Team Texas Tempeh

“I became a vegetarian—for the first time—when I was still in high school,” admits Beth Taylor, slightly abashed. “In speech class, we were all instructed to take a side on an issue, and to use persuasive speech to convince the other students of our position. I really had no personal interest in vegetarianism, but after spending an hour in the library getting all my arguments lined up, I found I had convinced myself,” she says with a laugh.

Beth is the mother in the mother-daughter team that is Texas Tempeh, an Austin-based company that has the local tempeh market pretty well sewn up. A soybean product used in Asian cuisines, tempeh is similar to tofu. But because it’s made from whole, fermented soybeans, it has significantly more protein and fiber, as well as a firmer texture. It also has more flavor; depending on the dish, it can be reminiscent of sautéed mushrooms or a soft-bodied cheese. For many vegetarians and vegans, the food is a godsend: In addition to its palatability, it supplies many B vitamins, including B-12, a vitamin hard to reliably source for vegetarian and vegan diets.

Beth was a long-time practicing vegetarian before she had Becky in 1985. Around Becky’s third birthday, Beth moved a step further and became a vegan. Her diet already included tempeh, but after years of becoming increasingly disenchanted with the dark, somewhat bitter commercial tempeh then available, Beth decided to try her hand at making it. “Fresh tempeh isn’t brown or bitter,” Beth insists. “Pasteurization is what makes it that way. For the longest time, food regulators were very skeptical of fermented foods—particularly unfamiliar foods. In order to sell it here, tempeh makers had to pasteurize it.”

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“When Mom told me she was making her own tempeh,” Becky chimes in, “I really didn’t care. I didn’t really like tempeh that much. But that night, when she showed me this beautiful, white tempeh, and she sliced it and fried it up in just a little peanut oil—very simple—I could have eaten the whole batch. It was just insanely good.”

Becky tried hard to convince Beth to go public with her fresh, homemade product, but it wasn’t in the cards at the time—Beth was expecting another child in 2005 and wisely decided against simultaneously starting a small business. But Becky didn’t give up. Once her baby brother Chet was old enough, she and her mom found a commercial kitchen to rent at the Bastrop Producers Market and, in 2010, Texas Tempeh was born.

Of course, the Taylors’ product is never pasteurized; it’s made fresh and sold frozen to retain its sweet, nutty flavor and pure white color. As word has spread, sales have steadily climbed. Their first big account, like many other Austin food start-ups, was Wheatsville Food Co-op, followed by Whole Foods Market and Natural Grocers. But most impressively, it’s our many local chefs who have taken the product to heart. At present, Texas Tempeh is featured in dishes at Bouldin Creek Café, Cool Beans, Java Noodles, Counter Culture, Wheatsville Deli, Mother’s Cafe, The Steeping Room, The Vegan Nom and eight Freebirds World Burrito locations.

These days, it’s all Beth can do to get Texas Tempeh to all of their customers, delivering more than 75 cases a week. While Beth cements relationships with loyal purchasers and forges new alliances, Becky takes care of the financial end. “That’s when I broke the news to Mom that I wasn’t going to let her just give our tempeh away. Because, of course, she was pricing it too low. I am Queen of the Spreadsheets. I like numbers. My job is keeping Texas Tempeh on a sound financial basis.” Becky also orders the soybeans, garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas they use to make their three tempeh varieties, as well as the spices they use in their two vegetarian sausage varieties. 

Poised to take Texas Tempeh from local to regional, both Beth and Becky have had to add marketing to their job descriptions. “We’ve just recently changed our packaging,” says Becky. “And, naturally, we would like to expand.” 

“But,” Becky interjects with a certain air of seriousness, “I think the secret of our success is, really, that we are mother and daughter. There is no competition, no conflict of interest—there can’t be. We both want what is best for the other.”

Find out more at heartyvegan.com or call 512-629-5708.

by Kathleen Thornberry // Photography by Alison Narro