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Tempeh starter

As with other fermented products, such as yoghurt, miso, natto or kambucha, a starter is required to initiate the fermentation. Without a good starter other micro-organisms will spoil the product and make it uneatable or even poisonous.

In Indonesia, tempeh starter is made by wrapping cooked soybeans inside hibiscus leaves, which naturally contains the desired Rhizopus molds, and leaving it to ferment for a few days in a warm place. It is also possible to make tempeh from a piece of very fresh live tempeh, by mincing it finely and adding it to the cooked and cooled soybeans. However, this method is not very reliable and in practice it will often result in a failed batch. Therefore, most tempeh makers, even large factories, use commercial tempeh starter with a guaranteed strength and that is free from unwanted bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella or Listeria. A good source of tempeh starter is If you are looking fro a soy-free tempeh starter you can this oncom starter. Although they sell it as oncom starter you can also use it as tempeh starter. It seems to work very well on beans with high starch content.

Making your own tempeh starter

If you want to make your own tempeh starter you could follow the procedure that was used by the University of Illinois.

1. Preparation of substrate

Place 1/4 cup of long grain white rice in a pint Mason jar and add 20 ml water. Shake the jar to mix the rice and water. Cover the jar with a cotton wool cover made by placing layers of cotton wool between two layers of cheesecloth. Secure the cover by a rubber band or by replacing the metal ring. Allow to stand for a few hours with occasional swirling.

2. Sterilization

Use autoclave or pressure cooker at 15 psi and 121°C for 15 minutes. When still hot shake the jar vigorously until the rice clumps are broken loose and allow to cool to room temperature.

3. Inoculation

Make a spore suspension by aseptically adding a few ml of sterile water to an agar slant of Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae. Add the spore suspension aseptically to the rice and mix well.

4. Incubation

Incubate the jar on their sides at 30°C (86°F) for 45 days, at which time the rice will be covered with mycelia and black spores.

5. Harvesting the spores

Transfer the content of the jar into a sterile blender and blend to form a fine powder. This tempeh starter can be kept frozen to maintain the viability.

Contaminated tempeh starter

Good tempeh starter is rather expensive, but some suppliers don't take hygiene that seriously and sell product that is not pure and that may even be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. A tainted tempeh starter was recalled in April 2012 after an outbreak of a rare type of salmonella that has sickened more than 90 people, mostly in North Carolina. Infections were spread by eating the fresh tempeh, by contact with surfaces contaminated by the product and through person-to-person contact. The FDA traced the contamination back to the Rockville Maryland-based tempeh starter distributor Tempeh Online, who imported their product directly form Indonesian. At that time, Tempeh Online operated from different websites. Before you buy tempeh starter make sure that you can identify the location and reputation of original producer.


Contaminated tempeh starter

Contaminated tempeh starter sold by From FDA website: of Rockville, MD, is recalling all packages of Tempeh Starter Yeast because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis. The recalled Tempeh Starter Yeast and Super Starter Yeast were distributed nationwide and internationally through direct mail orders. The product was also distributed to the following areas: Australia, Canada, Slovenia, New Zealand, Brunei, Darussalam, Poland and Croatia. The product comes in sealed, clear plastic packages marked with a small computer printed label. The following sizes were sold: 30gm, 50gm, 250 gm, and 1000 gm. Several illnesses have been reported to date that may be in connection with this problem.

The potential for contamination was noted after testing by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services revealed the presence of Salmonella in some of the product. Upon being notified of the risk by the FDA, the immediately discontinued their operations. did not manufacture the product which was imported from Indonesia. The product should not be used.

Guest - 25/05/2012

koji Europe

getting koji in Europe is not easy, there is a dutch company - Terrasana who sell a genmai koji for ridiculous sums of money. I bought a starter from GEM cultures in USA, for $3 + postage and made tons! An easy and fun process! Noel -
Noel - 16/11/2013

Tempeh starter

Do somebody know where can I found tempeh starter in Swindon? Or somewhere in the area. Thanks for help.
Erika - 20/11/2013

Tempeh starter

I get my tempeh starter from TopCultures. They ship to the UK, or where is Swindon located?
Wim - 20/11/2013

Tempeh starter

I have no idea, I'm in Hungary, but one of my friend will be in Swindon these days and try to buy me. Here in Hungary I didn't find. But thanks, I'll try too.
Erika - 20/11/2013

