I’m picking up good fermentations

… but the Woo is giving off bad vibrations!

OhMyGosh the world is full of idiots! Tonight I was stocking over in the health foods section, which is either a great place (for our large selection of gluten-free products for coeliacs) or a magnet for all people woo-stricken.

A woman came to the grocery wanting “bread made without yeast” — I gestured to the big display of matzo (unleavened for Passover), but no, she wants loaf bread, but without yeast so her son “doesn’t get yeast infections”. I tried to explain they’re not even the same kinds of yeast, and it’d be dead after the bread’s baked anyway, but NO-O-O-O…

Yeasts are a kind of fungus: yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae is necessary for yeast-breads, beer and wine fermentation.  For sourdough breads, a variety of wild yeast Candida milleri plus acid-producing bacteria Lactobacillus sanfrancisco that gives the dough the distinctive “tang”.

For our confused customer, the yeast infection [mouth, digestive tract, vagina] is from an entirely different fungus, Candida albicans.

If you’re curious, the fuzzy black stuff that grows on bread is a mold, Rhizopus nigricans. Molds are another kind of fungus. Yummy blue cheeses [Maytag blue, Dana-blu, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton] are made possible from the mold Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum that were naturally present in the [naturally cool] caves where the cheeses were made & aged. (Nowadays the cheese wheels are injected with the appropriate mold). A few people with Penicillin antibiotic allergy may have a reaction to blue cheeses, but the quantity of the material is so much smaller in the cheese, it is rarely a problem.

I almost mentioned yogurt as a source of probiotics  — I was “this close” — but refrained. Trying to add bacteria to her mental mix of Bad Things We Can’t Pronounce & Must Avoid would have been too much for the both of us.

Related to fungi (well, related just in the sense of small organisms helpful to food), are bacteria. Most of the bacteria that exist in the world are neutral to humans, and many are beneficial.  Only a relatively small number are responsible for bacterial infections.  Truth be told, we NEED bacteria, because they are responsible for the fermentation processes that turn raw food items into different, processed food items that have better/different flavor, are more digestible, and store for long periods of time.  Some examples of these great bacteria include:

Yogurt is made possible with Lactobacillus bulgaricus or Streptococcus thermophilus. Bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus are also used as “probiotics” to improve the health of the natural gut flora/fauna.

Beneficial bacteria such as Pseudomonas putida are “biorational” micro-organisms used to fight phytopathonic [plant disease causing] fungi on a variety of plants, and can help reduce the amount of fungicides used on apple trees, etc. Is that just so cool or what?!

Another helpful bacterial byproduct we have is over in the gluten-free aisle: xanthan gum. The powder is added to baked goods as a binding agent and to provide elasticity, both qualities that would otherwise be missing because that’s what gluten proteins give to breads and baked goods. Xanthan gum is a long chain of sugar molecules (a polysaccharide) produced from the fermentation of carbohydrates by a yellow bacteria by the name of Xanthomonas campestris.  Xanthos is Greek for “yellow”; you may remember the xanthophylls or yellow pigments inside tree leaves, that are visible in the autumn after the green chlorophyll is gone.

(Sometimes people call these binomial names for organisms their “Latin names” but they really are their “scientific names”, because there’s quite a bit of Greek in them as well as Latin.)

Sauerkraut and pickles are made possible by Leuconostoc mesenteroides bacteria.  Other kinds of bacteria are responsible for the production of our favorite brined olives.  Bacteria are also involved in the fermentation of cocoa beans [for cocoa powder, cocoa butter, chocolate], the seed pods of vanilla orchids, and coffee beans. A variety of useful foodstuffs are made possible by the fermentation of soybeans, such as soy sauce and tamari. Propionibacteriaceae is responsible for the holes of Swiss cheeses,  Emmenthaler and Gruyère.  Acetobacter bacteria produce vinegars (table vinegar is 3-5% acetic acid; cleaning or weed-control vinegars about 10%).  And of course, we must make mention of the fact that bacteria are responsible for the brewing/fermentation of beer & ale, wine, and alcohol.

If we had no bacteria or yeast, we’d have no baguette chunks to dip into our cheese fondue, or coffee with our chocolate desserts. Quelle horreur!


  1. 4 November 2014 at 3:05

    […] I’m picking up good fermentations […]

  2. 15 September 2014 at 12:23

    […] I’m picking up good fermentations […]

  3. 26 August 2012 at 16:51

    […] I’m picking up good fermentations […]

  4. kategladstone said,

    23 March 2012 at 5:12

    Re: “Bad Things We Can’t Pronounce & Must Avoid” — So there are people who believe tat anything we cn decode, we can eat? Or do they believe that remaining unable to decode the big, hard wrds, Steve only way to keep healthy?

    • andrea said,

      23 March 2012 at 11:46

      The saying is, “Don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce,” meaning, artificial flavorings, colorings, preservatives and such. Which is silly, when you realise that the chemical names for ingredients or molecular components can be real tongue-twisters!
      … And then there are the chemicals that I can pronounce, but would never eat! (E.g. paradichlorobenzene, the stuff of mothballs.)

      • kategladstone said,

        23 March 2012 at 13:20

        The problem is that such a saying could only arise (or be believed, or be possibly useful) in a culture where the normal/desired state is considered to be, well, an inability to cope with long words, People who puzzle over big words are not the people I want telling me what I should or shouldn’t eat.

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