Indonesian Tempe is Increasingly Popular in America

As vegetarian and vegan trends continue to develop, more and more members of society are turning to healthy, plant-based foods. This trend allows wider opportunities to introduce and expand the tempe market which has the same taste, color, aroma, and texture found in Indonesia. Because of the longing for authentic Indonesian tempe and the prospect of growing popularity, several members of the Indonesian diaspora have opened businesses as tempe entrepreneurs in America.

Making tempeh in the northern hemisphere like in America is very challenging because of the four seasons with extreme weather, especially during winter when humidity is erratic and air temperatures often reach below zero degrees Celsius. However, tempeh holds promise for prospective business, especially in places where there is a concentration of the Indonesian diaspora and as more Americans are looking to switch from meat to plant-based (plant-based) protein sources or even become vegan and vegetarian. Therefore, more and more members of the Indonesian diaspora are getting into the tempe-making business.

The process of making

The process of making “BosTempeh” tempeh in the town of Somersworth, New Hampshire. (Photo: VOA Indonesia)

In the city of Somersworth, New Hampshire in the Northeast of America, two pairs of Indonesian diaspora are pursuing this business as a side activity in addition to continuing to carry out their respective main professions. They are Daniel Kurnianto with his wife Meylia Tio and Octavianus Asoka with his wife Aristiya Dwiyanti.

Daniel and Meylia are the pioneers of this business, which is said to have started by chance because of their longing for tempe with an authentic Indonesian taste. Daniel, who is a laboratory automation design engineer, and Meylia, who has a Master’s degree in higher education, continue to try recipes and carry out various experiments. The tenacity was not in vain because then the right formula was found for tempeh with the color, taste, aroma and texture that is usually found in markets in Indonesia. As a result, tempeh was produced under the BOSTempeh brand, an abbreviation of “Boston tempeh” (“Boston tempeh”) because this business started in the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

Octavianus, who has an educational background in food manufacturing, is responsible for the tempe-making process, while Aristiya, who holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and works as a photographer, is responsible for product design and packaging.

Owners of BOSTempeh, from left to right: Daniel Kurnianto, Meylia Tio, Aristiya Dwiyanti, and Octavianus Asoka.  (Photo: VOA Indonesia)

Owners of BOSTempeh, from left to right: Daniel Kurnianto, Meylia Tio, Aristiya Dwiyanti, and Octavianus Asoka. (Photo: VOA Indonesia)

“Initially why I made it because my partners started it, their names were Daniel and Meylia. They are looking for tempeh in the US, only the local one doesn’t exist. So when they buy it at the supermarket, it tastes a bit bitter. So they try to learn to make their own and make their own tools, continue to make their own recipes, and learn from Indonesia too. In the end, it just got bigger, and then started trying mass produce. So in 2020 we help them make mass produce (large production).”

Aristiya Dwiyanti chimed in that the tempe business in America is quite promising. “If we look at the market now, the trend for vegans or vegetarians is increasing every year. So, there is also data that shows that the consumption of tofu and tempeh is increasing every year. So, therefore, we see this as a good opportunity. “Indonesian tempeh can enter the American market. The long-term prospects are good.”

In the Midwest region of America, in the small town of Greensburg in Indiana there is also a tempeh factory which was initiated by an Indonesian diaspora Mayasari Effendi and her husband Richard Mays. Maya, who came to America in 2004 to study computer science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana but later transferred to a management major at the same campus, started her only Indonesian restaurant business in the small town of Greensburg, Indiana in 2012 with the name Mayasari Indonesian Grill. Maya’s love for cooking authentic Indonesian food made her crave the taste of food from her homeland, especially the authentic tempe.

From that longing for tempeh, Maya made it herself, even before opening her restaurant. Maya also includes tempeh in the menu at her restaurant. Indeed, tempeh was not immediately accepted by the local community, but his continuous promotion and education efforts finally bore fruit.

Richard Mays and his wife, Mayasari Effendi (photo: courtesy)

Richard Mays and his wife, Mayasari Effendi (photo: courtesy)

Today, many people in Greensburg who were previously strangers to tempeh and have lived their lives accustomed to steak are finally willing to try the tempeh dish, which is offered in a variety of dishes. Maya says, “some residents even fall in love with this incredible source of plant-based protein full of nutrients.”

Maya says she is very lucky to live in a soybean farming area in Indiana. He can get high quality organic soybeans from the family farm behind his own house. With the ease of obtaining the ingredients, along with the acceptance of local residents, Maya began to pursue making tempeh. Asian shops in Indiana are also interested in buying and selling Maya’s tempeh, which is labeled Mayasari Tempeh.

“We started to open restaurants in 2012. Well, from there, tempeh has started to exist, but people are still afraid in the area because this area is far from anywhere. People here mostly eat steak and potatoes (potatoes), but suddenly there is an Indonesian restaurant, there is tempeh. But starting 7 years ago, people have started to know tempeh, and it’s getting more and more popular after the last 5 years. At first we only made it for the restaurant, but after a while it became more and more interested. Finally, my husband decided to open a room for tempeh, but it wasn’t enough. Finally, we opened a factory,” he said.

