteurizing process allowing them to sell refrigerated tempeh with a good shelf life. In August 1980 Pacific Tempeh sold the first vacuum-packed tempeh, and by 1983 much of America's tempeh (especially tempeh burgers) was being vacuum packed. In February 1981 Soyfoods Unlimited did the first commercial dry dehulling and hull removal from soybeans for tempeh. A number of US tempeh makers (such as Michael Morearty of Hi-Pro Tempeh) began to visit Indonesia to learn more about traditional methods.

New sources and concepts of tempeh starter culture (inoculum) were needed to serve the rapidly growing industry. Prior to July 1980 the main source of starter for American tempeh companies had been Farm Foods in Tennessee, which sold a vacuum-dried powdered starter. That month GEM Cultures in Fort Bragg, California, began to make and sell Living Tempeh Starter, grown on agar in petri dishes. By early 1981 most of the US tempeh shops that did not make their own starter were buying GEM Cultures product. GEM cultures also sold starter for miso and shoyu koji and for viili, plus tofu coagulants. By 1983, however, many larger companies had turned to making their own starter (it was considered much less expensive, and more potent and reliable) and those which did not, generally purchased theirs from Farm Foods. In July 1982 Turtle Island Soy Dairy started selling liquid tempeh starter. To make its own starter, a company typically worked with a trained microbiologist (such as Hananya Kronenberg of Soy Systems, Alexander Lyon of Turtle Island, or a local university student), who showed them how to set up an in-house laboratory, use sterile techniques, and grow the starter on rice. The whole lab and training typically cost $10,000 or more. In 1984 Farm Foods had about 60% of the US tempeh starter market, Turtle Island 35-40%, and GEM Cultures 0-5%.

New types of tempeh and tempeh products soon began to proliferate. In 1979 White Wave in Boulder, Colorado, developed America's first commercial multi-ingredient soy-and-grain tempeh, Soy & Rice Tempeh. In 1980 The Soy Plant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, developed Tempeh of the Sea (containing sea vegetables such as hijiki, dulse, and arame), which resembled fish sticks. In August 1980 Island Spring near Seattle, Washington introduced America's (and the world's) first commercial tempeh burgers, made on a small scale in individual petri dishes. In January 1981 Pacific Tempeh began the first large-scale production and marketing of tempeh burgers; later that year Soyfoods Unlimited made the first nonfried burgers; and in mid-1981 Turtle Island initiated Tempehroni and Five Grain Tempeh (the first multi-grain tempeh, made with soybeans, rice, millet, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.) In 1981 Surata Soyfoods developed Sprouted Soy Tempeh. Sprouting the soybeans overnight increased the content of B and C vitamins, increased yield by 11%, and facilitated wet dehulling. Hi-Pro Tempeh in Gardena, Massachusetts developed a hickory-smoked tempeh snack, and 21st Century Foods near Boston produced a delicious sausage-shaped Millet & Soy Tempeh, and (in mid-1983) sausage-shaped Soylami. By February 1983 there were three brands of okara tempeh on the market, made by Pacific Tempeh (CA), Swan Gardens (FL), and Southwest Soyfoods (NM). Most contained some rice and/or soybeans too. Other distributed tempeh entrees included Chili Con Tempeh, Sweet & Sour Tempeh, Tempeh Enchiladas, Tempeh Pizza, and Tempeh Lasagna, Tempeh Mock-Chicken Salad, and Tempeh Mock-Tuna Salad.

Of all these second-generation tempeh products, tempeh burgers were by far the most popular. The term "tempeh burger" was coined in about 1975 by The Farm in Tennessee. Early recipes appeared in pamphlets published by The Farm in 1975 and The Soyinfo Center in 1977. The first recipe in a book appeared in The Book of Tempeh (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1979). The first commercial tempeh burgers were launched in late 1980 and early 1981. They came precooked and preseasoned, fried or nonfried, typically weighing 3 ounces and packed two in a vacuum pack. By early 1984 at least eight brands were available nationwide.

In addition, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, many new tempeh dishes began to appear at soyfoods delis, cafes, and restaurants. The most popular ones, in descending order of popularity, were tempeh burgers, tempeh salads (mock chicken or tuna), tempeh sandwiches (tempeh, lettuce & tomato, etc.), sloppy joe tempeh, tempeh cacciatore, tempeh cutlets, and tempeh stroganoff (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1983). We wonder if overripe tempeh, whose distinct aroma, soft consistency, and velvety white surface resemble those of a fine Camembert or Brie cheese, will ever be popular in America, as it is in Indonesia.

