The Physical Properties and Application
I’m concerned about having yeast readily available in TEOTWAWKI. I like having dry yeast readily available by the measurable spoonful, and so I buy it in one pound bricks and then store it in a sealed quart Mason jars – one in my refrigerator door and one in my freezer– so that the yeast keeps for well over a year (if I haven’t used it up in that amount of time). It is no problem to use cold yeast directly in your recipes. It wakes up in the warm water just as if it had been stored at room temperature. However, this dry, dormant yeast won’t last forever, even in my freezer, and I wonder if I will continue to be able to buy it. I’ve used other forms of yeast also. Let’s talk about yeast and look at our options for a long-term TEOTWAWKI situation where we can’t buy our dry, packaged yeast.
The Simple Science of Common Baking Yeast
Yeasts are single-celled organisms that generally reproduce asexually through mitosis, which can be simplistically described as cellular self-replication and splitting. The yeast reproduction process is commonly referred to as budding. Yeasts differ from mold in that molds are multi-celled organisms. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the species of yeast commonly used in bread baking and in alcohol production. (There are more than 1,500 species of yeast.) According to Wikipedia, Saccharomyces is a Latin word that literally means “sugar fungus”. Yes, it is a fungus, and it is a tasty and nutritious one. It is also a yeast derived generally from sweet fruits. (We’ll look into that more later in this article.)
Biologists consider yeast to be a plant capable of reproducing itself. You can feed it sugar or carbohydrates to make it grow or kill it through starvation or heat. In the fermentation process, our baking yeast (Saccharomyces) converts carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and alcohol, giving our breads wonderful lift and flavor and, I suppose, doing something of the same for beverages (or those who consume alcoholic beverages and become “light” in the head).
For thousands of years, it is well documented that yeast has been used in bread baking and in brewing alcoholic beverages around the world. It seems that this yeast began being accumulated from the surface skins of grapes; however, back in the days when everyone made their own bread, there is much documentation (and even art) of people going to their local brewer to purchase a jug of liquid, yellow brewer’s yeast for their week’s bread baking needs.
Today’s Manufacture of Baking Yeast
According to King Arthur Flour:
In order to have a reliable supply of yeast on hand for all of our baking needs, it’s necessary for manufacturers to “domesticate” wild yeast—stabilizing it, and in the process making it 200 times stronger than its wild counterpart.
Plant scientists working with a yeast manufacturer identify certain characteristics of wild yeast that they decide are desirable; isolate them, and then replicate them. The resulting yeast is given a “training” diet to make it reproduce. Formerly based on molasses, most manufacturers now feed their growing yeast with corn syrup. Once the cells have replicated to a critical mass—a process that generally takes about a week—they’re filtered, dried, packaged, and sent off to the market.
Application of Yeast in Whole Grain Breads
Homemade bread from freshly ground whole grains is routinely a part of our family’s daily diet, and at least half of these breads are yeast breads. Sure, we enjoy whole grain biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, cookies, pastries, cakes, muffins, scones, and more, each made with baking soda or baking powder, plus I occasionally make crackers or unleavened breads too; however, a significant portion of our breads depend upon yeast. When we travel or eat out, we definitely miss the benefit of the fiber and wholesome goodness of our own freshly ground whole grain breads (and lightly cooked vegetables)! Without them, things in our well-adjusted bodies just don’t function as well. It is for this same reason that I encourage those who want to survive TEOTWAWKI in good shape begin adjusting their diets now to include fresh whole grain flours and not just the products at the store that say “whole grain”. The difference between the grain you grind yourself and what you buy in the store is significant, because so many of these store items just have a small portion of their content that includes whole grain, plus as soon as the grain is cracked the germ and nutrients begin to deteriorate and some are lost within a few days. Using truly fresh flour captures the greatest amount of nutrient and fiber and prepares us for what we will deal with in TEOTWAWKI. Since our whole, uncracked grains store indefinitely, we wait to grind grain until we have need of flour and then just grind what we are going to need for the day (or possibly two days).
Fiber– real, heavy fiber– affects your body. If you wait to begin grinding your grain and using it for flour and homemade breads and cereals for the first time after TEOTWAWKI, you are not only in for some frustration in learning how to go about doing all of this successfully, but your body may have a significant digestive fitness adjustment. Your body’s plumbing may initially be sluggish from its habit of eating highly processed foods and become constipated and then possibly shift to the opposite. If this is the case, you may not have a pleasant go of it. Imagine this physical discomfort occurring simultaneously to the stress of adjusting to life in a chaotic situation without electricity or running water and you are in short supply of toilet paper (or at least worried about your supply), and I haven’t even mentioned the social unrest or relocation circumstances that you may be enduring, too. Again, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to begin living the wholesome, healthy dietary lifestyle now that you plan on living in a TEOTWAWKI situation, including eating whole grains, increased quantities of greens including wild/weedy ones, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, and reduced quantities of processed meats and foods.
