Would you eat bread that was made from 4,500-year-old yeast? Seamus Blackley, known for his part in creating the Xbox, also bakes for fun and is an Egyptologist, and he just made bread from ancient Egyptian yeast.
Blackley was granted permission from the Peabody Essex Museum and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to have access to 4,500-year-old Egyptian pottery and vessels that were used to make bread. He then decided to combine his two strengths of baking and knowledge of Egypt to make bread as old as the pottery.
Blackley recruited University of Queensland, Australia, archaeologist, and ancient brewing expert, Serena Love, as well as Richard Bowman, a doctoral candidate in microbiology at the University of Iowa, to help him on his quest.
How did was bread made out of 4,500-year-old yeast?
To begin with, Bowman injected a nutrient solution into the ceramics to reawaken the dormant yeasts. This turned them into a yeasty liquid, which didn't damage the ceramics and allowed them to be easily extracted from the pottery.
Using a nondestructive process and careful sterile technique, we believe we can actually capture dormant yeasts and bacteria from inside the ceramic pores of ancient pots. We sampled beer- and bread-making objects which had actually been in regular use in the Old Kingdom. pic.twitter.com/9FahMRjJBU— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019
Most of the yeast was sent off to laboratories to be studied and tested. However, Blackley was able to take some home, enough to make a loaf of bread.
"It's such a magical thing, to think we can share food in a rather genuine way with our distant ancestors," Blackley tweeted.
This crazy ancient dough fermented and rose beautifully. Here it is in the basket, just before being turned out to bake. The ancient Egyptians didn’t bake like this- you’ll see- but I need to get a feel for all this so I’m going conventional for now. pic.twitter.com/lcGnOsaT9n— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019
Once he had the yeast at home, Blackley cultivated it for a week, injecting it with olive oil, hand-milled barley, and einkorn, so that he had a starter - similar to how sourdough bread is made.
These would have been the same, if not very similar, ingredients that the ancient Egyptians would have used to make their bread.
Two weeks ago, with the help of Egyptologist @drserenalove and Microbiologist @rbowman1234, I went to Boston’s MFA and @Harvard’s @peabodymuseum to attempt collecting 4,500 year old yeast from Ancient Egyptian pottery. Today, I baked with some of it... pic.twitter.com/143aKe6M3b— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019
"The idea is to make a dough with identical ingredients to what the yeast ate 4,500-years ago," said Blackley.
Once beautifully baked, Blackley commented that its taste was sweeter and that the crumb was "light and airy" compared with regular bread.
And here is the result. The scoring is the Hieroglyph representing the “T” sound (Gardiner X1) which is a loaf of bread. The aroma is AMAZING and NEW. It’s much sweeter and more rich than the sourdough we are used to. It’s a big difference. After this cools we will taste! pic.twitter.com/sYCJ8uP1oj— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019
He was thrilled, as he tweeted: "I'm emotional. It's really different, and you can easily tell even if you're not a bread nerd. This is incredibly exciting, and I'm so amazed that it worked."
His plans are now to work closely with Serena Love to use the same ceramics, tools, and baking methods the ancient Egyptians used to make their bread.