History of Tempeh - Page 4

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A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and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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1905 to 1945 . It seems likely that Japanese travelers or traders visiting Indonesia during the 1800s or before saw, tasted, and wrote of tempeh, but as yet no written records have been found. In 1905 Kendo Saito, a professor in the Plant Physiology Laboratory of the Botanical Institute at Tokyo Imperial University, first described and illustrated what is today considered to be the main tempeh microorganism, Rhizopus oligosporus . He did not, however, mention tempeh itself, probably because he isolated the mold from rice meal cakes which he obtained from Chinese in Kobe, Japan. These Chinese used the cakes to prepare a rice-based fermented alcoholic beverage and said the cakes originated in Shandong (Shantung) province, China. This mold, never widely used in traditional Japanese fermentations, came to be known as kumo-no-su kabi , or "spider's web mold." In 1909 Saito wrote a 200-page book on useful fermentation microorganisms. Again he mentioned R. oligosporus , but did not mention tempeh. A great deal of subsequent study of the genus Rhizopus , including Rhizopus oligosporus , was done by Japanese researchers (Hanzawa 1912, 1914; Inui et al. 1965).

The first Japanese to mention and to study tempeh was the great microbiologist, Dr. Ryoji Nakazawa. Following Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), China had been forced to cede Taiwan to Japan. In 1909 Japan built a major research facility in Taiwan, the Taiwan High Commissioner's Office Central Research Laboratory, which soon became a focal point of Japanese microbiological research. Dr. Nakazawa, who had received much of his early microbiological education in Germany, worked at the Taiwan lab from its founding until 1940 and was long the leader of the research group. In his early studies Nakazawa had learned of tempeh through reading the writings of Prinsen Geerligs (1896), Went (1901), and others. In 1912 Nakazawa had asked a person from Southeast Asia to bring him samples of tempeh and onchom (ontjom; made from peanut presscake). He analyzed their microorganisms and repeatedly found Penicillium , a grayish brown mold, to be the predominant genus. In 1924 Yoshito Takeda, Nakazawa's co-worker, obtained more samples of these foods from Southeast Asia, and again found Penicillium to be predominant. Monilia (which in 1901 Went had said was the predominant organism) was not found, and Takeda assumed it had died during transport. In 1926 Nakazawa took a research trip to Java and Sumatra and carefully collected (in sterile containers) 33 samples of soy tempeh and onchom from various markets and small manufacturers. Nakazawa and Takeda analyzed the microorganisms in these fermented foods, and in 1928 published "On the Filamentous Fungi Used to Make Ontjom and Tempeh in the South Pacific" in the Laboratory's Annual Report. This was the earliest known published reference to or study of tempeh by a Japanese. They found the onchom microorganisms to be almost exclusively Penicillium and the tempeh microorganisms to be mostly Penicillium , but with substantial amounts of Mucor , Rhizopus , and Aspergillus as well. No Monilia was found and no species names were reported. Dr. Nakazawa never made tempeh, probably for lack of suitable inoculum. After World War II, Dr. Nakazawa compiled his classic 11-volume Bibliography of Fermentation and Biological Chemistry ( Hakko oyobi Seibutsu Kagaku Bunken-shu , 1950-65); strangely it lists no references to tempeh, even in the more than seven?? pages of references to Rhizopus fermentations (he may have listed it under Penicillium ??).

During World War II many Japanese stationed in Java and surrounding areas came to know about tempeh. They often called tempeh "Java natto," perhaps because both were fermented soyfoods, incubated in a plant wrapper (leaf or straw), and with some white that formed on their surface during fermentation. Japanese in charge of prisoner-of-war camps in Indonesia, New Guinea, Hong Kong, and Singapore allowed their prisoners to make soybeans into tempeh (Stahel 1946; Roelofsen 1946; Smith and Woodruff 1951; Grant 1952).

One of Dr. Nakazawa's youngest but eventually best known students was Dr. Masahiro Nakano, who worked at the Taiwan laboratory with Dr. Nakazawa from 1934 until the early 1940s and learned from him about tempeh. During World War II, Nakano went to Indonesia for three years as a lieutenant in the Japanese Infantry, as part of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. There he found time to pursue his interest in fermented foods, although he did no formal microbiological research. He traveled widely, bought tempeh in many local markets, visited roughly five tempeh producers, and frequently enjoyed tempeh cooked Indonesian style, mainly as Tempeh Goreng. In about 1944, on the advice of Japan's great microbiologist, Dr. Shinichiro Sakaguchi, Dr. Nakano (then age 37) went to the National Food Research Institute (NFRI) and created a Department of Applied Microbiology. But little or no work was done on tempeh until World War II was over.

1946 to 1979 . After the war the Department of Applied Microbiology at NFRI, and especially Dr. Nakano and his student Teruo Ohta, introduced tempeh to Japan. They were the first to make and serve tempeh in Japan. But Nakano's interest in tempeh was the academic interest of a microbiologist in a new fermented food. He was never directly interested in promoting or popularizing it (Nakano 1984, personal communication).

