Search
  • Meyrick Consulting

Don't take the rise out of yeast!



A perfect indication that the new normal is actually happening has been the reappearance of dried yeast on supermarket shelves. No biggie, you might think, but read on.


For weeks every trip was frustrated by empty spaces where strong plain flour and yeast once resided. The reliance on these handy sachets made me realise that convenience had duped us all into accepting homogeneity and flavour sacrifice. Come on, people used to leave water and flour dough to rise under an apple tree; there were sufficient yeast spores in the air to do the job. It might sound extreme but there was life before packet yeast. So, how did we all manage to turn our backs so completely on taste and sour dough starters?



Yeast alone is a fascinating subject


Elizabeth David, in her book Bread and Yeast Cookery said that:


‘In Chaucer’s England one of the names for yeast or barm was goddisgoode ‘bicause it cometh of the grete grace of God’.


It actually comes from the air and has a cell structure similar to human beings. Surely, we should have a more symbiotic relationship with the fungi that is, after all, surrounding us?


We use yeast for bread and yeast bakery and also for brewing


But it is only relatively recently that we have industrialised yeast production and also pumped our commercial doughs full of air. It seems so odd that our modern-day reliance has been so total when we have been using wild yeasts since 3200BC. However, Cara Technology, based in Leatherhead in Surrey, is leading a crusade for wild yeasts. Set up by Dr Bill Simpson, brewer and microbiologist, sixteen years ago, it collects and stores wild yeasts from all over the world in its living collection.



Cara Technologies has cryogenic facilities


This equates to a metal box that acts as a thermos flask. Here Liquid Nitrogen is kept as cold as possible and several hundred yeast strains are preserved in a natural state. This means when they are returned to room temperature, the yeasts are alive and can, therefore, be stored for centuries. What Cara Technologies has in its possession are the key resources to provide yeast for most types of beer brewed today. Not only that but they have the yeasts that brewed beer 50 years and even a century ago. Dr Bill Simpson calls it a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of brewers’ yeast stretching back to 1891.


You can imagine this facility is kept secure with 24 hour security


It is a highly valuable resource. Imagine if some of these yeasts were lost. They are a commodity and is traded that way. It seems strange when you think that yeast is indigenous and very much part of the natural world. In fact, nature helps us along as bees carry yeast vast distances too. Beetles also transport yeast in their gut and by walking spread yeast everywhere.



Should we return to regionalised yeast?


Yet, what we have forgotten when we rip open a packet of dried yeast is that we have lost the regional taste of yeasts. Once upon a time a region’s yeast was very important and should you travel between one county and another it would be likely that bread and beer would taste quite different as a consequence.



Even between countries you can plot yeasts’ journeys.


In the United States cowboys carried yeasts in their saddle bags and therefore these travelled east to west. Actually, one example of the localised strains is called Bacteriam Lactobacillus San Fransisco. This happened only after it had been on the road for half a century!


Technology and commercial yeast production


Yeast as commodity developed when people started to wonder how it was possible to remove the inconsistencies and capacity to spoil from yeast. There was a focus on the good parts of yeast and an extraction of the less favourable aspects. A major player in these developments was Dr Emile Hansen who successfully isolated and produced a pure culture which removed the unpredictability. Hansen was working at the Carlsberg Factory in Copenhagen back in 1881. His discovery was so profound the yeast was named The Carlsberg Number 1 Yeast. In a philanthropic act Carlsberg released their new strain and now 50% of the world’s beers are brewed using it. Of course, it has had a massive impact on brewing, as yeasts that had been used for centuries were now binned and we traded consistency for homogeneity.



The 60s bought us tasteless bread


This was the same in the bread industry when in 1961 the Chorleywood process was introduced. Now 80% of the bread we buy is made by Chorleywood process. It uses two simple standardised yeast and additives. This produces a fluffy and quick pretty tasteless bread that keeps well and is very consistent.


One thing the pandemic will have demonstrated is how we can bake at home


Home-made bread is very different from mass produced loaves. It will be interesting to see if future development of artisan bakers, but without a prohibitive price tag, thrive post- lockdown. Unlike the French we were never savvy enough in the UK to protect our national bread.


Give praise to the humble yeast; it’s a commodity we just cannot exist without. From a recruitment perspective, skills and innovation require great people. Having the right technical skills within your business will give you the ability to innovate. This means you are more likely to be able to bring new products to market ahead of your competition.



However, finding people with the correct blend of technical skills and understanding of your particular business is never easy. This is especially true if you are operating within a very narrow and well-defined niche. You cannot rely on merely placing an advertisement online and waiting with the vague hope that the best possible candidate will a) actually see the ad and b) apply.


The only way to effectively find and attract top talent is by taking a proactive approach. This means going into the market and gently coercing them away from their existing employer. My job is to convince them you have a better opportunity elsewhere. This is what we do and have done very effectively for a number of years. If this sounds like what you need then please contact me directly at mike@meyrickconsulting.com