In addition to using yeasts in breads, it is used in fermenting sauces and alcohol. I have no expertise there, at least not at this time, but it is something that I may look at in the future, as I definitely can see great life-sustaining value in being able to make our own wine and distilled alcohols for medicinal purposes that go beyond pleasure.
Sources of Yeast
Right now, we have a variety of commercial yeasts available to us. We have several kinds of instant/rapid rise yeasts as well as active yeasts and also fresh yeast. Do you know the difference and which might be better for storage? Well, the instant/rapid rise yeasts are smaller celled organisms that provide more surface space when placed into warm liquid to active and thus enable it to activate more quickly. Instant/rapid rise doesn’t produce a bigger rise in bread, but it is quick and convenient. Active yeasts are larger celled organisms that take a little longer to activate in liquid but produce the same rise in bread as its smaller version. Fresh yeast comes in cubes that crumble when touched; it has a very, very short shelf life and is not available everywhere. Yeast is a living orgasm, and it needs energy to survive, though it retains some within its cellular structure. By keeping yeast in the freezer or refrigerator, we are able to slow its activity. It seems to me that the larger celled orgasm– active yeast– would be better able to retain more resources for a longer shelf life than the instant yeasts, and in my research that is in fact what I discovered. So, for storage purposes, active yeast has the longest shelf life and is what I choose to use and keep in the freezer and refrigerator. I store at least a two-year supply in the freezer, even though it may not be “as” active in year two as it was in its first year, but it may still have some life to it to boost my starters.
Introduction to Wild Yeasts
There are very practical and relatively easy ways of dealing with having no dry yeast, if it becomes unavailable commercially. Certainly, the dry active yeast most of us use in our recipes and activate with warm water is the simplest and very easiest form, but there are other ways to use yeast for bread leavening, and there are some benefits and flavor enhancing qualities that can be added in these methods, also.
Yeasts grow on organic matter, especially sweet organic matter. It is on the surface of fruits, vegetables, and grains and can be lying around your home dormant just about everywhere, especially if you are a bread maker, like me. While I usually use dry yeast, I will definitely need to capture some of the available wild yeasts in my possession to make our family’s beloved breads in a TEOTWAWKI situation. Even now, there are times when I grow yeast and modify bread flavors using it, keeping some continuously alive in my refrigerator for weeks or months at a time. (We’ll talk about sour dough a little later.)
Anyway, whoever wants yeast bread or to make beer or wine will need to produce yeast once their commercial yeast supply is depleted. I am delighted to share with you that it is possible to produce your own yeast and also to produce pre-fermented dough that stores and can be used as bread “starter”.
I recall my mother making a jar of mixed fruit yeast water. I thought it looked and smelled horrible, but I was just a youngster. What did I know!?! Back then, I didn’t like vinegar or wine. I did like the bread that was her final result though. Yum!
The basic and very old way to capture yeast is to make yeast water. This is done simply by growing natural yeast, found on the surface of dried fruits, in room temperature water, and to speed the growth you can feed the yeast a little sugar or honey. Yeast naturally accumulates on dried raisins, apricots, apples, and cranberries, so these are good to use or you can use a combination of fruits. Just be sure that you are using pesticide-free/organic dried fruits. Here are the simple steps:
- Clean and sterilize a glass jar, making sure to rinse it very well. (I use a quart Mason jar, as I keep these in abundance for many purposes.)
- Filter some water (to remove chlorine and lower the pH if it is alkaline, as a pH level should be between 4.5 and 6.0), and let it sit to adjust to room temperature (75-85 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Put 3-4 Tbsp of dried raisins (or other fruit) in your clean, glass jar.
- Pour 3 cups of the filtered, room temperature water over the raisins in the jar.
- Add 1 Tbsp organic sugar or honey to your water and stir.
- Put the lid on loosely to allow a bit of airflow for gasses to escape but not allow bugs or dust to enter.
- Let it sit on the counter at room temperature for about three days (and up to a week in winter).
- When raisins float to the surface and small bubbles form on the surface, smell it. You should be able to smell the fruity yeast smell, similar to wine at this point. If not, add a bit more fruit.
- Once it has reached the right bubble and smell activity level, store it in the refrigerator to use in making pre-fermented dough.