Tempe produced by Mayasari Tempeh, Greensburg, Indiana (photo: courtesy)

Tempe produced by Mayasari Tempeh, Greensburg, Indiana (photo: courtesy)

In line with Octavianus and Aristiya’s opinion, Maya also sees a prospective tempe market. He admitted that the demand for Tempe Mayasari continues to increase.

“Now a week now it takes between 20 to 30 bushels (bushel) to produce about 700 to 1200 units of tempe with a weight of about 350 grams per unit,” said Maya.

Maya added that the tempe market in America is quite large, the same as in Indonesia.

“The tempe market in America is the same as in Indonesia, the American market is also big. The difference is only the regions, which areas are familiar with tempeh, and I happen to be in the Midwest, where there are not many tempe producers. Now in my new Indiana I know. So my market is bigger than the tempe craftsmen in the East Cost or West Cost where there are many Indonesians,” he added.

Maya is not worried about the competition between tempeh craftsmen in America.

“In the future, we have to have this tempeh with its own characteristics. Many people in America here are starting to realize what is called a healthy lifestyle. They started to see protein from plant-based, it started to be encouraged. So, in my opinion, tempe is a good market, only later it will not look like what we eat in Indonesia. Then the shape will be different. I have a tempeh burger at my restaurant, but it’s actually tempeh bacem.”

In addition to good opportunities, Octovianus said there are also challenges in the tempe business in America, especially related to climates with extreme cold and hot temperatures. In addition, the ignorance of Americans is a challenge in itself, so efforts are needed to introduce this healthy food from Indonesia.

“From the market (we) are also trying to introduce tempeh, because people here are familiar with tofu (tofu), Tempe is a bit different, the texture and taste are also different. Moreover, there are also people who are sensitive to soy. So, it’s gonna take time for the US market.” Aristiya added that this further introduction is very important “so that we can be more familiar with the taste of tempeh, so that we can get used to it.”

Meanwhile, regarding the challenges faced as a tempe maker, Maya admitted that “fellow Indonesian diaspora often complain because of the adjustments he makes to suit American tastes.”

“The challenge is the Indonesians themselves because Indonesians already know what tempeh is. If we change, they start to complain. They said it didn’t taste like this (different). In my opinion, we as Indonesians, let’s support each other. Who makes tempe we support. We create a community. (So), challengeyes, the Indonesians themselves. That’s one and the second, the challenge is we have to educate, especially Midwest people, because Midwest people like meat, steak is everywhere. Now the competition is innovation from the tempe product itself. But don’t worry. Indonesian people are placed on any planet (can) live,” he said.

Returning to the Northeastern region of America, Octavianus said that he and his wife and business partners want to be tempe pioneers in America with “the goal of all restaurants being more receptive (accepting), more familiar with tempeh, tempeh recipes, (and) consumers are also increasingly understanding and getting to know tempeh. and we also want to be the pioneer or the best brand for a fresh tempeh produced in the US.”

Closing the conversation with VOA, Aristiya said that as Indonesians “we should not be ashamed to introduce tempe. On the other hand, we should be proud to have access to highly nutritious food at affordable prices.

We as Indonesians want tempeh, which is our cultural heritage known here in America. Indeed, when we were in Indonesia, it seemed that tempeh was considered lower class, low end food. In fact, if we study more deeply, tempeh is actually a superfood. We should be proud that Indonesians have access to this superfood, we should not be ashamed.”

Tempe produced by Wiwas Tempeh, Houston, Texas (photo: courtesy)

Tempe produced by Wiwas Tempeh, Houston, Texas (photo: courtesy)

Meanwhile in the Southwest region of America, in the city of Houston, Texas, an Indonesian diaspora is also starting the tempeh business. Xenia Tombokan came to America in 1999 to study at the University of Wisconsin for a Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and then continued at North Carolina State University in Raleigh for a Master’s degree in the same field. After working for an oil and gas company in Texas, Xenia decided to go into the tempeh business and set up a factory in 2019.

Now, tempe products, which are branded Wiwas Tempeh, can be found on the shelves of large supermarket chains and Asian stores, not only in Texas, but also in the states of Louisiana and California.

Reporting from his website and from a conversation between Xenia and VOA some time ago, the founder of Wiwas Tempeh was motivated by the fact that tempeh is often underestimated and is often even considered as “deso food” by Indonesians themselves, even though this Indonesian specialty has many benefits. health benefits.

Wiwas Tempeh wants to introduce the original taste of Indonesian tempeh and at the same time help people improve their quality of life by including tempeh in their daily diet. It is said that increasing awareness of tempeh in the United States is expected to encourage many people, including the younger generation, to accept tempeh as a healthy and healthy high-protein plant food. [lt/ab]