Should we use yeast?

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In the original Wheat Belly recipes to recreate breads, I largely avoided the use of yeast to generate “rise,” as I did not want to chance persistent adverse health effects from the yeast component of wheat and grain products, though the risk is small and applies to only a few percentage of people. While grain elimination needs to be an absolute 100%, 7-day-per-week process, I have to admit that most people can do just fine by including yeast in their recipes. Doing so will restore the yeasty scent and flavors to non-grain baking, so much so that you could easily mistake a grain-free loaf of bread for a grain-based one. So I’ve lately been playing around with non-grain bread recipes using yeast.

Yeasts and fungi are everywhere: in the air, soil, water, on your skin, mouth, nasal passages, in beer, and on any food left exposed to air for more than a few minutes. It means that, even if you don’t include yeast in your baking, you consume small quantities of yeast every day. If you consume mushrooms, well, those are fungal, as well. Cheeses are often fermented using various fungal species; other dairy products also contain varying quantities of yeasts. It’s the species Saraccharomyces cerevisiae that is used for baking and beer-making. (The Saccharomyces yeast should not be confused with the unrelated fungus, Candida albicans, that also colonizes humans but can proliferate and unquestionably cause health problems in the setting of dysbiosis—Candida does not cause disease; it is a result of a disrupted microbiome that proliferates when the suppressive influence of healthy bacterial species has been lost). Saccharomyces boulardi, a closely related yeast, has been repeatedly demonstrated to be beneficial as a probiotic/prebiotic.

But yeasts have indeed been associated with some health issues. Among the associations identified:

  • Antibodies to the mannan component of yeast (a component of the cell wall) are increased in people with Crohn’s disease and in several other autoimmune conditions
  • Obese people have higher antibody levels to mannan than slender people.
  • Allergy to yeast can occur and is typically experienced as gastrointestinal bloating and upset, diarrhea, asthma, and skin rashes—symptoms that can overlap with those of grains. (There are skin and blood tests that can identify such allergies.)

What is not clear is whether Saccharomyces are a contributing cause in these health situations or whether they are an effect, i.e., do the higher antibody levels in people with Crohn’s suggest that yeasts worsen the condition, or is it simply a result of the abnormal intestinal permeability of the disease without any independent consequence? Nobody knows. But I think it is important to bear these issues in mind should you venture into the world of including yeast in your non-grain baking efforts.

Anyway, the photograph at the top of this post is one of my recent test loaves made by following a very simple recipe. The dough rose substantially over several hours, sliced nicely, and had good flavor despite the few ingredients required. I don’t view this as a finished recipe but a starter for future improvements. And I welcome your input on ways to make this recipe better. Note that a small quantity of sugar is included; the sugar is metabolized by the yeast to carbon dioxide and alcohol and the final bread product should not contain much sugar and not be sweet.

1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups filtered (non-chlorinated) water at 110 degrees F (lukewarm), divided
3 1/2 cups almond flour/meal
1/4 cup ground golden flaxseed
1/4 cup ground psyllium husks
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup water and stir. Allow to sit 10 minutes. If the yeast is viable, the mixture should fizz and expand over that time. (If not, discard and purchase fresh yeast.)

In large bowl, combine almond meal/flour, flaxseed, psyllium, salt and mix. Pour yeast mixture and remaining 1 cup warm water into almond mixture and mix thoroughly.

Allow resulting dough to sit in a warm place (e.g., on top of refrigerator, in an oven left off after heated briefly but only warm to touch, a sunny spot on your kitchen counter) for 3-4 hours.

Bake in oven preheated to 350 degrees F in greased bread pan for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick withdraws dry.

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