As the tempeh industry expanded, the national media showed a new wave of interest. Three major media articles on tempeh were published during 1979, five in 1980, four in 1981, seven in 1982 (including a February Soyfoods magazine cover story titled "The Coming Tempeh Boom"), and three in 1983 (including feature articles in the Los Angeles Times , Washington Post , and Sunset Magazine ). Complete references for each of these are given in Soyfoods Industry and Market (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1984). Moreover, between 1977 and 1980 there were 18 new scientific journal articles on tempeh.

Between 1979 and 1984, seven books on tempeh (or with tempeh mentioned in the title) were published: The Book of Tempeh (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1979), Tempeh Production (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1980), Using Tofu, Tempeh & Other Soyfoods in Restaurants, Delis & Cafeterias (Shurtleff & Aoyagi 1982), Tofu, Tempeh, Miso & Other Soyfoods (Leviton 1982), Cooking with Tempeh (Seguin 1982), Juel Andersen's Tempeh Primer (Clute and Andersen 1983), and Tempeh Cookery (Pride 1984). In addition, cookbooks that had substantial sections on tempeh included the Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (Hagler 1978, rev. ed.), Tofu Madness (Olszewski 1978), The Soy of Cooking (Norton and Wagner 1980, 1981), Soy Foodery Cookbook (Ford 1981), Home Soyfood Equipment (Wolf 1981), and American Wholefoods Cuisine (Goldbeck and Goldbeck 1983).

During its early years, the US tempeh industry grew rapidly. The period from early 1979 to early 1983 w s one of rapid growth in the number of producers. There were 13 commercial tempeh manufacturers in January 1979, 17 in 1980, 31 in 1980, 43 in 1982, 56 in 1983, dropping back to 53 in January 1984. At the latter date there were tempeh companies in 23 states; Hawaii's first tempeh company started in 1982 (Oda 1983). In early 1984 there were also 4 manufacturers in Canada and 25 in other Western countries, for a total of 83 in the West. The largest tempeh makers in North America in January 1984 are shown below.


Average Weekly Production

Company Name & State
Year Started
1 1 Quong Hop/Pacific Tempeh, CA 1980 5,000 4,500 7,000
2 4 White Wave, CO 1979 1,900 4,750 5,850
3 3 Soyfoods Unlimited, CA 1981 3,000 5,000 5,800
4 2 The Tempeh Works, MA 1979 4,250 5,000 5,500
5 7 Appropriate Foods, NY 1981 500 1,200 2,000
6 6 Higher Ground, Inc., WI 1980 700 1,200 1,600
7 16 21st Century Soyfoods, MA 1981 150 250 1,050
8 NL Panda Foods, NY 1983     1,000

During 1983 the US tempeh industry made an estimated 2 million pounds (900 metric tons) of tempeh, using 514 metric tons of soybeans. It retailed for $5 million; the average retail price was $2.50 per pound. There were about 200 employees. Tempeh production grew by 36% during 1982 and by 29% during 1983, making it the fastest growing soyfoods market in the US. The top four manufacturers produced 63% of the industry's tempeh. An estimated 95% of US tempeh was consumed by Caucasian Americans, since there were only 5,000 to 6,000 Indonesian Americans in the entire country and other Asian-Americans consumed almost no tempeh. Although all of America's earliest tempeh companies were run by Indonesian-Americans, all of these remained small, so that by 1984 not one of the 18 largest US companies was run by an Indonesian-American. (By contrast, a majority of the larger tofu companies were run by Japanese- and Chinese-Americans.) Among the top four companies, regular soy tempeh accounted for 33% of sales, tempeh burgers and other second-generation tempeh products for 48%, and soy & grain tempehs for 19%. Second-generation products were seen as the wave of the future.

Tempeh, a new and healthful, low-cost food that gave Americans "all the sizzle without the steak," would appear to have a bright future in the land of the meat-centered diet.

History of Tempeh in Canada . Inspired by Robert Rodale's article on tempeh published in Prevention magazine in July 1977, Robert Walker founded Canada's first tempeh company in his home in Port Perry, Ontario. A 58-year-old high-school teacher, Walker started selling tempeh in June of 1978. Each week, while teaching for 40 hours, he made 50 pounds of tempeh and starter, and drove 60 miles into Toronto through heavy traffic each Saturday to deliver it to 5 or 6 health food stores. His "How to Make Tempeh," Canada's first magazine article on tempeh, was published in 1978. Walker also self-published a sheet of tempeh recipes. But in October 1979 he "burned out" from overwork and had to discontinue his pioneering tempeh activities for health reasons.

Canada's second tempeh company (Thistledown Soyfoods in Duncan, B.C.) was started in 1982 and by early 1983 there were five companies, as there were in 1984. All were quite small, making less than 200 pounds of tempeh a week. In 1984 O'Leary in Canada was writing a vegetarian cookbook titled Tempeh Mexicana , using tempeh in popular Mexican-style recipes.


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