Tempura (天ぷら or 天麩羅, tenpura, [tempɯɾa]) is a typical Japanese dish usually consisting of seafood, meat and vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. The dish was introduced by the Portuguese in Nagasaki through fritter-cooking techniques in the 16th century. The word tempura comes from the Latin word tempora, a term referring to times of fasting when the church dictated that Catholics go meatless.[1]

Tempura shrimp and vegetables
Tenzaru (tempura and soba)
Tempura udon



A light batter is made of iced water, eggs,[2] and soft wheat flour (cake,[3] pastry[4] or all-purpose flour[2]). Sometimes baking soda[5] or baking powder is added to make the fritter light.[5] Using sparkling water in the place of plain water[6] makes a similar effect. Tempura batter is traditionally mixed in small batches using chopsticks for only a few seconds, leaving lumps in the mixture that, along with the cold batter temperature, result in the unique fluffy and crisp tempura structure when cooked. The batter is often kept cold by adding ice or placing the bowl inside a larger bowl with ice. Overmixing the batter will activate wheat gluten, which causes the flour mixture to become soft and dough-like when fried.

Specially formulated tempura flour is available in supermarkets. This is generally light (low-gluten) flour and occasionally contains leaveners such as baking powder.[7]

Tempura does not use breadcrumbs (panko) in the coating.[8] Deep-fried foods which are coated with breadcrumbs are called furai,[9] Japanese-invented Western-style deep fried foods, such as tonkatsu or ebi furai (fried prawn).[9]

No seasonings or salt is added to the batter, or the ingredients,[2] except for some recipes recommending rinsing seafood in salt water before preparation.[10]


Frying tempura

Thin slices or strips of vegetables or seafood are dipped in the batter, then briefly deep-fried in hot oil.[2] Vegetable oil[11] or canola oil are most common; however, tempura was traditionally cooked using sesame oil.[12] Many specialty shops still use sesame oil or tea seed oil, and it is thought certain compounds in these oils help to produce light, crispier batter.

The finished fry is pale whiteish, thin and fluffy,[13] yet crunchy.[14]

The bits of batter (known as tenkasu) are scooped out between batches of tempura so they do not burn and leave a bad flavor in the oil.[2] A small mesh scoop (Ami jakushi) is used for this purpose. Tenkasu are often reserved as ingredients in other dishes or as a topping.


Various seafood and vegetables are commonly used as the ingredients in traditional tempura.


Scallop tempura with sea urchin roe

The most popular seafood tempura is probably ebi (shrimp) tempura. Types of seafood used in tempura include:


Mushroom tempura
Assorted vegetable tempura served at San-Sada restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Vegetables tempura is called yasai tempura. The all-vegetable tempura might be served as a vegetarian dish. Types of vegetables include:

Serving and presentation

Tentsuyu is the most common sauce consumed with tempura.

Cooked pieces of tempura are either eaten with dipping sauce, salted without sauce, or used to assemble other dishes. Tempura is commonly served with grated daikon and eaten hot immediately after frying. In Japan, it is often found in bowls of soba or udon soup in the form of shrimp, shiso leaf, or fritter. The most common sauce is tentsuyu sauce (roughly three parts dashi, one part mirin, and one part shōyu). Alternatively, skim tempura may be sprinkled with sea salt before eating. Mixtures of powdered green tea and salt or yuzu and salt are also used.[16] Kakiage is a type of tempura made with mixed vegetable strips, such as onion, carrot, and burdock, and sometimes including shrimp or squid, which are deep fried as small round fritters.

Tempura is also used in combination with other foods. When served over soba (buckwheat noodles), it is called tempura soba[17] or tensoba. Tempura is also served as a donburi dish where tempura shrimp and vegetables are served over steamed rice in a bowl (tendon) and on top of udon soup (tempura udon).


Peixinhos da horta ("Little fishes from the garden"), the Portuguese ancestor of Japanese tempura
Tempura yatai (stall) of Edo period[18]


Earlier Japanese deep-fried food was either simply fried without breading or batter or fried with rice flour. However, toward the end of the 16th century, the technique of fritter-cooking with a batter of flour and eggs was acquired in Nagasaki from Portuguese missionaries. It was a way to fulfill the fasting and abstinence rules for Catholics surrounding the quarterly ember days (Spanish: Témporas).[19]. Portuguese and Spanish, both Neo-Latin languages, inherited Têmpora and Témpora from the Latin tempora.[20] Hence the etymology of the word. In those days, tempura was deep-fried in lard with a batter of flour, water, eggs, and salt; unlike today, it was eaten without dipping sauce.

In the early 17th century, around the Tokyo Bay area, tempura ingredients and preparation underwent a remarkable change as the Yatai (food cart) culture gained popularity. Making the best use of fresh seafood while preserving its delicate taste, tempura used only flour, eggs, and water as ingredients, and the batter was not flavored. As the batter was mixed minimally in cold water, it avoided the dough-like stickiness caused by the activation of wheat gluten, resulting in the crispy texture, which is now characteristic of tempura. It became customary to dip tempura quickly in a sauce mixed with grated daikon just before eating it.

