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The preference of tofu over tempeh is purely subjective. However, in the US many do not enjoy tofu (aside from perhaps breaded/fried) but do enjoy tempeh. In fact, many people have never heard of or tried tempeh.

Is there a reason tofu is ubiquitous and tempeh is still uncommon?

Note: This was observed in the US. Perhaps this difference is strictly regional.

  • 2
    Same here in Germany. Almost every supermarket will carry tofu, but tempeh is rare even in specialised "Asian" shops (It's not unheard of here - the first time I heard about tempeh was in the "Hobbythek", a popular GTV program in the early eighties - but it never lifted off). If I had to guess why I'd say it's a matter of provenance - we have quite a few Chinese immigrants, but few from Indonesia (where, I think, tempeh originates from). – Eike Pierstorff Nov 15 '17 at 18:41
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    Tofu doesn't involve fermentation so I guess the manufacturing is much easier, cheaper, and faster, e.g. you can make tofu any time around the year with a lead time measured in hours, bean to product, and scales really well, e.g. 1000+kg per batch for a modern food factory. – user3528438 Nov 15 '17 at 22:47
  • Tempeh is not unusual at asian stores in the area here (around Frankfurt), these shops appear to be mostly Vietnamese/Thai owned... also, vegetarian/vegan specialty stores. – rackandboneman Nov 16 '17 at 21:25
  • It seems that tempeh is becoming more popular even as tempeh 'bacon' and with curry but mostly in vegan cooking. In Indonesia it is often fried in matchstick-shaped pieces and tossed with fried spices, sweet soy sauce and chilis. – padma Nov 19 '17 at 6:55
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    There's an apparent contradiction in your question, please edit. First you say many enjoy tempeh, then you say many have never heard of – Jan Doggen Nov 22 '17 at 8:26
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One possible reason is that Tempeh is uniquely from Indonesia, which is much less of a culinary influence on the US than China, Japan, and Korea - all of which use tofu in traditional dishes. There were an estimated 95,000 Indonesian immigrants in 2010, where Eastern Asian immigrants was over 3.9 million in 2014.

sources:

  • While the answer is probably a culmination of all the answers (and a few others factors), this answer provides more justification as to why tempeh is slow to gain traction in the US. – mario87 Nov 22 '17 at 0:20
3

Tofu is available in a range of textures and has only a subtle taste of its own, making it versatile. Tempeh brings a strong taste (which tends to have ammonia-like notes similar to camembert cheese) and texture that can interfere with many culinary uses.

2

It may be related to the shelf life of the product. Tempeh has a very short shelf life, just a few days. It can be stored at room temperature for 2 days (say) or 4 days in a refrigerator. The flavours and physical appearance is less good after that. On the other hand Tofu (its called Tahu here in Indonesia) keeps well. In a plastic container with or without its liquid kept well in the refrigerator it will stay good for seven days with no change in flavour.

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    I've had tempeh for way longer than 4 days in my refrigerator and it keeps well, provided it's still in the original package – Luciano Nov 22 '17 at 9:36
0

Appearently, Tempeh cultures (Rhizopus Oligosporus and Rhizopus Oryzae) are dangerous...

After handling raw Tempeh you should wash your hands and all surfaces, cutting boards, knives and utensils with soap and hot water. Tempeh manufacturers that sell raw Tempeh must inform their clients about above safety measures, for example by mentioning it on the label.
-https://www.tempeh.info/faq/faq.php

...and most manufacturers don't want to be involved in "damages lawsuit".

  • 2
    That's odd, I've had tempeh from 4 manufacturers, read the labels on multiple and have never seen any such warning. In fact, the trader joe version says you can eat it as is. Update: Perhaps this because most tempeh in the US is sold fully cooked. – mario87 Nov 22 '17 at 20:59

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