Okara Tempeh: don’t try this at home

Those of you who have been here a while may be aware of my ongoing battle with okara. I make tofu just about every week and have tried – really tried! – to put the leftover okara to use, but nearly everything I do with it fails. When I had The Book of Tempeh out of the library, I learned you can make tempeh from okara, and as my tempeh-making skills have become full-fledged, I thought that sounded like the perfect idea. So this weekend I did just that. If you’re the impatient type, I’ll save you the suspense: I won’t be doing it again.

I wouldn’t say it was a complete failure. If I had used the resulting tempeh in some recipe in which it needed to be ground or crumbled, it may have been fine. But, having read that okara tempeh is common in Indonesia, the birthplace of tempeh, I figured I’d make some sort of Indonesian dish with it. That all went pears. But I’ll share it with you nonetheless, if for no other reason than there is very little about okara tempeh on the internet – and not one picture that I could find.

After straining my soy milk to make tofu, I spread the leftover pulp – the okara – onto a baking tray.

Because I know that tempeh will fail if the soy beans are too wet, I decided I’d better dry the okara out a bit, so I baked it at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour.

Then I let it cool to room temperature and mixed it with a tablespoon of vinegar and 1/2 tsp powdered tempeh starter, just as I would whole-bean tempeh.

I put it in a perforated baggie and then in the same contraption I always use for incubating tempeh: a yogurt maker fitted with a steaming rack.

It was hard to tell when this tempeh was done because you’re looking for mostly-white mold to form on it, and okara is white, whereas it’s easy to tell when whole-bean tempeh is done. After 30 hours or so, I figured it was as done as it was going to get and put it in the refrigerator. It smelled like it should (a bit mushroomy) and it had a few black spots (which is normal for tempeh), but it seemed more fragile than normal tempeh. I was skeptical already.

The next day I decided to use it in a meal. I removed it from the baggie, finding it flimsier than my tempeh usually is. I cut it in half so I could see the interior. It looked…crumbly.

Nothing about it suggested there was anything wrong with it, however, so I proceeded. And honestly this is pretty much what I expected okara tempeh to look like. I chopped it up into bite-sized pieces.

A lot of traditional Indonesian recipes call for deep frying the tempeh. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve deep fried something at home, however, and not only would Mark not eat anything I deep fried, I don’t want to eat it either. So I decided to brown the okara tempeh by pan-frying it in a moderate amount of oil. I used a couple tablespoons of coconut oil.

The tempeh cubes sucked all the oil up, leaving a completely dry wok, after about a minute. My wok is well-seasoned and the tempeh wasn’t sticky, so dry-frying was no big deal….until the tempeh began crumbling like mad and the crumbs started burning. It got smokier and smokier in the kitchen (and the whole house) and the tempeh cubes got smaller and smaller. They looked like croutons. Or what I could see of them behind the increasing wall of smoke.

Though shrinking, the tempeh cubes weren’t really getting all that crispy, but I eventually couldn’t take the smoke any longer and dumped them out into a colander …

… which I then shook vigorously, knocking the burnt crumbs off and through the holes.

The cubes look brown, but they are spongy, not crispy!

Then I had to get all the remaining crumbs out of my wok so I could make the main dish. I use a bamboo brush.

One thing I can say is even after soaking up all oil almost immediately, the tempeh did not stick at all, and the crumbs brushed right out. However, I don’t think I would ever make okara tempeh again unless I was planning to deep fry it. It may well have turned out well if I had deep fried it….

Too late for deep frying. I soldiered on. I ground up some shallots, garlic, soy sauce, and sambel olek:

Then I heated a small amount of coconut oil in the wok and briefly fried the tempeh cubes again with some minced ginger. Again, the tempeh almost immediately soaked up the oil.

I added some chopped carrots and bell pepper.

Then I mixed in the shallot mixture, followed by a cup of coconut milk.

As I heated the mixture through, most of the tempeh cubes simply dissolved, making a grainy rather than smooth, milky sauce, with few distinct pieces of tempeh.