In about 1947-49 Dr. Nakano (or was it Ohta??) wrote the first article on tempeh published in Japan. It appeared in a very popular non-scientific journal, Nosan Seizo (Cit??). In those days Nakano and Ohta often made tempeh at NFRI; they served it to co-workers in various ways and everyone said that it was delicious. In the mid-1950s Nakano and Ohta (Ohta's specialty was natto fermentation) suggested to natto makers and the Japan Natto Association that they try to introduce tempeh as a commercial product. In the laboratory and in natto plants, big and small, the researchers showed natto makers how to make tempeh, but the idea did not take root. In 1959 Nakano wrote more about tempeh in a Japanese food journal??, then discussed tempeh in a larger paper on fermented foods at a 1959 FAO conference in India. In 1964 prior to the International Symposium on Oilseed Protein Foods, held at Mt. Fuji, Nakano asked Indonesians to bring fresh tempeh for others to see. In 1964 Ohta, Ebine, and Nakano wrote a journal article titled "Research on Tempeh." Part 1 described the properties of tempeh powder made in Indonesia. In 1965 Ohta (drawing heavily on a 1961 article by Ko), discussed the status of tempeh in Indonesia and the interest of FAO and UNICEF in tempeh since about 1955 as a source of high quality low-cost protein and, in powdered form, for its antioxidant properties. Ohta later wrote detailed chapters on tempeh in several books including Fermented Foods (Nakano 1967) and Soyfoods (Watanabe, Ebine, and Ohta 1971). In 1979 Nakano wrote Handmade Healthy Fermented Foods . This popular book contained a chapter on "Tempeh and Onchom" in which he described the foods and how they were made, but did not give actual recipes. Also in 1979 Ebine wrote an article about tempeh in a food research journal.

In 1960 Mr. Hayashi, director of the new Japanese-American Soybean Institute ( Nichibei Daizu Chosa-kai ; forerunner of the American Soybean Association) in Tokyo, grew interested in tempeh. That year his institute published (in Japanese) a 4-page pamphlet describing Hesseltine's method for making tempeh and noting that members of the Japan Shoyu Association ( Shoyu Kyokai ) had visited Hesseltine's lab in Peoria, learned about tempeh, and received tempeh starter. He convinced Mr. Haruo Kato of Marukin Shokuhin (Marukin Foods Industry Co. Ltd.), a large natto manufacturer in Kumamoto (Kyushu), to make the first commercial tempeh trials in Japan. Samples were sent to the ASA, where it was served fried and drew nice compliments. The ASA planned to introduce tempeh to tempura restaurants to be served as tempeh tempura, but the project never got started, for Marukin reported that tempeh interfered with the natto fermentation and vice versa.

Another center of tempeh research in Japan developed during the early 1960s at the Food and Nutrition Laboratory, in the Faculty of Science of Living, at Osaka City University, in Osaka. Early research there was done by Dr. Kiku Murata (a woman), Dr. Hideo Ikehata, and co-workers. Dr. Murata, a biochemical nutritionist, studied tempeh with the famed pediatrician Dr. Paul György in the US during 1959 and 1960. In 1964 she and Ikehata co-authored an article with György (senior author) on antioxidants in tempeh. Between 1964 and 1980 Murata was senior author of eight publications on tempeh and co-author of five others; these related primarily to antioxidants in tempeh and to tempeh's nutritional value. Some of this early research was partially funded by a grant from the USDA under the PL 480 program from 1964 to 1969. The most important of Dr. Murata's publications was the four-part "Studies on the Nutritional Value of Tempeh (1967-71). Ikehata was senior author of four papers on tempeh between 1964 and 1968. Other members of the group included Wakaizumi, Sanke, Miyamoto, Ebata, Kokufu, Kasuya, and Sugimoto. During the 1950s and 1960s UNICEF took interest in the work with tempeh antioxidants. György eventually did tests mixing powdered tempeh with powdered milk to make the latter more resistant to oxidative rancidity in tropical countries (Nakano 1979).

There has long been a substantial population of Indonesians in Tokyo and some fine Indonesian restaurants. From time to time an Indonesian would make tempeh as a small side job for use in one or more restaurants?? In 1975 Mr. Muhammad Mustam, a former Indonesian tempeh maker living in Tokyo, was making small amounts of tempeh occasionally and selling it to a small circle of Indonesian friends. In March of that year Shurtleff and Aoyagi were first shown tempeh and how to make and cook with it by Mr. Mustam and his wife. They published this information in their Book of Tofu (1975) and expanded it greatly in their Book of Tempeh (1979).

The 1980s . In 1980 Fukakura, Asano, and Murata wrote "Survey on Acceptability of Tempeh," based on a survey of 50 members of a taste panel at Teikoku Women's College in Osaka. They found that 76% of the panel members preferred tempeh over natto (this percentage might have been less in northern Japan where natto is most popular), and that deep-fried tempeh, seasoned with salt, was liked best. Tempeh burgers were also well accepted. They concluded: "The possibility of acceptance of tempeh by Japanese is fairly great."

