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What is yeast and is it vegan?
Yeasts are single-celled microscopic
organisms which, as they grow, convert their food into
alcohol and carbon dioxide through a process known as
fermentation. Yeast is used by winemakers, brewmasters,
and bakers in the making of wine, beer, and bread. The
carbon dioxide from yeast is what makes beer frothy
and champagne bubbly and causes yeasted bread dough
rise. Pure yeast, regardless of the strain, is vegan.
In order to multiply and grow, yeast
needs moisture, food (in the form of sugar or starch),
and a warm, nurturing environment. Wild yeast spores
are constantly floating in the air and landing on uncovered
foods and liquids. They are used to promote the natural
fermentation of certain foods such as sauerkraut and
pickles and provide the leavening for breads that traditionally
do not contain added yeast, such as sourdough bread.
The Egyptians used yeast as a leavening
agent more than 5,000 years ago, and fermented beverages,
including wine, were made for thousands of years before
that. Scientists have been able to identify and isolate
specific yeasts that are best suited for various purposes.
The principal yeasts used today are baker's yeast, brewer's
yeast, and nutritional yeast.
There are a number of different types
of baker's yeasts, but all are considered "alive," that
is, active and capable of leavening bread. Brewer's
yeasts are special non-leavening yeasts used in the
manufacture of beer. Brewer's yeast that is sold in
natural food stores is a by-product of the brewing industry.
Because it is a rich source of B vitamins, it is often
promoted as a "health food," but brewer's yeast can
have a very bitter taste and is therefore not recommended
for use in cooking. Another product commonly found in
natural food stores is torula yeast, which is a non
leavening yeastlike organism that is grown on waste
products from the wood pulp industry.
Brewer's yeast and torula yeast are
frequently confused with nutritional yeast. Nutritional
yeast is a primary grown food crop, which means it is
cultivated specifically for use as a nutritional supplement.
This yeast is dried at higher temperatures than baking
yeast, rendering it inactive. Unlike the live yeasts
used in breadmaking and brewing, nutritional yeast has
no fermenting or leavening power.
The brand of nutritional yeast I recommend
is Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula (VSF). This is
currently the only nutritional yeast product with a
consistent nutritional profile that is rich in the B-complex
vitamins riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin, and
includes a reliable source of vitamin B12 (cobalamine),
an important nutrient often lacking in the diets of
vegans. The B12 used in Red Star VSF is derived from
natural bacterial fermentation, not animal products.
The careful growing process used by Red Star ensures
a high-quality source of protein with essential and
non-essential amino acids. VSF also contains folic acid,
which is important for the formation, growth, and reproduction
of red blood cells, and provides several minerals including
selenium, chromium, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium.
In addition to its use as a supplement,
VSF nutritional yeast adds a delicious nutty flavor
to many foods. Its chameleon-like qualities make it
highly adaptable, and it is prized by vegans for its
uncanny ability to add poultry-, egg-, or cheese-like
undertones to vegan dishes.
Some individuals who have difficulty
digesting yeasted or fermented foods often find they
have no problem tolerating nutritional yeast. Nevertheless,
people who are allergic to yeast should avoid all the
various types of yeasts and abstain from products that
contain them or that have been fermented.
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