Yeast plays an important role in making bread and producing alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and mead. It is important to note, however, that not all yeast is the same. Large companies normally use a “house yeast,” also known as “domestic yeast,” which is grown in a lab using science-based methods and consistent conditions. Recently there has been a rise in popularity of “wild yeast,” especially in small businesses and with curious individuals.
So, What Is Wild Yeast?
Wild yeast is a type of yeast that naturally exists in the air or environment. There are many ideas on how to capture and cultivate wild yeast. One commonly used (but not scientifically researched) method is:
- Mix two cups of flour and two cups of water in a glass or pottery bowl.
- Lay a rag on top of the bowl and let it sit.
- After 24 hours, pour off about a cup of the mixture and feed it with another cup of flour and another cup of water.
- In a few days, the mixture will become frothy as the yeast population grows.
- Leave the starter on the kitchen counter for 5 days.
- Feed it every day or two by dividing it in half and adding a cup of flour and a cup of water to one half of it (you can throw the other half away).
- When you see a watery substance floating to the top (slightly yellow), stir it.
- At this point you can do one of two things:
- You can store it in the refrigerator and feed it every 5 or 6 days.
- Or keep it on the kitchen counter and feed it every day.
Once the yeast is grown and captured, it can be used the same way as a commercially produced yeast.
Challenges of Wild Yeast: Though the low-cost nature of wild yeast seems appealing, with minimum scientific research, using wild yeast can create challenges. One of these challenges is inconsistent quality. For example, bakers have noted that wild yeast doesn’t offer a dependable “rise” when baking bread, so they tend to reserve it for flatter breads like sourdough. This is largely due to the lack of a scientifically researched method to produce and capture a consistent and quality product. Another example is the superior ability of domesticated yeast to ferment maltose than wild yeast. The debate over wild versus domestic is ongoing!
Recommendations When Using Wild Yeast: If you decide to adventure into the world of wild yeast, here are some recommendations for you to follow.
- When using wild yeast, avoid creating conditions that encourage pathogens to grow. These include: food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture. Those six factors can be remembered from the acronym FAT TOM.
- In addition, if you are not capturing wild yeast on your own, but buying it from someone else, make sure to research the source.
- Finally, make sure to discard any starters that show signs of mold or discoloration.
IF you are intrigued with the idea of using wild yeast, you can use this information to determine which type of yeast is best for you and the product you are producing. Just remember to always stay on the side of caution with wild yeast so your food/beverage will be both delicious and safe!