Fungus. It’s responsible for some of the most delicious foods we know. Cheese, wine, bread, mushrooms, beer and cider, as well as some randoms like soy sauce and miso. If you expand that list to include bacterial food creations, you can add chocolate and coffee as well. But camembert and roquefort aside, yeast contributes to making some of the world’s most treasured breads.
Certain strains of yeast can be traced back hundreds of years in one single family. When our ancestors found a good strain of yeast, it was held onto and passed down like treasure. But when you realize that some of the earliest written words in human history contain recipes for bread and beer, it makes a lot more sense—some things never change.
It all started in Egypt and further developed in France. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs trace the use of yeast to ferment drinks and leaven bread over 5,000 years ago. Although an ancient Egyptian brewery looked slightly different than the modern day equivalent, the strains used are often very much the same. The active rising ingredient in yeast was first found in 1859 by Frenchman Louis Pasteur; since the late 1800s, yeast granules have been packaged and sold as the fix.
Ever wondered what bread was like before packaged yeast? Bread yeast starters can actually be made at home because wild yeast lives everywhere. It only takes about five days to cultivate the yeast, but live starters survive on a mixture of flour and water for years.
Day 1: Mix equal parts by weight water and flour (works out to about 2 tbsp water, 3 tbsp flour) in a mason jar, place lid loosely on top and set in warm, dark place.
Day 2 and onward: “Feed” your starter with 2 tbsp filtered water and 2 tbsp flour stirred in every day, leave at room temperature, and you’re ready to bake wild sourdough bread.
-If you plan to bake once a week or so, keep starter in the fridge to slow down growth and only feed once a week.
-Avoid tap water, which contains chlorine, a mortal enemy of wild yeast; use filtered or distilled.
-Organic flour is likely to have more wild yeast because it’s not been chemically treated.
-Use half your starter each time you bake so you don’t end up with heaps of starter, or “biga” if you’re Italian.
Good for your gut
Some find wild sourdough starter to be better for their gut than the packaged yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae) you get in the store. Why? Because wild sourdough yeast (candida milleri) grows alongside lactic acid bacteria, which more thoroughly breaks down a grain’s phytic acid (not as great for our single-stomached selves, better for cows who have four). Store-bought yeast is a more isolated rising ingredient meant for fast-rising, which doesn’t break down the grain as well to help with digestion.
When the phytic acid preserver molecule (which gives grains such a long shelf life) is properly broken down, a higher protein and more nutrient-ready loaf results. But for those who eat meat regularly, this is of little concern to you; when it really comes down to it, sourdough just tastes better.
We also have a plethora of flora (no fauna!) in our gut. “Trillions of different microorganisms,” says Registered Dietitian Julia Pilliar, to be slightly more exact. “One way to ensure that we’re keeping our gut bacteria healthy and satisfied and plentiful is to include some prebiotic fibres,” which are found in whole grains that also contain more vitamins and minerals than refined grains.
With more and more people finding an intolerance to digesting gluten today, the prevalence of gluten-free bakeries, cafes and restaurants is increasing quickly. In fact, Edmonton is one of the better places to live in Canada if you need gluten-free. Blogs like Gluten Free Edmonton exist to aid the more sensitive celiacs of the bunch.