Would You Eat Bread Made From 4,500-Year Old Yeast?

The process of baking bread, especially sourdough, is kind of weird when you really think about it. Yeast, which makes the bread rise, is essentially tiny fungi, and when mixed with flour and water, fermentation occurs. Sourdough starters are “alive,” in a sense. So what happened when a history lover got his hands on some yeast that’s thousands of years old? 

Getting started

Seamus Blackley, known to video game lovers as a cof-ounder of Xbox, has always loved history and Egyptology. He connected with Dr. Serena Love and found some ancient yeast from two museums from Boston. Then, he worked with microbiologist Richard Bowman to inject the yeast with some nutrients, and extract the liquid that formed. Seamus kept one sample for himself and started tending to a bread starter. For authenticity, he used hand-milled barley and einkorn, a very early form of wheat. After a week, the starter was ready and mixed with unfiltered olive oil, more water, and grains. 

yeast in jar

Bubbling yeast

Are you bready for this? 

So, how did the bread taste? Pretty good, apparently! Seamus shared his whole journey on his Twitter in August, describing the aroma as sweet and rich, and the flavor as “incredible”, with a light crumb. The project isn’t over, however, it’s just beginning. With his new friends, Seamus plans on getting more yeast samples and baking in Egyptian-style pots, not a conventional oven. Research on the genetic aspect of the yeast will really get going, and of course, lots of bread will be baked. In response to a comment on making beer, Seamus replied, “We will,” but informed followers that the beer would be very strange compared to what we’re used to. It’s an “uncarbonated alcoholic grain slurry,” he said. If he does try making beer, it’s unlikely he will find it as delicious as the bread.