It was edible, but overall pretty dumb. I won’t be making okara tempeh again and I recommend you not bother.

Okara remains my nemesis. So here is a lilac from our backyard.


  1. Katy Said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

    Ha ha, I couldn’t help but laugh as I read this post. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out for you, but it still makes a funny story. 😉

  2. Josiane Said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

    Too bad it didn’t work out, as okara tempeh would have been a great way to use okara. I’ve always been able to find ways to use mine, but new ideas are always welcome. Well, I’ll know this one isn’t the best idea!

  3. Tina Said,

    April 29, 2009 @ 4:16 am

    I see you love cookin experiments as much as I do 🙂 Definitely, somebody HAD TO try to make okara tempeh at some point of history – and it was your idea. Now you’re part of the history 😀

  4. Ksenia Said,

    April 29, 2009 @ 7:57 am

    Although I have never tried to do thempeh from okara (actually, I have never tried tempeh and I have never did my own tofu at home), I had many cooking falilures like you bacause I didn’t want to stick to the original recipe, and tried to be too creative xD
    Anyway, sometimes my creatives dishes turn out delicious, and that’s enough to forget about all the other “creative” dishes that didn’t turn out so well =)

  5. kibbles Said,

    April 29, 2009 @ 8:09 am

    Such evil okra! I’m going to try to make my own tofu and soymilk this summer, and I think I’m just going to compost the okra, it seems mostly useless and not very nutritious (except for fiber) anyway.

  6. renae Said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 11:24 am

    Yes, I’ve made okara tempeh so the rest of the world doesn’t have to! No need to thank me. I do think it’s common practice in Indonesia, though, so it wasn’t really my idea. They must just always deep fry it before putting it in a dish, which is the only way I can think to keep it from crumbling to nothing.

    Josiane, what things do you do with your okara? I do feel bad throwing it away, it just never works out for me!

    Kibbles, I think it is actually pretty nutritious, more so than tofu, even. It’s just completely annoying. It’s the number one reason I’m thinking of starting to compost, though. At least I’d be doing SOMETHING useful with it.

  7. Helen Said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    I made Okara tempeh and it worked pretty well, I coated the slices in lour before frying the.

    I think a mix of okara and beans would work better.

    I usually strain and freeze it and when I have 6 or more batches defrost it and dry it in a slow oven, then whizz it in the food processor once dry and add a few spoonfuls into anything that has flour in it.

  8. Christopher Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    The amount of work in making this post, never mind making the tempeh and dinner is astonishing – all the more pity that it didn’t work out.

  9. Andy Said,

    June 10, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    Hi all,just thought I’d chime in with my okara solutions. First I give some to my girlfriend who makes fantastic okara pancakes. (modified recipe from the “Book of Tofu”) they are heavy and filling but have a great sweet flavor and freeze well. If anyone wants the recipe I can ask her. Next I take the left over okra and make burgers. I make a pot of brown rice and lentils but use more water than usual to make it very sticky, when done mix in okara and mash to a paste. Mix in onions peppers veggie broth, whatever you want for flavor. Add soaked ground flax seed for a binder (egg would work better but I’m vegan). Form into patties and freeze. End result, block of tofu, bag of frozen burgers and bag of frozen pancakes. Hope this helps. If any one wants more detailed recipe I can post it.

  10. renae Said,

    June 15, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

    Helen, I didn’t think to try dredging the okara tempeh in flour and the idea of mixing it with beans is a good one; maybe I’ll give it another try.

    Christopher, thanks. I’m becoming used to anything I try to do with okara failing!

    Andy, thanks for your suggestions: they sound really good and I have The Book of Tofu. I just might have to try both the pancakes and the burgers!

  11. Andrew Said,

    September 27, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Hi there! I’ve seemingly had more luck making okara tempeh than your solitary experience and thought I’d share. I too have made okara tempeh similar to yours and there’s usually only two, maybe three factors that are responsible:

    1) Moisture. It’s tough to get okara dry enough to make tempeh, particularly if you’re going to use plastic bags. I’ve had much better luck when I make okara tempeh in an open container. Remember the Indonesians wrap the tempeh cakes in order to keep moisture in. Most of the time that isn’t necessary for okara tempeh and I’ve had excellent results just using an uncovered glass dish – the kind that you would make lasagna in. I’ve tried this technique making regular tempeh and the resulting product was too dry as one would expect.

