BRB w/ Nathan P – Tempeh, Carrot Gnocchi & The Invention of Nature
The tastiest superfood you're missing out on, my Winter spin on an Italian classic, and Humboldtian tales of scientific inquiry and natural revelry (#44).
Welcome back to BRB w/ Nathan P, your 5-min weekly dose of climate information to inspire climate action.
My mission is to make it fun, easy, and delicious to make more sustainable decisions.
Each Wednesday, I share 💥1 Breakthrough, 🥘1 Recipe, and 📚1 Book on food & climate.
💥 Breakthrough: Tempeh
With supermarket shelves teeming with new plant-based options, one superfood often gets overlooked, hiding behind popular alternatives like tofu or meat analogues.
Tempeh is a nutritional powerhouse you’re missing out on. With as much protein by weight as steak, it is one of the most under appreciated sources of sustainable plant-based protein.
Tempeh took center stage in my BRB #42 recipe, and when writing about it, realized it deserved its own feature. Today’s post will cover:
A Brief History of Tempeh
A Nutritional Powerhouse
How It’s Made: Fermentation Magic
Embracing Tempeh’s Versatility
1. A Brief History of Tempeh
Tempeh traces its roots back to Indonesia, where it has been consumed for centuries, if not millennia.
In modern-day Java, locals discovered that soaking and fermenting soybeans produced a dense, umami, and nutritious food with delightful texture and with delicious flavors.
Fun fact: tempeh is also one of the only soy-based foods that did not originate from China or Japan.
2. A Nutritional Powerhouse
Tempeh is a protein powerhouse: with 21 grams of protein per 100 gram serving and 40% protein by dry weight (!!), tempeh rivals steak and chicken in protein content.
Tempeh also has the highest digestibility (DIAAS) of any plant-based protein, rivaling dairy and eggs. For reference, most plant proteins are only 80% digestible, while egg and dairy proteins exceeds 95%.
Tempeh’s impressive nutritional profile doesn’t stop at protein, as it’s also:
🥣 High in prebiotic fiber
💊 High in vitamins B6 & B12
🍄 High in probiotics for gut health
💪 High in iron, calcium, and magnesium
Its many other health attributes – as well as its appearance – stem from its fermentation process.
3. How It’s Made: Fermentation Magic
Tempeh is made using solid-state fermentation in a 24-72h process. Starter cultures typically include fungi like Rhizopus oligosporus and gut-friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus fermentum.
During the fermentation, the fungi grows into fluffy white mycelia, which contributes to its high protein content, umami flavor, and unique texture.
The fermentation process to make tempeh accounts for a large part of its nutrition, flavor, digestibility, and health benefits. During fermentation, mycelium and beneficial bacteria bind the soybeans and release a suite of enzymes to facilitate digestions.
The microorganisms in tempeh release:
🍗 Proteases to split proteins into peptides & amino acids
🍬 Amylases to break down starches & carbohydrates
🧈 Lipases to digest fats for easier absorption
These enzymes thus increase the digestibility and bioavailability of its nutrients to our bodies.
4. Embracing Tempeh’s Versatility
Prepared with technique (and love), tempeh is deliciously nutty, richly umami, and addictively crunchy.
Its firmness makes it a great meat alternative in many dishes. For texture variations, it can be crumbled or sliced, then sautéed, grilled, or seared. From stir-fries to sandwiches and salads, tempeh adds satisfying crunch and a protein fix to any meal.
If you’ve had tempeh before, reply to this email and let me know how and in what dishes you like it best.
🥘 Recipe: Carrot Gnocchi
Making this recipe reminded me why cooking is an act of love – both towards oneself and others.
This week, I gave gnocchi a Winter spin by swapping potatoes for carrots. I then sautéed wild golden oysters and kale with a little bit… or a lot of butter.
Combining the pillowy gnocchi, crunchy mushrooms, and crispy kale is nothing short of delightful. A perfect recipe for date night.
Reply to this email for the recipe.
PS: thank you Svetlana for gifting me the mushrooms 🍄 🙏
PPS: if you make it, please send pictures!
📚 Book: The Invention of Nature
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf is one of the best books I read this year. Her biographical exploration of Alexander von Humboldt’s life is so vivid and captivating that it reads like fiction.
Humboldt may be one of the most influential scientists, explorers, and polymaths you’ve never heard of. He trail-blazed expeditions across South America, the US, and Russia and developed relationships with leading figures from Goethe to Jefferson.
His revolutionary perspectives on nature have become so commonplace that we ironically forgot about the person behind them. Humboldt was amongst the first to emphasize the interconnectedness of nature, in which different species large and small constitute the whole.
In the 19th century, there were two schools of thought on how to understand nature: rationalism and empiricism.
Rationalists tended to believe that all knowledge came from reason and rational thought, while the empiricists argued that one could ‘know’ the world only through experience.
Inspired by Kant’s philosophy, Humboldt found balance between the two. He thought and explored. He urged humans to view themselves within nature’s collective rather than outside of it, raising the need for greater respect and reciprocity.
Humboldt was also amongst the first to point out the “brutal” and catastrophic impacts of agriculture, deforestation, and biodiversity loss – back in the 1800s. Though much has changed since then, humanity’s relationship to nature has not: it remains destructive, disentangled, and extractive.
Reading this book will gives context on the dysfunctional behaviors our civilization inherited – and how collective reflection and change can break them.
My favorite quotes as teasers:
“Nature is the domain of liberty,” Humboldt said, “because nature’s balance was created by diversity which might in turn be taken as a blueprint for political and moral truth. Everything, from the most unassuming moss or insect to elephants or towering oak trees, had its role, and together they made the whole. Humankind was just one small part. Nature itself was a republic of freedom.”
[By the 1800s] the effects of the human species’ intervention were already ‘incalculable,’ Humboldt insisted, and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally.’ Humboldt would see again and again how humankind unsettled the balance of nature.
Like previous explorers, [Humboldt] would collect plants, seeds, rocks and animals. He would measure the height of mountains, determine longitude and latitude, and take temperatures of water and air. But the real purpose of the voyage, he said, was to discover how ‘all forces of nature are interlaced and interwoven’… Man needs to strive for ‘the good and the great,’ Humboldt wrote in his last letter from Spain, ‘the rest depends on destiny.’
Thank you for reading – BRB next week ✌️
Hi there! My name is Nathan Paumier – I’m an avid reader, food enthusiast, and climate optimist. I started this newsletter after frequent questions on food tech, reading recommendations, and my secret recipes.
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