In 1982 Takai, a large Japanese manufacturer of tofu and soymilk equipment, working with KOPTI in Indonesia and with an eye on the US and European soyfoods industries, developed and patented a combination cooker and wet dehuller to aid in mechanizing and modernizing the tempeh making process.

Despite all the research and promotional work from the early 1960s until the early 1980s, tempeh had not yet been produced commercially in Japan. But starting in about 1983 new interest arose for various reasons: (1) the growing popularity of tempeh in the United States and Europe; (2) the activities of KOPTI, the new Indonesian trade association for tempeh and tofu makers; (3) the growing internationalization of the Japanese diet; and (4) the increasingly positive image of soyfoods as a source of high quality nutrition. Thus as Japan's first major postwar soyfoods revolution (soymilk) was getting into high gear, another new one was starting.

Five organizations deserve the lion's share of the credit for commercializing tempeh in Japan, starting in 1983: Torigoe Flour Milling Co., the National Food Research Institute (NFRI), The Japan Natto Assoc., Marukin Foods, and Marusan-Ai. Most of these were large established Japanese food companies, and several had been studying tempeh for more than a decade. They seized the opportunity boldly in launching tempeh.

Torigoe . The first company in Japan to start commercial tempeh production was Torigoe Flour Milling Co. ( Torigoe Seifun ), the nation's fifth largest flour milling company. With wheat quotas fixed by the government and supplies always limited, Torigoe was looking to diversify. In 1975 Mr. Hiroto Nakagawa, head of Torigoe's R&D department received an article on tempeh written by a professor (who??) in Kyushu University's Department of Food Science and Technology. Nakagawa asked for more details and Professor Tadao Watanabe in the department asked one of his students, Kazuhiro Takamine, to study more about tempeh. In 1976 Takamine joined Torigoe's R&D group and Torigoe began to do cooperative research on tempeh and other fermented foods with the department at Kyushu University.

In 1979 the tempeh research began to look very promising, so Prof. Watanabe recommended that Torigoe send Takamine to the USA for further studies. In 1980 Takamine arrived at the University of Minnesota. Working in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition under Dr. William Breene and with Indonesian PhD candidate Abdul Rivai, he began to realize the great potential of tempeh. Takamine returned to Japan in 1981. With solid practical and theoretical knowledge of tempeh, he set out to convince the management of Torigoe that they should invest in a tempeh plant. But the leaders were hesitant, fearing that tempeh might not be suited to Japanese tastes. So first, Takamine developed tempeh with a milder, improved flavor; those who tried it grew to like it a lot. Second, it was learned that the prestigious National Food Research Institute (NFRI) was investigating tempeh. Torigoe's head of R&D went to NFRI in February 1983 and showed them Takamine's product. NFRI researchers, surprised and impressed, told other companies that tempeh looked more promising than ever and even persuaded the Japan Natto Association to look at it carefully. Third, a growing number of articles on tempeh, many from the NFRI, began to appear in Japanese newspapers. And fourth, Prof. Watanabe from Kyushu began giving many lectures to dieticians, nutritionists, and home economists on the high nutritional value of tempeh. By now Torigoe's management had become excited about pioneering commercial tempeh in Japan.

In June 1983 Torigoe started making tempeh at their Fukuoka flour mill in a pilot plant that cost $50,000 and had a capacity of 15 tonnes (metric tons) or 33,000 pounds of tempeh a month. They made the key decision not to sell plain tempeh, but rather to make two semi-prepared products, both called Gold Tempeh. One was tempeh cut into pieces the shape of small French fried potatoes. These "tempeh fingers" were then dipped into a batter made of vegetable juices, wheat flour, salt, and spices, dusted with bread crumbs, packed in a shallow tray, together with two packets of tartar sauce, and sold frozen. The consumer would then deep-fry them to serve crisp and crunchy with the sauce. The second product was made by simply by pressing the ground trimmings from the first product into oval patties (no binding was used), then enrobing them in a breaded batter as with the "fingers." The tasty and nutritious morsels, were introduced like fish sticks or cutlets to a school lunch program in Kyushu, where they became very popular. They were also test marketed at several natural food stores, again with good results.

