Modern History of Baker’s Yeast

Man’s bread making processes drastically changed during the 19th century when baker’s yeast was introduced. Different civilizations throughout history found that through the control of time, temperature, moisture, and oxygen they could control how bread turned out. What they may not have known is that they were controlling which microbes flourished and which didn’t. We see this clearly with alcohol fermentation which seams to have always gone hand in hand with bread making. By controlling these factors brewers are able to manipulate microbes to produce alcohol rather than vinegar through fermentation. By feeding grain and water often with a natural leaven, bakers promote yeast production which in turn produces carbon dioxide to give the baker light and airy breads.

In 1780, Dutch distillers began selling yeast commercially. This process known as the Dutch process spread to Germany around 1800 and yeast was sold in the form of cream. In 1825, the yeast manufacturer Tebbenhof devised a way to compress yeast into cakes while extracting moisture.In 1867 Reiminghaus developed the filter press which improved the industrial manufacture of baker’s yeast. This new process became known as the Viennese process and soon spread throughout the French market. These yeast cakes are still used today throughout Europe. I remember learning to make bread in the early 90’s in Finland with compressed yeast cakes that I had purchased at the local market.

Charles Fleischmann was an immigrant from Europe. Trained as a young boy in a distillery he learned all about a by-product of distilling, yeast. He was familiar with the new process of making breads with baker’s yeast and the fine breads of Europe. America at that time was still using the old fashioned methods of “salt rising bread” where natural leavened breads were placed in a barrel of salt which would retain the heat of the day so the dough could rise or proof over night. America was a new frontier not exposed to the new yeast of Europe. After several years of trying to convince Americans to switch from their old ways to the new yeast, Charles Fleischmann and his partner James Gaff presented their yeast in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition (world’s fair) in Philadelphia where they demonstrated the leavening power of their yeast, baked bread & pastries in their Vienna model bakery and served them to guests. The fair attracted 10 million visitors and catapulted Fleischmann’s compressed yeast into fame. Fleischmann cornered the market in America and ran adds such as “Everybody knows that Fleischmann & Co’s compressed yeast makes the best bread.”

Compressed yeast became the mainstay of baking until Fleishchmann again revolutionized baking by developing Active Dry Yeast during the onset of World War II. This new yeast didn’t need refrigeration and just needed warm water to activate, allowing soldiers to eat home-baked bread.

In 1984 Fleischmann patented a new process for isolating its desired strains of yeast in its trademarked rapid rise yeast where rising time was decreased by 50%. Today we still see compressed yeast cakes used in Europe. If you go to the grocery store in the U.S. you will find mostly Active Dry Yeast in various brands along with some of fleishmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast.

In my opinion, the isolation of preferential yeast strains isn’t inherently harmful to humans. However, these processes are essentially adding more baker’s yeast to breads to get a much more rapid rise. By using yeast in such large amounts, the yeast do not have time to break down the grains along with the fact that very few if any lactobacilli are present. Consuming too much of anything can be harmful. Some people have even developed antibodies to baker’s yeast which creates it’s own health challenges with consuming breads. The biggest problem with using baker’s yeast is man has not let nature work as it normally does allowing many forms of yeast and many forms of lactabacilli bacteria to live and grow together harmoniously.  We have upset this yeast and bacteria balance that nature has so well developed and which providently detoxifies grains for human health and enjoyment.




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  1. bonnie Goff says:

    I have celiac disease and have tried gluten free bread mixes using regular grocery store yeast – after eating for several days I do not feel well – not violently sick – just not well. This article on natural leavening helps me understand the reason I can’t eat the regular gluten free breads – And I need to listen to what my body is telling me ! Thanks for helping !
    Bonnie Goff
    Grants Pass, Oregon

  2. Rachel says:

    So, what do you think about using 1/4 tsp. commercial yeast and then letting the bread ferment, rise overnight?

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Good question. You can add baker’s yeast to natural leavening, also known as sourdough. In fact, that is basically what many professional bakers do with their sourdough. However, we don’t add any baker’s yeast at all. Why? Is it because we are sourdough purists? Well…yes, but let’s dive into the natural leavening science to see the pros and cons adding baker’s yeast. First of all if you want to spike your bread with yeast, do it at the end of the fermentation so that the local microbiota of your natural leavening have broken down the grain properly. Then, add the yeast afterward. But adding baker’s yeast really isn’t necessary. It might be a little more difficult to time when your bread will be ready using natural leavening but it can still be light and fluffy. BTW, I assume you are using whole grains and not white flour. Analysis of bakeries from around the world show that a natural leaven consists of several different strains of yeast as well as several different strains of bacteria which all live together symbiotically. Natural leaven which is allowed to ferment at room temperature 68-80.6 °F (20-27 °C) favors the predominant yeast strain Candida milleri and the predominant bacteria strain Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Maltose is a type of sugar which is formed in dough. Baker’s yeast such as Saccharomyces cerevisieae feed on maltose but candida milleri cannot break it down. On the other hand lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis thrives on maltose. By adding baker’s yeast you are upsetting that natural balance. So use the baker’s yeast if you like, but my recommendation is to stick to your natural leavening. As you learn the rhythm of its life cycle you can learn to make both healthy and light breads using natural leavening.

      • Rachel says:

        Thank you for your great response. I am grinding and using whole grain flour, but I’m not using any natural leaven. I just start the process off with the tiny bit of commercial yeast. I’m honestly scared of the commitment of taking care of and using a starter. So, what you’re telling me is that if I’m not using natural yeast things aren’t breaking down correctly even though I’m giving it fermenting time?

        • Dr. McClean says:

          Exactly, the bacteria in natural leavening are essential to breaking down the grain. The natural yeast are only a small part of natural leavening. That is why we prefer to call it natural leavening, natural leaven or sourdough.

        • Amy McClean, R.D. says:

          Good for you for freshly grinding whole grain flour and considering natural leavening. Making a time commitment to anything new in life can be daunting. If you are already grinding your flour, then “feeding” or refreshing your natural leavening will only take 1 additional minute of your time! Literally, it only takes an extra minute to add some flour and some water to a few teaspoons of natural leaven and stir! You can do it. The initial time investment comes with making new recipes. We have a couple batter recipes to get you started. There is another very versatile pancake and waffle recipe in with our Natural Leavening starter, as well as flat bread and loaf recipes. I recommend you master the breads in that order: batter or quick breads, flat breads, then loaf breads. If you’re ever in the Utah Valley area of Utah, you are welcome to come to one of our classes!

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