If you've ever feasted upon "facon" or mock bacon in a vegetarian BLT, you have experienced the sweet, smoky deliciousness of tempeh, a savory, fermented soy product that has been used as a high-protein substitute for meat for centuries. Baked, sautéed, roasted, steamed, or grilled, tempeh is magically transformed into meaty umami! And some say, tempeh is at its best when fried, morphing into yummy Southern fried chicken or fish sticks! And if you love tempeh, you'll want to know if it's OK to share with your doggo. After all, dogs love bacon, don't they? And, of course, you love making your dog happy.
But can dogs eat tempeh? Just because tempeh is a healthy, nutritious meat stand-in for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores trying to cut back on their meat intake, is it good for dogs? Is this soybean version of one of the most beloved foods on the planet off-limits altogether? Or is tempeh a lip-smacking treat you can feed to your dog in moderation? And if you do, will it affect her health adversely? Let's see what tempeh is all about so you can make an informed decision about whether or not you feed your dog tempeh.
Where does tempeh come from?
Originating over 2,000 years ago on the island of Java in today's Indonesia, tempeh is unique among soybean foods in that it did not come from China or Japan as did tofu, for example. Interestingly, in around 1715, Chinese immigrants to Indonesia taught the Indonesians how to make tofu, through which tempeh-making evolved.
One of the most versatile vegetarian foods available, tempeh (an Indonesian word pronounced TEM-pay) is packed with nutrients. Like tofu, it's made from soybeans, but it's considerably less processed than tofu, thus more textured with bits of soybeans throughout, and it's significantly higher in protein than tofu, too. The tender-cooked legumes are bound together in a dense mycelium of fragrant white Rhizopus mold and pressed into compact cakes that when cut into yield a dry, firm chewy texture with a distinctly nutty taste. Scientific American explains that mycelium is, "the fungus mushrooms are made of, but it can also produce everything from plastics to plant-based meat to a scaffolding for growing organs — and much more." Yes, It doesn't sound particularly appetizing, but tempeh is music to vegan and vegetarian ears.
Like sourdough, pure soybean tempeh is made through fermentation, a process that involves the breaking down of sugars by bacteria and yeast, explains Rachel Link, a registered dietician. Over the course of a day or two, dehulled soy bean cotyledons (a significant part of the embryo within the seed of a plant) are acidified with vinegar or lactic acid, soaked, drained, and cooked until tender. The soybeans are then dried and innoculated with spores of Rhizopus oligosporus mold (a type of fungus), and pressed into a cake. Traditionally packed into banana leaves in Indonesia or perforated containers elsewhere, the tempeh is then incubated at 86- to 88- degrees Fahrenheit for about 24 hours at which time the beans are bound together tightly by the mycelium and fully fermented.
Can dogs eat tempeh?
Although you may enjoy a crispy tempeh taco or juicy "tempeh dog," can your dog eat tempeh?
The answer is: only in some circumstances, and in moderation. First, you have to watch out for the additives in tempeh. Many tempeh makers add not only healthy flax seeds, adzuki beans, chickpeas, brown rice, or other grains and beans to their tempeh but other flavorings that are toxic to dogs, such as onion powder and garlic powder.
Then again, for many vegans and vegetarians like actor and animal advocate Alica Silverstone, feeding a little leftover soy tempeh from her own dinner to her dogs is second nature. Particularly, like her, if your dog happens to also be on a plant-based diet.
For the rest of us, it's prudent to think twice about feeding our dogs tempeh and any other meat substitutes, which are first and foremost designed for people, not dogs. But, in most cases, if it does not contain onion or garlic, tempeh is fine if fed occasionally in moderation.
Are there any health benefits of tempeh for dogs?
For vegetarians and omnivores alike, tempeh is a versatile food that can be prepared in a variety of tantalizing dishes. It's not only delicious but also nutrient-dense; rich in vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics — types of fiber that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. Tempeh is a good source of protein, iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, dairy-free calcium, and antioxidants. It's also low in fat, carbs, and sodium, and as a plant-based food, it's naturally cholesterol-free, so all good as a people food. But what about the health benefits of tempeh for dogs?