On 30 June 1983 the Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun , a large Japanese business newspaper (and many smaller papers), reported on a tempeh press conference held by Torigoe the day before. In mid-July 1983 Torigoe started commercial-scale production. Sales in 600-gm packs to institutions (schools, hospitals, natural food restaurants) began in July, and sales in 140-gm packs to retailers (natural food stores, department stores, and chain supermarkets) in November 1983. Packaged in beautiful full-color boxes with handsome flyers, the tempeh could be used in Western, Japanese, or Chinese style cookery, or as a snack food. Each of the two forms of Gold Tempeh, weighing 140 gm, cost 250 yen (about $1.05). Nutritional value (17.5% protein, rich in vitamin B-12) was stressed in marketing. By early 1984 Torigoe was producing 10-12 tonnes of tempeh a month, or about 5,770 lb/week, making it suddenly one of the world's largest tempeh manufacturers--yet the product was only in the test market stage! Sales of about $420,000 were projected for the first year. In early February 1984 Takamine spent five days in the US studying tempeh, including two days at The Soyinfo Center, where he met with leading California tempeh makers. Soon thereafter Torigoe began selling their tempeh at big department stores in Kyushu (such as Iwataya) and at Natural House in Kobe. But most of their tempeh was still sold to schools. Mr. Torigoe, president of Torigoe, thinks that tempeh will become a part of the daily Japanese diet. Dr. Watanabe at Kyushu University has published on tempeh's nutritional value, especially the dramatic increase in its content of vitamin B-12 during fermentation ( Rinsho Eiyo , Jan. 1983??; Yomiuri Shimbun 23 May 1983; Takamine, personal communication 1984).

Marusan-Ai . Founded in 1952, Okazaki Marusan was primarily a miso maker during its first two decades. In February 1973 Mr. Naoki Kawai, manager of Marusan's development section, discovered tempeh in Indonesia, brought back tempeh starter from Bogor University, and began to study tempeh production and cookery in his laboratory. Since making the koji for Marusan's soybean miso was very similar to making tempeh, the research advanced rapidly. In 1974 the company launched soymilk, then in January 1983 the company changed its name to Marusan-Ai (Ai means "love"). In August 1983, with soymilk sales booming, Marusan-Ai started pilot plant production of tempeh.

Marusan-Ai invested $129,000 (30 million yen) to remodel part of their main miso plant in Okazaki city, Aichi prefecture, to give them a capacity of 2 tonnes of tempeh a day. They decided to put their full energy into marketing tempeh (just as they did soymilk and miso), focusing their efforts on west and south-central Japan, where natto was not popular. They incubated the tempeh in shallow (2-inch-deep) polyproylene plastic trays. In January 1984 they introduced their tempeh to dietitians and in February 1984 they began to distribute pasteurized, refrigerated bulk tempeh (500 gm and 2.5 kg) for use in local school lunch programs and hospitals, and by caterers. They published a 27-page booklet titled "A New Soy Protein Food for Tomorrow: Marusan's Healthy Tempeh," which included a description with photographs of their tempeh production process and eight Japanese-style recipes. In March they began selling 125-gm and 250-gm cakes retail to consumers, brand-named Sukoyaka Tenpe ("healthy-robust tempeh"). By May 1984 Marusan-Ai was producing 30 tonnes (66,000 pounds) of tempeh a month or 15,148 lb/week, making them the largest tempeh manufacturer in the world. And in June they started selling tempeh in supermarkets in local Aichi prefecture. Their plant now had a capacity of 2-5 tonnes a day, and their four technical men each had degrees in agricultural chemistry. Most of their tempeh was sold to local schools and hospitals, pasteurized, then refrigerated. Much of the tempeh was used as a meat replacer, as in Sweet-Sour Pork, Tempeh-Hijiki Saute, and the like.

The Japanese food industry and consumers have watched Marusan-Ai's work with tempeh with great interest, for by 1984 the company was one of the country's two largest soymilk makers, and one of the five largest miso makers. More important, Marusan-Ai was widely regarded as one of Japan's most dynamic, innovative, and forward looking food companies. In June 1984 Toyo Shimpo , a major Japanese soyfoods newspaper, predicted a significant expansion of Japan's tempeh market after Marusan-Ai's entry. The firm reportedly had big plans to expand production considerably. By June 1984 they were developing second-generation tempeh products such as breaded tempeh, a hamburger in which tempeh was the main ingredient, and tempeh kamaboko (a fish and tempeh product). They hoped to introduce these into local school lunch programs and distributed them through their extensive soymilk routes.

National Food Research Institute (NFRI) . Work on tempeh at the NFRI picked up during the 1980s. Under the umbrella of various scientific cooperation agreements, Japan had joint research programs with Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. The NFRI and Bogor University had a joint research program in microbiology. Ohta and Katoh, both of NFRI, spent various periods of time in Bogor, studying tempeh and other foods. From January to March 1983 Mrs. Ratna Siri Hadioetomo, one of Indonesia's best basic microbiologists, from Bogor University, did research at NFRI, where she taught the Japanese researchers more about tempeh, and also did some research on tests for vitamin B-12 in tempeh. Mr. Noriyuki Okada of NFRI worked closely with her in studying vitamin B-12 production in tempeh, and he made tempeh regularly at the lab. By mid-1983 the NFRI was assembling a tempeh team of Ohta, Okada, and Katoh. One project was to develop a new tempeh starter containing R. oligosporus plus two other microorganisms, one to produce vitamin B-12 and one to produce lactic acid. The latter organism, tentatively named Lactobacillus soyae , had been found on Nepalese pickles and was one of the few lactic acid bacteria known to grow well on plant protein foods. Its lactic acid could replace the vinegar or prefermentation now used to keep the pH of tempeh low, to prevent growth of contaminating bacteria, such as natto bacteria. In early 1984 Okada went to Indonesia to get cultures for production of vitamin B-12 in tempeh. The NFRI was having starter made in bulk for itself and the Natto Association by a commercial maker of koji starter cultures?? But perhaps most important the NFRI worked closely with the Japan Natto Association to interest that group in tempeh and to help individual members start production.

