Caleb Warnock is co-author of The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins (with Melissa Richardson) and author of the national bestseller The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers.
© 2012 Caleb Warnock. The contents of this blog post are not in the public domain and may not be used without the express written permission of the author.
Few people realize that the yeast in grocery stores is not a naturally-occurring substance. Laboratory created in 1984, the yeast sold today is so foreign to our digestive systems that some people develop allergies to the yeast itself. This quick-rising yeast appears increasingly connected to the nutritional and digestive disorders that plague so many. Natural yeast flattens the glycemic index, takes away heartburn and acid reflux forever, helps prevent or reverse gluten intolerance and, in some cases, full-blown Celiac’s disease, turns natural phytic acid into an anti-oxidant, controls allergies, and turns flour into a yeast that is both pre-biotic and pro-biotic.
Beyond health benefits, natural yeast is simple to use, costs nothing, tastes wonderful, completely cuts out the need to buy commercial yeast, and drastically reduces the need for baking powder and baking soda. You can easily use it not only to make bread, but also waffles, pancakes, breadsticks, pizza dough, scones, rolls, and even old-fashioned root beer.
Yeast is a single-celled fungus, and the first domesticated living creature in history. Modern science has identified more than 1,000 different varieties of wild yeast. These organisms are so small that hundreds of millions, if not billions, fit into a single teaspoon.
Wild yeast is everywhere -- in the air you breathe, on the bark of trees, on leaves. Ever seen the white film on backyard grapes? That’s wild yeast. The same film can be found of juniper berries. For centuries, both berries have been used as natural “start” for bread yeast.
But not all yeast varieties are the same. For example, the kind of yeast used to make beer is not the same kind of yeast used to make bread. Different natural yeasts have different flavors -- some are strongly sour, some are mildly sour, and some are not sour at all. Natural yeast is sometimes mistakenly referred to as sourdough, but with the right strain of yeast, it doesn’t have to be sour unless that is the flavor you prefer. Some natural yeasts are better are raising bread than others. This is why the best strains of natural yeast has been passed down through generations and communities. Hundreds of people around the nation have gotten free, non-sour natural yeast starts from me.
Until the 19th century, homemade yeast was the only kind there was. In 1857 Louis Pasteur discovered that living organisms -- yeasts -- were responsible for fermentation. Yeast was already an important business, even though no one had understood how it worked. The production of commercial yeast began in France in the 1850s. In the U.S., compressed yeast cakes were introduced to the nation at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition in 1876 , which drew 10 million visitors. When America entered World War II, yeast companies developed dry yeast for the military which did not require refrigeration. And then in 1984, rapid-rising yeast was invented in U.S. laboratories.
Today that yeast has all but replaced natural yeast. But not everyone is convinced that the convenience of super-fast yeast outweighs the health benefits of the slow rising process of natural yeast.
A word of caution. If you type “sourdough starter” into Google, you will get hundreds of recipes for starting “sourdough” from commercial yeast. But very little grocery store yeast is now true natural yeast. The best way to get real natural yeast is from someone using a documented strain. The author, Caleb Warnock, mails flakes of natural “sweet” yeast to anyone who requests them at no charge, along with instructions for growing out the yeast. And once you have a start of natural yeast, you can have it for the rest of your life. You can dry it, freeze it, keep it in the fridge, or grow it on your kitchen counter. To get a start of the author’s documented 200-year-old strain of natural yeast, send an email to calebwarnock.yahoo.com.
Here is the link to my blog, and you can click on the cover of the new cookbook to look inside the book. Not to press my luck, but if you order two copies, the shipping is FREE! CalebWarnock.blogspot.com