Tempeh Starter

Please it is difficult for me to prepare . Can you direct me to a location in Accra , Ghana where I can get tempeh starter to buy or how I can get those materials in the soil that is the ''rhizopus oryzae '' or ''rhizopus olygosporus so that I can prepare my own starter . I will be very grateful thanks. Regards.
Solomon - 09/08/2014

Tempeh Starter

I do not know of any place in Ghana that sells tempeh starter. You have to order in online, for example from
Rob - 09/08/2014

The Farm

What happened to the tempeh starter from The Farm? I bought from them years ago. Now: "Call for availabilty". I am not going to call them!!!
David - 10/08/2014

Tempeh Starter everywhere in Bali, Java, Sumatra all Indonesia

Hi there, im from Indonesia...been to aus, new zealand, canada, usa, UK etc... If you would like to get some tempeh starter...try travel to Indonesia like Bali...everthing cheap, fligh, hotel,transport, acomodation, etc2 compare around the world. So during yr travel tried to get information about how to make tempeh starter, including how to make perfec tempeh etc. from lokal in Bali, and around indonesia...there were quiet easy and cheap tradisional free market everywhere.
andreas - 12/09/2014

Different tempeh starters tested

I tested different tempeh starters: GEM Cultures, Raprima and Topcultures. The tempeh starter from GEM cultures produced a lot of mycelium but created the most black spots and tempeh was a bit bitter. Topcultures made the most white mycelium and taste was very fresh whereas Raprima produced only a bit of black spots, weaker mycelium but stronger taste. For me Topcultures is the absolute winner! I like tempeh with a lot of the white mycelium, because mycelium is what makes soybeans and tempeh different.
Stefano - 28/01/2015


I tried to make tempeh with starter from tempehstartershop. I followed their instructions but the end result was more like natto. Tossed it in the garbage! Who had more success with this starter? Maybe the starter was too old, I received it a few months back, but no expiry date on package...
Tracy - 10/02/2015

method to make tempeh starter

I want make my tempeh starter to produce tempeh. Can give me the method how to make tempeh starter.
wijesiri muththettowage - 18/06/2015

method to make tempeh starter

Hi wijesiri, why do you want to take the trouble to make your own tempeh starter if you can buy it online? I made my own tempeh starter by slicing tempeh, letting it sporulate and then drying and grinding it. But results of the final tempeh were always different, sometime rotten tempeh... I get perfect results with starter from The Farm and Topcultures.
Sonja - 10/08/2015

method to make tempeh starter

Wijesiri muththettowage, you can read different methods in "The Book of Tempeh" on site chapter 7 pages 117-125.
Vlad - 18/11/2015

Old fermentation way is better/ can kill the E Coli

The “Earth” of Cooked episode features a Connecticut nun, Sister Noella Marcellino, who used to make cheese according to an OLD WAY OF MAKING CHEESE....a French peasant recipe, letting the milk sour in WOODEN BARRELS rather than the stainless steel commonly used today.... After an outbreak of listeria, health inspectors told her she had to stop using wood. The levels of E. coli in her finished cheeses spiked immediately. Using slick steel instead of porous wood may feel like the hygienic choice in food manufacturing, but it was the BACTERIA PRODUCED BY THE WOODEN BARREL itself that KILL THE E. COLI BACTERIA & kept her original cheese E. coli-free.
Irna - 26/03/2016

Old fermentation way is better/ can kill the E Coli

I rather have E. coli in my cheese than Lysteria. Lysteria infection has a fatality rate of 20% ! You can make your own food using any methods that you prefer but if you want to sell it to the public you have to follow official food regulations. Same applies to tempeh starter. Many websites sell tempeh starter without even mentioning company details. If they sell tainted tempeh starter and people get sick they will close their website. Same happened with a few years ago when about 100 people got very sick after eating tempeh. imported and resold starter culture which she purchased from an exporter named Bambang Surprapto in Bekasi, Indonesia.
Victor - 27/03/2016


Anyone using Raprima? Prices range is very wide, from 2,99$ to 37,99$! I am looking for an alternative to Gem cultures tempeh starter (they stopped selling it).
Laura - 11/05/2016