Japan Natto Association. The idea of Japanese natto makers making commercial tempeh, having smoldered for over 25 years, suddenly caught fire in about 1983. Natto production had expanded steadily throughout the postwar period. From 1958 to 1982 natto production grew at the admirable compound rate of 6.2% year. Yet per capita consumption in 1982 was still only about 1.4 kg per capita per year, and many Japanese simply did not like this unusual food with its strong ammonia smell and the many long thin stretchy threads that appeared when it was eaten. Thus, by the early 1980s natto makers were looking for a new product, ideally a fermented soyfood, to help expand sales. In May 1981 Ohta of NFRI gave a lecture on tempeh to the Natto Association and showed some samples he had brought from Indonesia. He gave another lecture in September. The head of the Japan Natto Association, Mr. Noboru Ose took an interest in tempeh, as did Mr. Goro Kanasugi, an officer of the Association. Both men were natto manufacturers. They reasoned that tempeh and natto were made by similar processes and with similar equipment, and could be distributed via natto distribution channels. Both could be used "to help Japanese avoid excess consumption of animal proteins." In May 1983 the Natto Association, at a meeting in Tokyo, decided to go ahead with tempeh research and popularization, including recipe development. Ohta agreed to serve as an advisor. In May 1983 the Yomiuri newspaper ran a large article on tempeh entitled "Natto That Doesn't Smell; Even Young People Like It." It described tempeh and its popularity in Indonesia and America, but surprisingly referred to tempeh repeatedly as "tempeh natto," a term that both the Natto Association and NFRI apparently wanted to popularize to aid sales of both tempeh and natto. In April 1984 Ohta wrote an article on tempeh in a popular health magazine, calling it "Java Natto" and lauding its ability to prevent geriatric diseases.

We feel that the use of the term "natto" in conjunction with tempeh is both deceptive and unfortunate, since tempeh and natto bear very little resemblance to one another. They are made in different ways with completely different organisms (tempeh with a mold, natto with bacteria), they look and taste very different (many people who like tempeh do not like natto), and they are served in very different recipes. Moreover, all of the other major tempeh makers in Japan call tempeh by its correct name. Hopefully the Natto Association and the NFRI will soon drop the term "tempeh natto."

In June 1983 the Natto Association sent a team of three men to Indonesia to study tempeh. Mr. Goro Kanasugi, Mr. Hisao Nagayama (a natto historian), and Mr. Kikuo Chiba spent five days in Jakarta, Bogor, and Yogyakarta, looking at tempeh production and visiting KOPTI. The trip was successful, and on their return they presented a report. In July the Natto Association founded a research laboratory in Omiya city (Saitama prefecture) and at the end of July it started to produce tempeh spores for members of the Association only, and (perhaps) to introduce tempeh as "tempeh natto" in Japanese confections and as a meat extender. They were applying for a patent on tempeh and developing a tempeh cooking pamphlet.

On 2 July 1983 an interesting meeting was held at the Natto Association headquarters in Tokyo. Five leaders of the Association, Ohta and Katoh from NFRI, William Shurtleff from The Soyinfo Center, and Mrs. Yasuko Torii, author of books on natural foods and farming, met for 6 hours to discuss developments with tempeh in the USA and strategies and tactics for introducing tempeh to Japan. The 21 July 1983 issue of Toyo Shimpo published extensive information on tempeh in an interview with Shurtleff and Aoyagi.

A colorful leader of the natto-tempeh movement was Goro Kanasugi, vice president of the Natto Association. He started a soyfoods restaurant (when??) named Mame-no-Ko ("child-of-soybean") in Omiya city, Saitama prefecture. By mid-1983 he was serving tempeh there as an alternative to meat in various dishes: tempura, harumaki (spring rolls), karinto (sweet fried dough cake), curry sauce, sauteed vegetables, croquettes, and various others. Many of his recipes contained 10-20% chicken or meat. He was hoping to establish a chain of tempeh restaurants in major cities (Kanasugi 1983). He also developed and sold Tempeh Senbei (traditional rice crackers containing 15% ground tempeh) and Tempeh Okoshi (a crunchy millet-based confection containing 20% ground tempeh). He made his tempeh in one room of his natto plant?? Kanasugi also wrote a number of articles on tempeh.

By December?? 1983 the Natto Association had a big meeting where members brought 100 tempeh dishes, and a cooking teacher prepared 5-6 additional recipes. The food was very well accepted. They decided to call 1984 "The First Year of the Tempeh Era" ( Tenpe Gannen ). A number of natto producers were then organizing to start at least one joint venture tempeh plant, with the aim of starting commercial production. They had finally realized that tempeh cannot easily be made in natto plants, since natto bacteria are the major bacteria causing spoilage in tempeh. In 1983 and 1984 two large natto companies began making tempeh--both prompted by the Japan Natto Association's promotional work for tempeh. They were Marukin Foods and Takashin.