    2) Your starter has lost it’s punch. I usually buy a lot of tempeh starter from Gemcultures and before that I tried to make it myself. My experience is that the tempeh starter does have a shelf life and I usually ditch it when I start making tempeh like the kind you made. It’s simply not worth messing with tempeh starter when considering all the work involved in making tempeh.

    3) Infection/competing bacteria. It’s best to get the okara inoculated while it’s still hot from making soy milk. Like any fermentation/culturing project you want your target bacteria to have as little competition as possible. This is, of course, related to #2.

    A successful batch of okara tempeh should produced solid, almost rubbery cakes. Someone here mentioned that the nutritional value of okara tempeh is limited and it’s my understanding that there is every bit as much protein in okara tempeh as their is in tofu. It’s really an excellent product and in my opinion is more nutritional than soy milk or tofu (on account of the culturing). I’d strongly urge you to give it another go!

  12. renae Said,

    September 27, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

    Wow, Andrew, thank you for a very informative comment! I’ll give okara tempeh another shot the next time I’m feeling particularly industrious and optimistic. How do you dry your okara, especially while keeping it hot just after making soy milk? Do you just wring as much moisture out as you possibly can while it’s in the okara bag?

  13. Zoa Said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    Hi, Renae:
    Your photographs are gorgeous and I love the way you write! Too bad about the okara tempeh, but you’ve single-handedly given me the courage to try making the conventional kind myself.

    I can maybe add to the above suggestions on uses for okara. My all-time favorite thing is to add it to seitan recipes. If you want to try it, start out with one of the recipes that calls for beans, and just sub okara for the beans. Honestly, I like it *better* than beans, and I am finding myself making soymilk just for the okara. Here’s what I do:


    Also, if you search the tag okara on my blog, you’ll find uses for it in granola and gnocchi which are also good. The okara parmesan, well, that’s a nice idea but I’ve tried it and it turns really mushy on contact with anything moist (i.e., other food), so IMO you can save yourself from suffering another disappointment by not attempting it.

  14. renae Said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

    Hi Zoa,

    Wow, subbing okara for the beans in seitan recipes is brilliant! I do particularly like seitan recipes that call for beans, too. I’m definitely going to try this next time. Your blog looks really good – I’m going to be reading through it for other great ideas!

  15. Rain Adkins Said,

    April 23, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

    I wonder if you got the okara too dry. My experience with okara is that it needs to be left a little “damper” than whole beans when making burgers and such to avoid the Curse of the Crumblies. Hand-squeezing is usually enough, and one needn’t make an athletic event of it. 🙂 Also, I wonder how tempeh would work with some form of grain included. . .for instance, sticky rice?

  16. Rain Adkins Said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

    Wow! I just made my first batch of okara tempeh, and while it was a little crumbly when fried in olive oil, it was KILLER tasty. Kibbles, the word is okara (o-CAR-a, middle syllable like something you drive), not okra, but either way, you’ll lose out on some good eating if you compost it all. It’s good made into burgers, or included in turkeyburgers; it’s splendid in veggie or meat chili; it fluffs up scrambled eggs beautifully; fresh or lightly pan-toasted, it makes a great addition to muffins and other quickbreads, where it lightens the texture and adds nuttiness (and plenty of fiber). And when it’s made from good beans, I just like to eat it plain, fresh.

  17. Caroline Hogan Said,

    August 5, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    I made some tofu the other day and had tonnes of okara left over much to my annoyance. I refused to bin it as I know it was nutritious. In a frying pan I added garlic ginger turmeric kale tin tomatoes chilli chopped up cucumber chunks and tomato chunks and was quite surprised fate a bit of a stir around for five minutes just how lush it was. I tried patties and even cakes EPIC FAIL

  18. Katharine in Brussels Said,

    April 5, 2015 @ 2:55 am

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to document and post your experience on okara tempeh, which like everything with okara is under-represented on the net. Whoa, what a bummer right at the end for the okara to come apart in the sauce like that. Sorry! I never know what to do with leftover okara either.

