Rhizopus oligosporus

Rhizopus oligosporus is a fungus of the family Mucoraceae and is a widely used starter culture for the production of tempeh at home and industrially. As the mold grows it produces fluffy, white mycelia, binding the beans together to create an edible "cake" of partly catabolized soybeans. The domestication of the microbe is thought to have occurred in Indonesia several centuries ago.[1]

Rhizopus oligosporus
Tempeh Rhizopus oligosporus.JPG
Rhizopus oligosporus on homemade tempeh
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Mucoromycota
Order: Mucorales
Family: Mucoraceae
Genus: Rhizopus
R. oligosporus
Binomial name
Rhizopus oligosporus

R. oligosporus is the preferred starter culture for tempeh production for several reasons. It grows effectively in the warm temperatures (30–40 °C or 85–105 °F) which are typical of the Indonesian islands; it exhibits strong lipolytic and proteolytic activity, creating desirable properties in tempeh; and it produces metabolites that allows it to inhibit and thus outcompete other molds and gram-positive bacteria, including the potentially harmful Aspergillus flavus and Staphylococcus aureus.[2][3]

R. oligosporus is at present considered to be a domesticated form of Rhizopus microsporus and its proper taxonomic position is thus Rhizopus microsporus var. oligosporus. R. microsporus produces several potentially toxic metabolites, rhizoxin and rhizonins A and B, but it appears the domestication and mutation of the R. oligosporus genome has led to the loss of genetic material responsible for toxin production.[4]


Rhizopus oligosporus is a fungus that belongs to the class Zygomycetes, which is one of two classes in the phylum Zygomycota.[5] Rhizopus oligosporus belongs to the Rhizopus microsporus group. This group is made of taxa with similar morphology that are associated with undesired metabolite production, pathogenesis and food fermentation. Although other varieties in Rhizopus microscopus may be harmful, Rhizopus oligosporus is not associated with production of potentially harmful metabolites. It is not found in nature and is frequently used by humans.[6]Rhizopus oligosporus strains have a large diameter (up to 43 μm) and irregular spores with widely varying volume, (typically in the range 96–223 mm3). Rhizopus oligosporus has large, subglobose to globose spores, and high proportion irregular spores (>10 %). Rhizopus oligosporus also has spores with nonparallel valleys and ridges, and plateaus that sometimes are granular.[6]

Role in tempeh fermentationEdit

A popular Indonesian food, tempeh, is created by fermenting soybeans in combination with Rhizopus oligosporus.[7] In order to create tempeh, soybeans must first be soaked in water (usually overnight) at a temperature similar to the environment it is placed in. The soybean's outer covering is then removed and the beans are partially cooked. Lactic acid bacteria, like Lactococcus and Lb. casei species, play a major role in the fermentation of tempeh.[8] For the tempeh to ferment, there needs to be a suitable, pure inoculum. Also, spores with a tendency for fast germinability are needed, as well.[7] In order for the tempeh to attain its characteristic compact 'cake' form after fermentation, the soybeans become compressed due to the mycelia of Rhizopus oligosporus.[8] Rapidly growing mycelia helps speed up the growth of this fungus. Because mycelia are quite sensitive to dehydration and adverse temperatures, preserving tempeh for extended periods of time can be challenging.[7] When the soybeans are bound together by the white mycelium, the fungus releases enzymes that can digest protein. Tempeh-like foods (black oncom) can also be created from cereal grains such as wheat and rice. Many times, a good inoculum for this new fermentation actually comes from tiny pieces of old tempeh that have already been fermented.[7]

Uses of tempehEdit

Tempeh has the potential to be used in many high-protein foods due to its mild flavor when fried in vegetable oil.[7] Containing more than 40% protein, tempeh is often used as a meat-substitute. This product is used in soups or can simply be sliced and seasoned.[8]


Even after it is consumed, Rhizopus oligosporus produces an antibiotic that limits gram-positive bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (potentially harmful) and Bacillus subtilis (beneficial).[9] Tempeh contains ergosterol (provitamin D2). This fungus have also been used to treat waste and wastewater, produce industrial enzymes and ferment other substrates like other legumes and cereals.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Shurtleff, W. & Aoyagi, A. 2001. The book of tempeh. 2 2. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, California pp.
  2. ^ Nout, M.J.R. (1989). "Effect of Rhizopus and Neurospora spp. on growth of Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus and accumulation of aflatoxin B1 in groundnut". Mycological Research. 93 (4): 518–523. doi:10.1016/s0953-7562(89)80046-2.
  3. ^ Kobayasi, Sin-ya; Naoto, OKAZAKI; Takuya, KosEKI (1992). "Purification and Characterization of an Antibiotic Substance Produced from Rhizopus oligosporus IFO 8631". Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem. 56 (1): 94–98. doi:10.1271/bbb.56.94. PMID 1368137.
  4. ^ Jennessen, J.; Nielsen, K.F.; Houbraken, J.; Lyhne, E.K.; Schnürer, J.; Frisvad, J.C.; Samson, R.A. (2005). "Secondary metabolite and mycotoxin production by the Rhizopus microsporus group". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 53 (5): 1833–1840. doi:10.1021/jf048147n. PMID 15740082.
  5. ^ Yanai, K; Takaya, N; Kojima, N; Horiuchi, H; Ohta, A; Takagi, M (1992). "Purification of two chitinases from Rhizopus oligosporus and isolation and sequencing of the encoding genes". American Society for Microbiology. 174 (22): 7398–7406. doi:10.1128/jb.174.22.7398-7406.1992. PMC 207436. PMID 1429462.
  6. ^ a b c Jennessen, Jennifer; Schnürer, Johan; Samson, Robert A.; Dijksterhuis, Jan (2008). "Morphological characteristics of sporangiospores of the tempe fungus Rhizopus oligosporus differentiate it from other taxa of the R. microscopus group". Mycological Research. 112 (Pt 5): 547–562. doi:10.1016/j.mycres.2007.11.006. PMID 18400482.
  7. ^ a b c d e Hessel Tine, W; Swain, E.W.; Wang, Hwa L. (1940). "Mass production of Rhizopus oligosporus spores and their application in tempeh fermentation" (PDF). Journal of Food Science. 40: 168–170. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.1975.tb03762.x. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Caplice, Elizabeth; Fitzgerald, Gerald F. (1999). "Food Fermentations: role of microorganisms in food production and preservation". International Journal of Food Microbiology. 50 (1–2): 131–49. doi:10.1016/S0168-1605(99)00082-3. PMID 10488849.
  9. ^ Kobayasi, S; Okazaki, N; Koseki, T (January 1992). "Purification and characterization of an antibiotic substance produced from Rhizopus oligosporus IFO 8631". Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 56 (2): 94–98. doi:10.1271/bbb.56.94. PMID 1368137.

External linksEdit