Pre-Fermented Starter and Pâte Fermentée Dough
While the Italians call it “biga” and the French call it “poolish”, this pre-fermented dough starter is simply a wet mixture of flour and water with a small amount of yeast that is allowed to rest at room temperature for a long period (usually 12-24 hours and sometimes longer) to allow the yeast (and some probiotic-type bacteria) to multiply and improve the dough’s texture and taste. Then this biga or poolish is added into new dough to complete the bread dough recipe. Most Italian breads, including Ciabatta and Pugliese, are made using bigas. These are some of our family’s favorite table breads, and they require that I begin the process days in advance of serving them on the table; however, we find the taste, texture, and crust to be worth the advance planning. I usually allow my whole wheat bread doughs to sit for at least several hours to pre-ferment and also for the grains to soften before completing the recipe. Pâte Fermentée, which means “old dough” in French, differs from biga and poolish in that this dough is merely a portion of regular dough that is set aside to be added to the next batch of bread dough to continue the yeast and bacterial strains in order to preserve a consistent bread flavor between batches. In using these methods, we are able to reduce the amount of yeast required and can use our yeast water instead of active dry yeast in bread recipes.
While these pre-fermented doughs have hours and even days to sit at room temperature, they are not sour. Even the Pâte Fermentée is used for many doughs that are not sour, though this process is also used for sour dough, too. A lot has to do with how long the dough is allowed to sit and its ratios of yeast, sugar, water, and temperature, et cetera.
The sour dough process is believed to be the oldest form of bread leavening. InfoGalactic references the very expensive Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology report of sour dough being excavated in Switzerland that was dated from 3700 BCE. (That was some pretty stale bread, I’d imagine.) Good sour dough is wonderful, as it is recognized and applauded around the world but especially in San Francisco. It captures yeast from the grain itself and uses the sugars from the grain to grow and reproduce.
To make a superb wheat flour sour dough “mother” or starter can be a tricky process. The production of a good sourdough, in modern manufacturing kitchen, employs exact control of the acidity developed during the process as well as highly controlled temperature, time, dough yield (dough firmness), and type and species of microflora. Additionally, there are multiple processes for producing sour dough as well. The final results of all of this effort to produce good sour dough bread is not known until the final product is produced, baked, and tasted. We do not have all of these controls and simply must do our best and then taste the yield. Here’s the simplest process that I use:
- In a large glass bowl, mix one cup of whole wheat (or quality all-purpose) flour into one cup of filtered warm water; blend it well, and loosely cover the bowl; let it sit to ferment at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for one day. (If your home is cooler than this, place it on top of your refrigerator or on another steadily “warm” appliance.)
- The next day, add 3/4 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of warm, filtered water to the mixture; cover loosely and again place in a warm place for another day.
- On each of the third and fourth days, add another 3/4 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of warm, filtered water, returning the bowl to the warm place to continue fermenting.
- On the fifth day, smell it to see if it has the sweet-sour smell you desire for your dough. If it has any funny colors, discard it; however, I’ve not had any problems. If it needs longer, repeat step three and check again the next day. My sour dough starter has been ready for my favorite sour dough bread recipes on the fifth or sixth day (though it may take you a few days longer, depending upon your climate and/or flour choice as well as the availability of wild yeasts in your home). If you have a sterile home and rarely bake breads, then this is a factor that may also cause your starter to take longer also.
After completing this four-step process and obtaining your good-smelling sour dough starter, store it covered in the refrigerator. Each day begin removing the amount of starter you need for making bread or throw out the excess, but be sure to feed your living sour dough starter every day. It is alive and will die if not fed! I add about 3/4 cup of flour plus 1/3 cup of warm water solution each day. I sometimes use even more flour to thicken my final sour dough starter before putting it in the refrigerator to help it maintain the yeast in the refrigerator. If it gets too thick, just add water. Also, if you get tired of maintaining your sour dough starter, I’ve read that it can be air dried by smearing it on a silpat non-stick sheet and storing it then in an airtight container for months until you want to use it and activate it in warm water. (I haven’t done this before. If you have, you might write to SurvivalBlog about your experience. Having a dry sour dough starter to carry in our BOB is a great idea, if it really works!)
So, in my final conclusion about yeast, I know that it is everywhere and can be multiplied in the proper conditions and used to leaven all kinds of breads. We can store the commercial yeast in the freezer or refrigerator. We can capture yeast from fruit in yeast water and use yeast water to make wonderful pre-ferment dough and artisan breads, and we can simply use wholesome grains and filtered water to make sour dough starters that will leaven our sour dough breads. The non-commercial options take some time, but their tastes and results are superior and worth the effort, especially if our commercial yeasts are unavailable.
If you haven’t tried to capture wild yeasts and make pre-ferments or sour dough starter, I suggest you give it a try. You’ll be satisfied in knowing that you can. It becomes fairly easy and routine after you get the hang of it. It’s one more step in self sufficiency, plus you just might get a taste for your own homemade whole grain breads and make a lifestyle change that saves your colon or your life.
I wish you well, until we meet again on SurvivalBlog!