Today in Japan, the mainstream of tempura recipes originate from "Tokyo style (Edo style)" tempura, invented at the food stalls along the riverside fish market in the Edo period. The main reason tempura became popular was the abundance of seafood. In addition, as oil extraction techniques advanced, cooking oil became cheaper. Serving of deep-fried food indoors was prohibited during Edo because tempura oil was a fire hazard in Japanese buildings, which were made of paper and wood. Therefore, tempura gained popularity as fast food eaten at outdoor food stalls. It was skewered and eaten with a dipping sauce. Tempura is considered one of "the Edo Delicacies" along with soba (buckwheat noodles) and sushi, which were also food-stall take-outs.

The modern tempura recipe was first published in 1671 in the cookbook called "料理献立抄". After the Meiji period, tempura was no longer considered a fast food item but developed as a high-class cuisine.


The word "tempura", or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word tempora, a Latin word meaning "times", "time period" used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days (ad tempora quadragesima), Fridays, and other Christian holy days. Ember Days, or quatuor anni tempora in Latin, refer to holy days when Catholics avoid red meat and eat fish or vegetables instead.[21][22] The idea that the word "tempura" may have been derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning of any kind, or from the verb temperar, meaning "to season" is also possible as the Japanese language could easily have assumed the word tempero as is, without changing any vowels as the Portuguese pronunciation in this case is similar to the Japanese.[23] There is still today a dish in Portugal very similar to tempura called peixinhos da horta, "garden fishes", which consists of green beans dipped in a batter and fried.

The term "tempura" is thought to have gained popularity in southern Japan; it became widely used to refer to any food prepared using hot oil, including some already existing Japanese foods. Today. Particularly in western Japan, the word "tempura" is also commonly used to refer to satsuma-age, fried surimi fish cake which is made without batter.[24][25]



In Japan, restaurants specializing in tempura are called tenpura-ya. Many restaurants offer tempura as part of a set meal or a bento (lunch box), and it is also a popular ingredient in take-out or convenience store bento boxes. The ingredients and styles of cooking and serving tempura vary greatly throughout the country, with importance placed on using fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Outside Japan

Tempura ice cream
Chocolate cookie tempura

Outside Japan (as well as recently in Japan), there are many nontraditional and fusion uses of tempura. Chefs over the world include tempura dishes on their menus, and a wide variety of different batters and ingredients are used, including the nontraditional broccoli, zucchini, asparagus and chuchu. More unusual ingredients may include nori slices, dry fruit such as banana, and ice cream (tempura-based fried ice cream). American restaurants are known to serve tempura in the form of various types of meat, particularly chicken and cheeses, usually mozzarella. A variation is to use panko (breadcrumbs), which results in a crisper consistency than tempura batter, although in Japan this would be classified as a furai dish. Tempura (particularly shrimp) is often used as a filling in makizushi. A more recent variation of tempura sushi has entire pieces of sushi dipped in batter and tempura-fried.

In Bangladesh, the blossoms of pumpkins or marrows are often deep fried with a gram of rice flour spice mix, creating a Bengali-style tempura known as kumro ful bhaja.


In Taiwan, tempura, as described in the preceding, is known as tiānfùluó (天婦羅) and can commonly be found on the menu in Japanese restaurants all over the island. A similar-sounding dish, tianbula (Chinese: 甜不辣; pinyin: tiánbùlà; lit. 'sweet, not spicy') is usually sold at night markets. Tianbula is Japanese satsuma-age and was introduced to Taiwan under Japanese rule by people from Kyushu, where satsuma-age is commonly known as tempura.[26][24][25]

See also

  • List of Japanese dishes#Deep-fried dishes (agemono, 揚げ物)
    • Ebi furai: a Japanese dish of breaded and deep-fried shrimp.
    • Karaage: a Japanese cooking technique in which various foods—-most often chicken, but other meat and fish—-are coated with flour and deep-fried in oil.
    • Kushikatsu: a Japanese dish of breaded and deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables.
    • Tonkatsu: Japanese breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet.
    • Toriten: a Japanese fritter of marinated chicken.
    • Karakudamono: a Japanese term used to collectively describe assorted pastry confections of Chinese origin (also called togashi).
  • Unbreaded fritters:
    • Crispy kangkóng: Filipino deep-fried water spinach leaves in batter.
    • Pakora: a South Asian food resembling tempura.
    • Okoy: Filipino shrimp fritters.
    • Camaron rebosado: Filipino deep-fried battered shrimp.
    • Gambas con gabardina: Spanish deep-fried battered shrimp.


