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Yeast 101: Baker's, Brewer's, Nutritional, Wild, Extract and Red Yeast Rice

4:04 PM

Happy Tuesday (although it feels like Monday, right?)! Did you enjoy your Labor Day? We hope you had great weather and ate some grilled goodness and had a wonderful, relaxing, allergy-free time. Tanya and I unplugged pretty hardcore this weekend—we went to a music festival, grilled out with family, played outside with Rupert and rode some roller coasters at an amusement park. Now, if only we had a weekend to recover from all of that.

Today we wanted to dive into a topic that we don't know much about: yeast. When I was first diagnosed with a yeast problem I thought, what does that even mean? It seems pretty vague. Then, once I started looking, I found that it's in everything. If you're allergic to yeast, or shops for someone who is, you're probably already mind-blown at the number of yeast-containing products—from stocks, to crackers, to soups, to chips, to dairy-free cheeses, and so much more.

Now, there's a lot I want to write about here. I want to explore the connection between Celiac and yeast issues (because there is one!) and I want to read more about yeast elimination diets (because I'm having symptoms and I need to do one). So more about that to come, but today I want to start with the basics.

What Is Yeast?
Yeast is a microorganism classified in the kingdom (remember those, from high school biology?) Fungi. There are over 1500 different species, some of which convert carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and alcohols (aka, fermentation) while others prove to be pathogens that cause infection in humans. It's found almost everywhere—in the air, in the soil, living on some fruit skins, associated with some insects, and even hiding out in your body or between your toes.

What Is Baker's Yeast?
Baker's yeast is a species of yeast with a mouthful of a name: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It's used as a leavening agent in breads (and, neat fact, it's also found inside your body). You might know baker's yeast by its form, including cream yeast, compressed yeast (or cake yeast), active dry yeast, instant yeast and rapid-rise yeast. We don't know much about baking with it, but A Sweet Chef does and you can read all about it here.

What Is Brewer's Yeast?
There are two main groups of brewer's yeast: top-fermenting and bottom-fermeting (sometimes called "top-cropping" and "bottom-cropping"). These behave differently and ferment best at different temperatures; top-fermenting is usually used to make ales, while bottom-fermenting usually works well for lagers. Interestingly enough, the most common top-fermenting species is also Saccharomyces cerevisiae—yep, the same as baker's yeast! It isn't exactly identical, though, as strains of baking yeast is cultivated to be more aggressive while strains of brewer's is cultivated to produce fewer "yeasty" flavors. Strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae are also used to make wine.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?
We've been wondering this too, because there was a time (after my dairy allergy diagnosis, before my yeast one) that we used nutritional yeast for cheese flavoring. It's sold as yellow flakes (think instant mashed potatoes, but yellow) and is usually housed in the bulk section of health food stores. We would sprinkle it over popcorn and mix it into sauces—it's a great source of protein and vitamins. And, as it turns out, it's a deactivated form of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Of the 1500 yeast species, that one is popular!

What Is Wild Yeast?
Sometimes called indigenous yeast, wild yeast is found on plants, fruits and grains (as opposed to grown in a lab, as many are). One such species, Saccharomyces exiguous is sometimes used for baking. Wild yeasts are occasionally used to make wine, especially since they occur naturally on grape skins, but they are less predictable than the laboratory stuff and yield inconsistent results.

What Is Yeast Extract?
Pretty much what it sounds, yeast extract is processed yeast made by extracting the contents of yeast cells. It's sold in a number of different forms and is used as an additive in many packaged foods. As we mentioned before, trying to shop around it is hard. Tanya and I know that, if a dairy-free cheese is yellow, it probably has yeast. Even if bread is gluten free, it probably has yeast.

What Is Red Yeast Rice?
Red yeast rice (also called red fermented rice, red rice koji, and more) is good news, that's what it is! Why? Because it isn't actually a yeast at all—it's actually mold (which is gross, but not really more gross than fungus). Red yeast rice is used to color foods like pickled tofu and red rice vinegar, and is also often used to make sake and Korean rice wine. So, if you see red yeast rice on a label, you're likely safe.

There you go: yeast in a nutshell. We feel so much smarter now—and we hope you do too.

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