Any vegetarian who eats out regularly, has at some point, evinced frustration at the painful absence of culinary options on the average restaurant menu. After all, how much paneer can you possibly eat?
Every now and again, though, certain savoury saviours make up for this loss: like the humble soya chunk, Burrata cheese — or any cheese really — and the ubiquitous mushroom. The next addition to this list could be one you’ve never heard of before, yet the healthiest of the lot: Tempeh.
Simply put, Tempeh is fermented soybean that traces its origins to Japan. It comes to be when a mixture of soybean, water and a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus (also called a Tempeh starter) is fermented to turn the soya into cake-like slices, with a heavily porous surface. "And that's what makes it great to eat since the pores can absorb loads of flavour," says Siddharth Ramasubramanian, Founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based Vegolution.
Vegolution's recent Tempeh products have begun making an appearance on plates at homes and restaurants in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and most recently, Chennai. Vegolution's new brand, 'Hello Tempayy', now has four flavour variants and hopes to make a splash in the market primarily on account of Tempeh’s higher nutritional value.
After all, fermented soybean has lower carbohydrate content (10g per 100g) than soya chunks (33g per 100g) and far less saturated fats (1.4g per 100g) when compared to paneer (14g per 100g). It's also high on fibre. "And that's why it's good for the gut — it's high on protein and relatively low on fat and carbs," says Siddharth.
Is Tempeh new to the Indian culinary scene, though? No. In 2018, a Bengaluru start-up called Tempe Wala launched the same product, which didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts, since the product was seen as niche — mostly consumed by fitness enthusiasts looking to shore up their protein.
However, Vegolution is hoping to change that. "There’s a novelty factor associated with a food like Tempeh, but the question we must ask is: can I cook this as part of an everyday meal?" Siddharth says. "The answer is yes: I can use it as Bolognese on my pasta or as a chettinad gravy with some parota, or even mash it up and shallow fry to make galouti kebabs." He adds: "If the price is acceptable and the application is familiar, any food can become a staple."
Keeping with familiar flavours, Tempeh satay, Chilli Tempeh, Tempeh as Masala Dosa filling and a Tempeh Bhurji end up becoming easy-to-prepare dishes with fermented soybean as the hero ingredient, simply because the product is as versatile as can get. Perhaps familiarity and acceptability is everything, after all.
A packet of Hello Tempayy is priced between Rs 130 and Rs 200 per packet. Vegolution says it is targeting a market of "casual non-vegetarians" or those who eat meat but not too regularly. The product is also set to give vegetarians the power of choice.
"Vegetarian consumers have had to contend with the fatigue of boredom in their quest for protein," says Siddharth, "They usually end up picking paneer; Tempeh is a great alternative."
Another target audience for the brand is India's booming under-40 demographic that is on the lookout for more, better and healthier culinary options. That is also why Vegolution is looking to focus on the 'snacking' segment, through its offerings.
"We are doubling production capacity from 75 tons to 150 tons per annum and are happy with the sales growth we’ve witnessed so far especially given that Hello Tempayy has been marketed only on digital channels," says Siddharth.
Vegolution also plans to expand its line of Hello Tempayy products. The company produces four variants for the moment, to which it will add three more by the year-end.
First Published: IST