Marukin Foods. The first natto company to start large-scale production of tempeh was Marukin Shokuhin (Marukin Foods Industry Co. Ltd.). Located in Kumamoto, Kyushu (Japan's southernmost main island), they were (in 1984) one of Japan's Big Five natto manufacturers, and they also made several other foods such as roasted soy flour ( kinako ), tofu, and konnyaku . In about 1964 Mr. Hayashi of the Japanese-American Soybean Institute suggested that Marukin start to study tempeh. At that time Marukin was looking for a new product, so Mr. Haruo Kato (the brother of Marukin's president and chief of natto production, research, and development) began with great interest to collect material and investigate this little-know fermented soyfood. Kato obtained tempeh culture from an unknown source in 1964 and was soon making small batches of tempeh. However the company eventually came to believe (incorrectly) that tempeh culture could interfere with the natto fermentation, and taste tests of tempeh led Kato to feel that it might be difficult to introduce tempeh into Westernized diets in Japan. So interest in tempeh waned. In July 1982 Marukin and eleven other small- to medium-sized soyfoods manufacturers from throughout Kyushu joined to establish the Kyushu Soyfoods Industry Association ( Kyushu Daizu Shokuhin Kogyo Kumiai ). Marusan's president, Itsuo Kira, became head of the cooperative Association. To help them compete with larger companies, and supported by Japanese government aid, they built a large and modern factory (6,600 square meters), with a daily capacity of 15 tonnes of natto and 6 tonnes of kinako and soy soup base ( gojiru no moto ). In April 1983, this new natto factory, the largest in Japan, started production, employing 85 workers. Marukin decided to use its former natto factory to make tempeh, since there was a growing interest in soyfoods and healthful foods, and since they already had extensive experience in making fermented soyfoods. In November 1983 Marukin Foods launched SunSeed brand tempeh. An article on the product in the 1 December 1983 issue of the Japan Food News ( Nihon Shokuryo Shimbun ) was headlined "nonsticky natto" and by May 1984 they were selling 1,500 packs of 200 gm each (300 kg) daily, about 4,620 lb (2,100 kg) a week or 9,150 kg a month. They were also developing secondary tempeh products, including snack foods, paste-type foods, and fried foods. The person in charge of tempeh production and sales was Moto-o Kira, eldest son of the president, Itsuo Kira, and next to top man in the company. Marukin sold its tempeh in department stores and in supermarkets at their own in-store booths. To promote tempeh, the company employed two professional nutritionists to do demonstrations and lectures at cooking classes. Marukin soon hopes to sell tempeh to school lunch programs.

Takashin Foods . Takashin Shokuhin is a new company, a spinoff from a large natto manufacturer called Takato. In 1983 they built a new tempeh plant in Tokyo and began to sell their tempeh as "Tempeh Natto" in small plastic trays. By 1984 their tempeh was being sold at Indonesian restaurants in Tokyo, at Roppongi and Ginza. When start?? How much do they make??

From 1983 on research, publication, and promotion work related to tempeh in Japan increased dramatically. On August 5 the Japan Soyfoods Research and Popularization Association held a meeting in Tokyo at which Prof. Tsujimura, professor of nutrition, lectured on "Will Tempeh Fit into the Japanese Diet?" and showed slides of tempeh in Indonesia. Many businessmen attended and showed interest in tempeh. Also in August Nihon Kogyo (a big mining company) showed an interest in making tempeh starter and Kyodo Press agreed to distribute articles on tempeh to many local papers.

In July 1984 the Japan Tempeh Research Society ( Tenpe Kenkyu-kai ) was founded in Tokyo to provide a forum for ongoing investigation, discussion, and popularization of tempeh. Dr. Watanabe of Kyushu University was chair, and Dr. Nakano was advisor. In June Shokuhin Kogyo (The Food Industry) magazine became the first in Japan to devote a special issue to tempeh. There were articles by Noguchi (recipes), Takamine (production and utilization: technological developments and problems to be solved), Ebine (characteristics and use), and Watanabe (antioxidants). NFRI planned an international symposium in Tsukuba for the fall of 1985 to discuss tempeh and natto.

Yet as of mid-1984 tempeh was not yet widely available at food stores in Japan. The only known retail outlet in Tokyo was Natural House in Aoyama. The only outlet in Kobe was also Natural House, selling Torigoe tempeh.

The future of tempeh in Japan looks promising. As of mid-1984 a number of large Japanese food companies were seriously considering tempeh production. These included: Yuki-jirushi (Snow-brand), Japan's largest dairy products company (with 1982 sales of $1.8 billion), which was developing a tempeh with an improved flavor; Kibun, a huge food company and Japan's largest soymilk manufacturer; Takasago Koryo, a large flavor and fragrances company, which may work with Nihon Kogyo (the mining company); and a big food company in Hokkaido.

