“We hope that our simple method of making this valuable cultured soy food will lead to both an increased demand for organically grown soybeans and more local and regional food production. This will result in healthier people and a healthier planet.”
– Betsy Shipley and Gunter Pfaff
Tempeh, or tempe in Indonesian, is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into cake form. It is unique among major traditional soy-foods in that it is the only one that did not originate in China or Japan. Indonesian in origin, it is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. In addition, tempeh’s fermentation process gives it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. As a result, it has a firm texture and strong flavor.
Two of the world’s most enthusiastic tempeh advocates are Betsy Shipley and Gunter Pfaff. They have been making organic tempeh for over thirty years – nine of those commercially. Their love for tempeh began on a farm near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gunter says of those early days, “We husked, cracked and roasted soy beans on the farm where we made, and locally distributed, fresh tempeh”. Their love for the goodness of tempeh grew as did their business.
As a result of their efforts Gunter obtained a patent on a water bath method for fermenting tempeh and Betsy obtained a trademarked name for their product, Betsy’s Tempeh. In 1997, Betsy and Gunter’s efforts were honored at the International Tempe Symposium in Bali, Indonesia.
Today, Betsy and Gunter live in Oxnard, California where they are retired. Even in retirement, however, Betsy and Gunter are still enthusiastic about tempeh. You might even call them tempeh activists. They formed Betsy’s Tempeh Foundation a couple of years ago as means of promoting organic tempeh. As Betsy tells it, “Our foundation was formed in 2008 to help disseminate the information we accumulated over many years for making a consumer friendly tempeh. When we were producing ‘Betsy’s Tempeh’ commercially we received two patents for making tempeh on stainless steel trays, using a water bath method for heating and cooling.”
“The resulting tempeh was superior to other tempeh on the market and our version was a great success with retail customers as well as restaurants and institutions.”
Betsy says, “In early 2008 we conducted additional tests to produce our tempeh using readily available food approved items. It is now possible to make it both at home and in a commercial setting. We would love to see some interested people launch a worker owned coop franchise because this would assure our ‘keep it small and local’ and ‘keep it organic’ goals and would assure the fastest duplication once a small prototype facility was ‘proofed’. We think that the minimum people working in a shop would be two, the maximum four. The primary outlet for the product should be restaurants and institutions and farmers markets.”
Betsy continues, “We would like to give presentations to interested groups like co-housing groups, church groups, neighborhood groups. We are especially interested in consulting with people interested in starting worker owned tempeh production co-ops either in the city or the countryside.”
For more information you can visit their website. You can get in touch with them from there or write to: [email protected] They are always delighted to hear from other people who are excited about the possibilities of tempeh.