History of Tempe
Indonesia – Tempeh processing could be the oldest food technology in the history of Javanese people. Serat Centhini, a book published in the 16th century, indicates that tempeh had been produced and consumed by the time of its publication. Tempeh might have been introduced by the Chinese who are making a similar product, soybean koji, which are dehulled soybeans fermented with Aspergillus molds. The use of Rhizopus as tempeh starter in Indonesia may have been due to its better adaptation to the Indonesian climate. The earliest reference to tempeh by a European appeared in 1875 in a Javanese-Dutch dictionary. The rise of tempeh’s popularity in Java and its spread to other parts of Indonesia and other countries of the world began in the 20th century. In the 1970s the banana leaf as container for the production of tempeh was replaced by the use of plastic bags.
Europe – In Europe, tempeh is known through the Dutch who once colonized Indonesia. In 1895 the Dutch microbiologist and chemist Prinsen Geerlings made the first attempt to identify the tempeh mold. The first tempeh companies in Europe were started in the Netherlands by immigrants from Indonesia. The first English written article appeared in 1931 the book “Vegetables of the Dutch East Indies “, written by J.J. Ochse. The earliest popular article about tempeh was a 7 page story published in France 1982 in Le Compas.
USA – In the USA, tempeh has been known only since 1946 with the publication of “Possible Sources of Proteins for Child Feeding in Underdeveloped Countries”, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the 1960s there was new interest in tempeh with research in tempeh at the Cornell University (New York) and at the USDA Northern Regional Research Center (Illinois). In 1961 Mary Otten was the first to begin making tempeh. Great deal of the credit for introducing tempeh to the American public goes to The Farm, a large spiritual and farming community in Summertown (Tennessee). The first commercial tempeh shop was started in 1975 by Mr. Gale Randall in Undadilla, Nebraska. An article by R. Rodale in “Prevention” in June 1977 brought him and his shop national prominence. In the 1980s when the tempeh industry expanded, the media showed new interest and a lot of articles appeared in scientific journals. During 1983 about 1 million commercial tempeh was produced.
Developing countries – In the 1940s Van Veen tried to introduce tempeh in Zimbabwe. But efforts to introduce tempeh as cheap source of protein in Zimbabwe and other developing countries (Africa and South-America) have mainly failed since the local populations have no experience with mold-fermented foods.
Actual trends – In Europe, the USA and other industrialized countries the interest for tempeh is increasing, by growing interest in health, nutrition and vegetarisme.