It’s the Microbes, Baby!

Bread is the product of fermentation. Without it, all we’d have are bricks if we just combined flour and water and heated them. But luckily for us, we have yeasts and bacteria that gas up the flour-water mixture, interact with the enzymes in the flour and produce a plethora of pleasing flavors from nutty to sugary to sour and sometimes, even a bit of umami. And the little critters are responsible for giving us the gift of bread.

They’re everywhere and there’s no escaping them. This is why you can mix flour and water and leave it sitting and after a couple of days you’ll see it bubbling. There are natural yeasts and bacteria in the flour and in the air. And when you give them some food to eat by adding water flour, which in turn releases enzymes on which the yeasts and bacteria feed, they literally go on a feeding frenzy that we know as fermentation.

And it never ceases to amaze me that fermentation is a form of decay. Yes, decay. The yeasts and bacteria actually break down the starches and sugars in the flour. The things that they produce in the process that give us all that pleasing taste are actually- to put it plainly – the microbes’ shits and farts. Yeasts give off CO2 which creates pockets and bubbles in the dough. The lactic acid bacteria produces acids as well as other by-products. And we are rewarded with their excrement! I know… when you put that way, it’s a little gross. But given the product of that fermentation, personally, I can live with it…

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