More Magic

December 3, 2010

Saccaromyces cerevisia.

It even sounds like an incantation.

Thousands of years ago some people in Egypt probably mixed up crushed grains and let it sit. Magic happened and the flour and water started to expand. What was a handful of dough yesterday is two handfuls today! Eureka! I am sure people quickly figured out the best combinations of flour and water and some other tasty ingredients like figs and nuts and the world had leavened bread. For people then it was probably just the way of the world. Maybe it was the flour, maybe it was the water, but whatever it was, it worked and was scrumptious.

Then Louis Pasteur came along and figured out that there were actually living organisms in the bread (and beer and wine) that made the dough rise. A while before him a Dutch guy named Anton van Leeuwenhoek saw the yeast under a microscope, but didn’t realize they were alive. Microscopic yeast, which is pretty much everywhere, process simple sugars such as fructose and sucrose in order to gain energy. As they do so, they emit two biproducts, alcohol and carbon dioxide, hence the intoxicating effects of wine and the bubbliciousness of beer. In bread, the alcohol evaporates and leaves the chewy, airy and delicious bite of a good thick slice behind.

Other types of yeast may be less than magical, but I for one am quite happy to be good friends with Saccaromyces cerevisia.

Tasty pile o' treats I made with my friend S. cerevisae today


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