  1. Farley, David (2017-08-08). "The truth about Japanese tempura". BBC Travel. Retrieved 2022-03-19.
  2. Kobayashi, Katsuyo (2000). The quick and easy Japanese cookbook: great recipes from Japan's favorite TV cooking show host. Kodansha International. p. 23. ISBN 4-7700-2504-1.
  3. "How to distinguish different types of flour". Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University – Resource Center (student & faculty support staff). 12 April 2021. Archived from the original on 2021-08-21. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  4. Okamoto, Osamu (1994). Sam Okamoto's incredible vegetables. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 31. ISBN 1-56554-025-5.
  5. Kawaraya, Chiyoko (1985). "ja:小麦粉の調理" [Science of wheat flour]. Seikatsu Eisei (Journal of Urban Living and Health Association) (in Japanese). 大阪生活衛生協会. 29 (2): 115. doi:10.11468/seikatsueisei1957.29.111 via J-STAGE.
  6. Yukimasa, Rika (2013-10-28). "Shrimp & Mushroom Tempura". NHK World-Japan. NHK. Archived from the original on 2019-09-10. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  7. "Standard tables of food composition in Japan 2015 (Seventh Revised Edition)" (PDF). Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. 2017-12-20 [2015]. Chapter 3.1 Notes on Foods: PDF p 4/276. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-02-19. Retrieved 2021-08-21. "Premixed flour for Tempura" is a product made from soft flour, starch, baking powder, ...
  8. No panko appears in the definition of tempura: "Tempura" 天麩羅 テンプラ. Digital Daijisen (デジタル大辞泉) (in Japanese) (constantly updated ed.). Shogakukan. Retrieved 2021-08-16 via kotobank.jp. (rough translation): 1.[...ingredients] dipped in a batter made of wheat flour, egg, and water, then fried in vegetable oil. Vegetable tempuras are sometimes distinguished and called "shōjin-age." [...]
  9. "Furai (ryouri)" フライ (料理) [Fry (cooking)]. Encyclopedia Nipponica web version (in Japanese) (constantly updated ed.). Shogakukan. Retrieved 2021-08-16 via kotobank.jp. (rough translation): In Western cuisine, "frying" means to deep-fry or sautee in oils or fats. [...] In Japan, "furai" refers to foods that are dipped in wheat flour, beaten egg, and bread crumbs and then deep-fried, [...]. If the ingredient is meat, it is called "chikin katsuretsu," "pōku katsuretsu (tonkatsu)," etc., respectively.[...]
  10. "Summer Tempura". NHK World-Japan. 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  11. "Tempura". NHK World-Japan. NHK. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  12. Frank, Dr Sandra (2017-01-07). "Dietitians Online Blog: January 7, National Tempura Day – Tempura Tofu and Spring Vegetables". Dietitians Online Blog. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  13. "Battle of the Best Japanese Fried Foods". Gurunavi.com. 2017-03-01. Ebi Furai vs Tempura Ebi. Archived from the original on 2021-08-17. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  14. Amoroso, Phoebe (2016-11-14). "Tempura temptations: How deep-fried seafood seduced Japan". NHK World-Japan. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  15. Nozaki, Hiromitsu. "Shrimp and vegetable tempura". NHK World. NHK. Archived from the original on 2021-08-19. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  16. Ono, Tadashi; Salat, Harris (2013). Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More from the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. ISBN 9781607743538. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  17. "Tempura Soba". Authentic Recipe List. Asian Inspiretion. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  18. "Fukagawa Edo Museum". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
  19. Francisco Luis Pérez (29 January 2009). "En Taiwán al pan se le llama pan y abundan los nombres hispánicos". El Confidencial (in Spanish). EFE. Archived from the original on 17 September 2021. Retrieved 17 September 2021. ´tempura´, fritura japonesa de mariscos y vegetales ligada a la costumbre cristiana de no tomar carne en las témporas, e introducida por misioneros ibéricos en Nagasaki"
  20. David Farley (10 August 2017). "The truth about Japanese tempura". BBC. Retrieved 17 September 2021. eaten during Lent or Ember days (the word 'tempura' comes from the Latin word tempora, a term referring to these times of fasting), when the church dictated that Catholics go meatless
  21. Narloch, Leandro (2013). "Samurais". Guia Politicamente Incorreto da História do Mundo (in Portuguese) (1 ed.). São Paulo: Editora Leya. p. 163. ISBN 9788580448405.
  22. LUIS SÁNCHEZ-MOLINÍ (14 April 2013). ""El haiku es muy parecido a la seguidilla, algo breve e impactante"". Diario de Sevilla (in Spanish). Retrieved 18 September 2021. Témporas are the Christian liturgical cycles corresponding to the end and beginning of the four seasons of the year, consecrated especially to prayer and penance. As is easy to guess, témporas comes from tempus (time) and its plural tempora (times). The typical food in those seasons (in which you could not eat meat) was fried fish, which in Japanese ended up being called tempura
  23. "Japanese Writers' House Newsletter". 2007-10-10. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008-01-11.
  24. Ishige, Naomichi [in Japanese] (2014). The History and Culture of Japanese Food. Routledge. p. 246. ISBN 978-1136602559.
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