You think you know tempeh? You don’t know tempeh. For starters, it’s fermented soy, made with the whole soybean (tofu requires more processing)—except some has no soy at all. Some tempeh is gluten-free. Also, the “always fresh, never frozen,” sales pitch doesn’t apply here. The refrigerated stuff that permeates the city is pasteurized; Barry’s Tempeh is organic, local and fresh-frozen. That means the beneficial bacteria will still go to battle for your body because they’re alive when frozen. And according to tempeh-maker Barry Schwartz, it also means a whole different—and more delicious—final product.
We talked to Barry about his unique and nutrient-conscious approach to tempeh-making, and his tips on finding total veggie-satisfaction.
Q: What captivated you about tempeh?
A: The beautiful thing about tempeh is there’s a whole community of bacteria doing the work. They have a purpose: making this wonderful food. They change the properties of food that they’re eating. In 24 hours, a bag of soybeans becomes this amazing food. Tempeh is versatile.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about Barry’s Tempeh. How’s it different from others?
A: We source locally and use organic products; our soy, white and black beans are generally from Cayuga Organics. Other companies pasteurize their tempeh to kill the live part of the food and stop the fermentation. The fermentation adds probiotics to the product. Our tempeh is still alive and will continue to ferment if left out of the freezer for any amount of time. You can take it out and portion it and then refreeze it and it’s still great. Commercially we make soy tempeh; soy, oat and barley tempeh; and white bean and brown rice tempeh. On the side I made black bean tempeh and kasha varnishkes tempeh.
Q: Are you a vegetarian or vegan? How has your diet changed over the years?
A: My diet has changed radically in the past 40 years. I started becoming a vegetarian when I was 13. That segued into me being a “fruitarian” for a year when I was 20. It was a lot of sugar, but I was young and I felt great. From there, I normalized my vegetarian diet around the time I started working as a chef. I’m still a vegetarian, but for the last six months I’ve transitioned to being an 80% vegetarian. I’ll change my diet if my body craves it.
Q: Any tips for people new to the vegetarian or vegan world?
A: We like a certain way foods tasted from childhood. I grew up loving butter and toast, it’s so comforting. But there are some really amazing, satisfying vegan alternatives to comfort foods. One of my favorite ingredients is coconut butter; it’s satisfying when you need something rich and creamy. I use it as a spread instead of butter. I make guacamole with it. I also like to use coconut oil for cooking tempeh.
Q: Do you have any new or upcoming products we should look out for?
A: We’re selling barbeque tempeh sandwiches at the markets. We make our own sauce using a fourth generation BBQ sauce that originated in my friend’s family restaurant in Kansas City. I’m the first one outside of the family to have the recipe. We’re going to start selling it soon. I’ve been working on a recipe using a smoker: tempeh bacon and also a white bean tempeh mimicking smoked fish. We’ll sell those at the market and perhaps a few stores. We like to test products at the New Amsterdam Market.
Find Barry’s cultures at work at these stores, restaurants and markets.
Image courtesy of Barry’s Tempeh.