The large amount of okara produced by Japan's huge tofu and soymilk industries could serve as a valuable, low-cost, nutritious raw material for making tempeh. More important, when Japan's sophisticated fermented soyfoods technologies start to be applied to the tempeh making process, exciting new developments are sure to result. Likewise, when fine Japanese chefs set out to create new tempeh recipes--from Teriyaki Tempeh to Tempeh Tempura--the world is sure to take notice. Indeed, Japan could soon lead the world in tempeh research and development--and in large-scale tempeh production.


History of Tempeh in China and Taiwan . As mentioned previously at Indonesian History, a tempeh-like product was observed in Beijing, China in 1931 by William Morse. In the log of the Dorsett-Morse Expedition (Vol. 10, p. 6273) he gave a good photograph and the following description: "Soybean Cake. Peiping, China. A life-sized picture. Chinese name ` Tou chiah ping '("soybean fried cake"). Small cakes made from boiled soybeans. The beans are pressed into small round cakes which are allowed to develop a mold--taking about seven days. These cakes are broken into small pieces and fried in sesame oil." There are no known subsequent references to this Chinese product in any language.

In 1983 William Shurtleff asked at least 10 people in China connected with soyfoods if they had ever heard of tou chiah ping and showed them the characters. None had. Tempeh could be produced easily by Chinese companies making soybean jiang or soy sauce and it would fit nicely into Chinese dietary patterns. But given the proverbial conservatism of most Chinese toward new foods, it might have difficulty in catching on.

In the early 1980s Dr. Steve Chen, Director of the American Soybean Association in Taiwan, wrote two books, Soy Foods (1980) and Handbook of Soy Oil and Soy Foods (1981), both in Chinese. In each book he discussed tempeh, writing its name with two Chinese characters (meaning heaven + sea shell), which he chose to sound like "tempeh." (In pinyin these are written and pronounced tian-bei .) A friend of Chen's, a microbiologist who traveled to Indonesia, developed a tempeh inoculum with a shrimp flavor.

As of mid-1984 there were no known tempeh manufacturers in China or Taiwan. More research is needed on tempeh in China.

History of Tempeh in Southeast Asia . Tempeh migrated with Indonesian travelers to Malaysia and Singapore in early times, although no definite dates of introduction are known. The earliest known journal article about tempeh from Southeast Asia was written in 1968 by Diokno-Palo and Palo in the Philippines. It stated that there was no record of tempeh having ever been made or sold in the Philippines, but the authors recommended its introduction. In 1976 Bhumiratana described a pilot process for making tempeh developed at Kasetsart University in Thailand (Goodman 1976). In 1977 Noparatnaraporn from Kasetsart presented a paper on "Factors Affecting Fermentation and Vitamin B-12 in Tempeh." Also in 1977 Yeoh and Mercian from the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) presented the first known report on "Malaysian Tempeh." Both have been summarized by Steinkraus (1983). The ASEAN Protein Project stimulated research on tempeh. Noranizam (1979) in Malaysia studied Rhizopus isolated from tempeh.

History of Tempeh in India . In about 1936 (according to van Veen 1962) a group of missionaries from Travancore, a poor region from south India, wanted to make and introduced soy tempeh. Van Veen gave them a 3-week course in production methods. When they returned to Travancore, they made good quality tempeh, but the Indian people there had no interest in this unknown mold-fermented product, and the experiment failed.

In 1959 Dr. Nakano of Japan discussed tempeh at an FAO conference held at the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysore. In 1960 Prawiranegara at the Fourth Pan Indian Ocean Science Congress, described three methods for preparing tempeh starter culture. In the late 1970s researchers at CFTRI in Mysore discussed the process for making a soy & peanut tempeh, and its nutritional value (Bai et al. 1975; Bhavani Shankar et al. 1978). In 1979 Bai and co-workers from CFTRI discussed the nutritional value of tempeh as a supplement to rice-based diets. In 1981 David and Verma at Pantnagar found that soy & fava bean (bakla) tempeh (1:1) had better palatability than pure soy or 3:1 soy:bakla tempeh. In 1982 the Soy Production & Research Association in Bareilly was studying the possibility of producing India's first commercial tempeh. By 1981 M.P. Vaidehi in the Dept. of Rural Home Science, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, was making her own tempeh, then did a study serving tempeh curry and tempeh chips to 100 villagers and 100 urban consumers. The two products were well accepted. She was working to introduce tempeh to Indian villages (Vaidehi and Vijayakumari 1981; Vaidehi 1981, 1984 personal communication).