High in protein, low in fat, low sodium
Containing a whopping 31 grams of protein per cup puts tempeh right on par with animal-based foods like chicken or fish. Protein intake promotes feelings of fullness, reduces appetite, and increases metabolism. While this is great news to many humans, there are so many more healthy alternatives for dogs to eat as a treat or a meal than tempeh, like carrot sticks, zucchini slices, broccoli, cantaloupe, apple slices, cooked chicken breast tidbits, plain cooked pasta, cooked sweet potato, green beans, peas, unsalted almonds, and much more. And if your dog is already on a meat-based diet, she's getting adequate protein from her daily meals.
But if you do decide to give your dog a small piece of tempeh now and then, at least it is high in protein, low in fat, and low in sodium.
The best way to feed tempeh to dogs
Like any processed food, tempeh is best eaten in moderation by people even though it's nutritious, low in carbs, and low in fat. And as a soy product, tempeh could potentially present a health risk for some vulnerable dogs.
While regularly fed to many dogs on a plant-based diet with no ill effects, it bears a closer look if your dog has any health issues or could be adversely affected in any way by eating soy.
Are there any concerns with feeding tempeh to dogs?
Since tempeh is composed mainly of soy, the question whether your dog can eat tempeh might as well be, can dogs eat soy? Well, there's a case for soy and a case against soy.
The good news is that soy, an affordable complete vegetable-source protein, has generally been proven safe for dogs and is routinely used in dog foods throughout the United States. Safe means that dogs can digest soy and soy has not proven to cause any negative effects when eaten by dogs. Some dogs with dietary sensitivities and allergies towards other foods have actually done well on foods made with soy. In fact, many hypoallergenic canine diets contain hydrolyzed soy protein. Consequently, rarely will you find a dog that is allergic to soy.
The bad news about texturized soy such as tempeh is that too much can cause loose stools in dogs. If that were not reason enough not to feed your dog tempeh, consider the plant estrogens that make soy medically useful for some conditions also make it possibly dangerous for others. Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM, Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY says that some experts suggest that excessive soy consumption contains enough estrogen that it might provide some estrogen-like activity in your spayed or neutered pet.
Dr. Wakshlag further explains that soy consumption (as in tempeh and other soy products) may also contribute to slightly lower thyroid levels, which is problematic if your dog has hypothyroidism.
A natural choice for vegans and vegetarians, and a great option for those who are trying to trim down their meat consumption, tempeh is downright tasty and nutritious. However, it's a people food, and unless your dog is eating a plant-based diet, which may benefit from protein supplementation, dogs do not need to eat tempeh, and due to its soy content, tempeh may compromise your dog's health if he is hyperthyroid or if the tempeh is infused with any ingredient that is toxic to dogs like onion powder or garlic powder.
For dogs, a wee bit of tempeh now and then would likely not be a big deal depending on your dog's health. After all, tempeh is not toxic to dogs if it's pure soybean-based with no toxic-to-dogs (onion and garlic) additives. But, as a pet parent, it's always a wise idea to choose crunchy raw carrot sticks, zucchini, and cauliflower, or fruits like apple, cantaloupe, cranberries, blueberries and more healthy foods to treat your dog. Or give her meal a little extra pizzazz by mixing in some cooked sweet potato, green beans, peas, or shaved chicken breast.
- Soy Info Center
- Healthline: Tempeh
- Pranin Organic: Tempeh Dogs
- Nutrition Stripped: Tempeh Benefits
- One Green Planet: Tempeh, A High Protein Fermented Meat Substitute
- Scientific American: Tthe Mycelium Revolution
- Lexico: Definition of Cotyledon
- The Kind Life: What to Feed My Dogs
- Animal Hospital of North Asheville: Healthy Treats for Your Pet
- Pet Care RX: Can Dogs Eat Soy?