  19. Ava Odoemena Said,

    June 10, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

    Hi from Berlin.

    Hm, I just have some okara in the fermenter, however I wasnt’t aware it needs a starter. I just sacrificed some fresh tempeh and shredded it into the okara. What can go wrong, right?

    The only way I’ve been using okara successfully is in adding it to bread. It makes the bread amazingly fluffy, but not much is needed. So most of my okara goes into the green bin…

  20. Rebecca Said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 8:04 pm

    I, like you, was determined to make use of all this okara from tofu-making. Luckily, I came across your stories of failed attempts, leading me to wonder how I could succeed (my experiments fail half the time, so I feel your pain). I figured if I just cooked the okara longer, as I would if I started from the raw, cracked soybean stage (I crack them in my grain mill, rather than using whole beans, when I’m making tempeh from scratch), that perhaps the beans would retain enough moisture to make a good end product. This worked beautifully! Yes, the okara tempeh does have a different consistency. It is more of a melt-in-your-mouth than a “meaty” consistency, but still very good and definitely not too dry or crumbly. I cut the finished product into chunks, marinated and baked it, then have used it in stirfrys and salads. Doesn’t fall apart in a stirfry. Maybe just try cooking your okara longer, until the bean fragments are the same tenderness as you would use for making tempeh from the raw soybeans.

  21. Rebecca Said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 8:10 pm

    Just as a clarification, when I say cook, I don’t mean bake. Put the okara into a pot of water and bring to a boil, then simmer until they’re the right tenderness (smush between finger and thumb with hard pressure, but not mushy). Then dry with a towel and hairdryer or whatever other method you would normally use to dry the beans for making tempeh. I can see how baking them in the oven would have dried them out too much!

  22. Bill Said,

    May 20, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

    I use okra to make a loaf mixed with millet , rice ,Teff ,oats sautéed vegetables beans and any seasonings I have around. it comes out great. The okra burgers from the book of tofu come out good also. You can add the okra to many baking recipes. I actually make tofu now just to get the Okazaki.

  23. Donna Said,

    December 18, 2018 @ 9:14 am

    I blend the okara with water, mock chicken seasoning, onion and garlic powder, miso. Nutrional yeast, and oil then add to vital wheat gluten and make a wonderful chicken substitute. Add it to grits or corn meal mush (polenta).

  24. Hugo Villeneuve Said,

    June 16, 2019 @ 8:02 am

    Lived in Indonesia for 4 years and i think “okara tempeh” is commonly called “oncom” (at least in Jakarta).
    I’ve encountered Oncom more like a ground chicked equivalent: sprinkled over greens to add texture and flavour or served as a flavored paste.
    I actually miss it.

  25. Joe Borysko Said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 9:32 pm

    It took five tries, but I managed to get okara tempeh to be a solid cake. The starter company mentioned to expect a learning curve. It looks like your tempeh is of crumbly, ‘unfinished quality’, which the wikipedia article on tempeh recommends discarding (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempeh#Determining_quality). This is what mine looked like on the first four attempts too. Enclosing the zip-lock cakes in a food dehydrator gave me control over finding the right temperature. In my case, I have a Snackmaster Pro and set the dial somewhere between 100 and 115 degrees to get it to grow properly.

    I haven’t tried soaking it in a soupy sauce, but it tasted good after frying with garlic, then adding some sweet and sour sauce (soy sauce, lime, mirin, honey, sesame oil). It also fried dry like your picture, but stayed in one piece and didn’t burn. The texture is light, a cross between mushroomy and a crouton, and I was happy with how it soaked up the flavor.

    I make about two gallons of soy milk every three days. Getting the okara-tempeh process down is like a bonus pair of chicken thighs every day – a surplus of protein from would-be waste.

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