Hi Laura, Raprima is indeed very cheap but the quality is accordingly. Raprima is rather weak and is not pure as it contains lots of bacteria. I recently tested this starter in the lab at my work and found 2.000.000 mold spores and 22.000 bacteria in 1 g starter. If you use it you should make sure to cook the tempeh very well and not eat it raw. Raprima is produced and sold in 500g bags. I assume that the 2,99$ is for a different weight. Some sellers indeed repack Raprima. Under what conditions? In their own kitchen?
Victor - 16/05/2016


I get my raprima from Indonesia (around cad$1.5), ask someone you know to bring it. I never use other brand so i can't compare the quality.
In the beginning I had problems with black spot, less spore, over ripe. But now I could make tempeh (10 kg soy) in 10 cubic foot homemade incubator (24-40h, I make it in restaurant, so it has to be done when I'm there)
what people say about raprima might be true but here is my thoughts:
1. Bitterness, depending on your soy bean. Ive no problem with my organic one, but I had problems with non-gmo till I found the right method (throw more than 25kg).
2. Not strong, I've seen video a company uses 1t/10kg (around 4 g) with in-house starter. I use 20g/10kg, yes its not strong but price wise? Also some of my starters are 3 y old.
3. Black spot, too long at lower temp or too much oxygen, empty space between plastic and aoy. Solution: high temp 20h, 4-6 h at 26-27C, less holes.

I don't call myself expert in Tempe, I started 3 years ago after after a customer gave bad review of Tempe (bitter) that we served in restaurant but so far this year I've used more than 600 kg soy with raprima without any problem, and taste good too (im selling Tempe to Indonesian community too).
The only problem I have, I couldn't season with garlic powder, salt and coriander when I make it. Ive tried during soaking, when boiling (according akkiko n peter's book), lower/high temp, there's no spore and soft (too hot), maybe because raprima?
Minx Jan - 29/10/2016

Not 200 ml?

The recipe calls for 20 ml water to 1/4 cup rice. Should that be 200 ml water? 20 ml is slightly more than 1 tbsp, which is hardly enough for 1/4 cup rice.
Klaus Seistrup - 27/02/2017

Not 200 ml?

The figures are correct. 1/4 cup of rice is about 48g and 2 tablespoons are 30ml. Also some water will be absorbed from the steam. The cooked rice is indeed on the dry side, but that is the purpose. This results in more sporulation.
Rob - 28/04/2017


Is tempeh starter same as koji? The same mold that breakdowns the protein and produces protease enzymes?
kyroll - 02/12/2017


Rhizopus (R. oryzae or R. oligosporus) is responsible for tempeh fermentation whereas the mold in koji is Asperigillus oryzae. These are different species, but both produce proteases.
Rob - 02/12/2017


Thanks a lot Rob. Glad that they both produce proteases. One more question. So can I make shio koji using tempeh starter and apply it to meat or chicken to get tender meat? Will I get same result?
kyroll - 03/12/2017

Make tempeh from non-soy beans with Topcultures tempeh starter

I buy tempeh starter from Topcultures, and I am impressed with the nice soybean tempeh I can make with it. Is anyone using this tempeh starter successfully with other beans than soybeans? Thanks for sharing your experience!
Klara - 26/05/2019

Make tempeh from non-soy beans with Topcultures tempeh starter

On is a recipe for black bean tempeh. That's my favourite tempeh! It is easier to make, you do not have to remove the skins.
Valerio - 18/06/2019

Tempeh starter

Can I use fresh yeast as a starter?
Sharan - 23/06/2019

Tempeh starter

Sharan, you cannot use bakers yeast for making tempeh. Sometimes, tempeh starter is called tempeh yeast, this is misleading, but they are different cultures.
Natalia - 05/08/2019

yeast? no way

Baking and brewing yeasts are varieties of Sacchromyces, typically S cerevesiae. Tempeh is created by a Rhizophus mould. Totally different microorganism.
Trevor - 07/12/2019


I have no connection to the firm, but I can confirm this Belgian starter provider is still selling in Dec 2019 and has a website. Their supply date is weeks ahead of Asian sellers for me, as I'm in the UK.
Trevor - 07/12/2019

Incubation time

"4. Incubation
Incubate the jar on their sides at 30°C (86°F) for 45 days, at which time the rice will be covered with mycelia and black spores."

45 days for spores of tempe?! I think is 4-5 days LOL
Ro - 13/07/2020

Incubation time

You could remove the contents from the jar after 4-5 days and dry it. But you can also leave it 45 days in the jar, by which time contents will also be dry. Then there is less risk for contamination.
Rob - 17/07/2020

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