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Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Natural Yeast"

So I was listening to the Good Food podcast on KCRW - a pretty well produced podcast, by the way - but it does tend to veer into the various wading pools of pseudoscience that pervades food enthusiast culture. On this particular episode, they were airing an interview with a bread baker, who proudly declares the the bread didn't contain any yeast, just a sour dough starter.

Now, I hear this a lot, as if commercial yeast were somehow inferior to wild "natural" yeast that the baker procured by chance. Some may even say it reflects the mystic "terroir" of the area. And in the same circles, "inferior" is often rounded down to "wrong". And such sourdough loaves can somehow be tolerated by the gluten intolerant (even though gluten is still there - it's again some kind of magical property that the mystic yeast imbues to the bread).

This kind of worship of the unknown somehow lends comfort to the hegemony of the kitchen. What industrially produced yeast has is predictability. We know exactly how long it will take to leaven the loaf, and it's been bred not to carry unexpected flavors. It does not obviate the inclusion of non-standardized microbial cultures, but certainly no reason to demonize the servile commercial yeast we can rely upon.