January 28, 2020

Making Bread from 5,000-Year-Old Yeast

“A sour, unfamiliar, and not particularly pleasant smell began to waft through the house, not what you would expect from bread that was fresh out of the oven. But this wasn’t ordinary bread, it had risen thanks to some exceptional yeast that had been through a long and arduous journey before arriving in my home. We sliced it, ate it, and survived to describe the taste of bread made from 5,000-year-old yeast.

Yeasts are single-celled fungi that are found more or less everywhere. The baking yeast that can be purchased in supermarkets is a version that has been improved throughout history, but along the way there have been many other types of yeasts, some of which returned to life in an unusual study that was published last month.

In the study, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Antiquities Authority, managed to make beer from yeast cells that had survived in clay vessels that had stored beer thousands of years ago. To prove that these weren’t just wild yeasts that can be found anywhere, the researchers sampled dozens of other vessels that weren’t used to store beer, along with the ground and rock at the archeological sites. Only in one clay lamp was any yeast found, and this was unusable for beer making. Moreover, yeasts similar to the ones found are used in traditional African breweries.”

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