Do You Know that the Nutritional Content in Tempeh Comes from Bacteria?

Are you a fan of tempeh? If you live or have been to Indonesia, it might sound familiar to you, as tempeh has been widely consumed by people of all groups in this Southeast Asian nation. Tempeh is a soybean cake fermented by the mold Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus microsporus. It is well known for its high protein content. In addition, tempeh contains various beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and antioxidants, all of which are produced by the bacterial communities that are present during tempeh making.

tempe1 Fried tempeh. Source: liv3ly.com

The bacterial communities in tempeh may vary due to the fact that tempeh is generally made in a non-controlled process. This was described by Dr. Ir. Tati Barus, M.Si. based on her research. Even though the bacterial community in one tempeh to another may differ, Dr. Barus found that there’s a specific bacterial species that is consistently found in tempeh: Klebsiella pneumoniae. This bacterium is an opportunistic pathogen (it only attacks the body when our immune system is weak) that is reported to cause pneumonia in humans. This leads Dr. Barus to conduct research in which the Klebsiella pneumoniae strains in tempeh were compared to known pneumonia-causing strain. This research was conducted at the Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia in 2014.

klebsiellaKlebsiella pneumoniae. Source: webconsultas.com

The results revealed that Klebsiella pneumoniae strains found in tempeh are genetically different from the strain that causes pneumonia. Hence, up to now there are no reports of pneumoniae cases that are linked to tempeh consumption. This finding has been published in Jurnal Mikrobiologi Indonesia.

Dr. Barus added that the presence of Klebsiella pneumoniae strains in tempeh is even beneficial, as they produce vitamin B12, which are commonly found in animal-based food ingredients. No wonder tempeh is a popular source of vitamin B12 among vegans.

In conclusion, not only the nutritional content of tempeh is good for your body, but this long-consumed traditional food is also safe to devour. Let’s promote tempeh consumption, the indigenous food of Indonesia!


This content was created as a project for the Science Communication class by Yovita Yunita Angkawijaya, Rita Wijaya, Niramala Sari Putri and Erica Kosani. They are students in the Biology Program, Faculty of Biotechnology, Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia.

Translator: Watumesa A. Tan

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