History of Tempeh in Sri Lanka . From April to June 1979 Mr. Thio Goan Loo, a Chinese-Indonesian stationed at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, was assigned, by the International Technical Assistance Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague, to teach low-tech soyfoods in Sri Lanka. He taught many people, especially those associated with the Soyafoods Research Centre at Gannoruwa, how to make and serve tempeh. In January 1981 Soyanews introduced tempeh to its many Sri Lankan readers, with a description of how to make tempeh at home plus several recipes (CR 53). The May 1981 issue of Soyanews featured a cover story on tempeh, calling sun-dried tempeh "soya karawala," the latter being a popular type of Indonesian dried fish, which tempeh apparently was found to resemble in texture and flavor. As Soyanews continued to praise the virtues of tempeh (June, July 1981; Oct. 1983; April, June 1984) and the Soyafoods Research Center at Gannoruwa, Peradeniya continued to teach people how to make and use it, the new food caught on surprisingly rapidly. Soon?? starter was available locally for people who wanted to make their own on a home or village scale. In 1983 a team from the Research Center was sent to Indonesia for two months to study tempeh. They seemed to prefer fresh tempeh to the dried tempeh typically sold in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a nice balance of both research and extension work with tempeh. This could be the beginning of the first successful introduction of tempeh to a Third World country having no Indonesian influence.


History of Tempeh in Latin America . In Latin America, tempeh was first mentioned by Stahel in Surinam in 1946. He wrote: "Here in Surinam, as in the East Indies, most of the soybeans are consumed in this form." In 1964 Martinelli, a Brazilian scientist working in the US with Hesseltine at the USDA/NRRC in Peoria, Illinois, developed the extremely important technique for making tempeh in perforated polyethylene bags. In December 1980 Natura magazine in Mexico published a cover story on tempeh by Heltova (largely pirated from The Book of Tempeh ). In December 1981 Quadernos de Natura published an 86-page booklet on tofu, miso and tempeh by Shurtleff and Aoyagi. Yet as of mid-1984 there were no tempeh shops in Latin America (except in Surinam) and no research was underway.

History of Tempeh in Africa . Shortly after World War II, tempeh was introduced in Southern Rhodesia. Van Veen recalled that one of his co-workers had gone there and noticed that a lot of locally grown soybeans were being exported rather than being eaten by the people. Working with the local food technology institute, he and the staff made tempeh for hospitals. The United Nations' FAO gave technical advice and the project looked promising, but it eventually failed since the product was not accepted by the general population, which had no experience with mold-fermented foods (Autret and van Veen 1955; van Veen 1962). György (1962) reported that in 1955 he had received tempeh from the Ministry of Health in Salisbury.

In 1971 Mr. Thio Goan Loo, a Chinese-Indonesian, helped to introduce tempeh (along with other low-tech soyfoods) to Zambia (Thio 1972), but it is not known what became of his efforts. In 1977 Bahi El-Din and co-workers, having done research on the basic tempeh fermentation process at Wageningen, Netherlands, published an article about it in the Sudan. Also in 1977 Djurtoft and Jensen investigated the production of tempeh from beans widely grown in Africa--broad beans and cowpeas, used as is or mixed with wheat or barley. Deep-fried tempeh slices were well accepted by a taste panel of 20 Africans. In 1980 Raintree in Ibadan, Nigeria, published a short article on how to make tempeh from the seeds of the fast-growing leucaena or ipil-ipil tree. The only place this tempeh was made traditionally was in the dry, inhospitable hill country of Gunung Kidul in south central Java. As of mid-1984 we know of no tempeh production or research in Africa.


One indication of the widespread and growing interest in tempeh appeared at the United Nations-sponsored international Symposium on Indigenous Fermented Foods (SIFF), held in conjunction with the fifth international conference on the Global Impacts of Applied Microbiology (GIAM V) convened in Bangkok in November 1977, and attended by over 450 top researchers from around the world. There 17 papers were presented on tempeh, more than any other single food. Those proceedings, edited by Steinkraus, were published in 1983 in Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods .

In the US only a very small percentage of the population (perhaps 3-5% in 1984) has heard of, much less tasted, tempeh. Thus the main problems are education, publicity, and public acceptance. There is a great need for tempeh to become more widely available and for more American-style second-generation tempeh products (such as tempeh burgers) to be marketed. Solutions to occasional contamination/spoilage problems must be found. Research might help by developing a strain of Rhizopus with white spores or developing a mixed inoculum containing a beneficial bacterium that produces both vitamin B-12 and lactic acid (to lower the pH against harmful bacteria).

In Third World countries, where tempeh could make a major contribution, there are numerous problems to its introduction: (1) need for education and promotional work; (2) the difficulty of changing traditional food patterns, especially in areas that have no experience consuming mold-fermented foods (as in most parts of Africa), to which there may be large resistance; (3) teaching uneducated people how to prevent tempeh contamination; (4) developing sources of or methods for making tempeh starter; and (5) finding distribution systems that can deal with tempeh's short storage life when it is not refrigerated. Nevertheless, the experience in Sri Lanka seems to indicate that if tempeh is properly introduced and promoted, it can be a real hit with people in developing countries, even if they have no experience with such fermented foods. Of greatest value would be a network of soyfoods training centers in developing countries (like the one in Sri Lanka) where local people could learn how to make tempeh and use it in popular local dishes.

Tempeh offers great hope for increasing local supplies of low cost protein, while also providing local employment opportunities.


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