Rising to multiply occasions: The importance of yeast

Man’s relationship with yeast goes back nearly 10 thousand years, when our ancestors discovered how to use the single-cell fungi to produce bread (baker’s yeast) as well as both alcoholic (brewer’s yeast) and non-alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, as well as root beer, Kvass, a fermented drink made in Russia and Slavic countries from rye bread and Caribbean mauby made by fermenting yeasts found in the bark of the colubrine tree with sugar.

Other popular libations made with yeast include fermented milk drinks such kefir and kumis. Kombucha, a fermented sweetened tea is another drink made with the fungus. Originally from Manchuria, kombucha is often touted in the Far East as a treatment for cancer, diabetes, and even AIDs as well as for stimulating the immune system, increasing libido and even “reversing gray hair.”

The important thing to remember is that while there are currently more than 1,500 identified species of yeast, the most common one is S. cerevisiae, used as a leavening agent in baking by serving to convert fermentable sugars found in dough into carbon dioxide. Ingredients such as eggs, potatoes, and water used to boil potatoes as well as sugar in bread dough can speed up the growth of yeasts.

Meanwhile, other forms of yeast are often used as food additives or flavorings similarly to the use of MSG (monosodium glutamate), while a process to which salt is added to a suspension of yeast is used in various countries to make Vegemite and Promite (Australia); Marmite, Oxo and Bovril (the UK and South Africa) and Cenovis (Switzerland). Note, red rice years, however, is actually a form of mold.

The main benefit found in yeast is the organism’s ability to convert sugars such as glucose and fructose into ethanol. In fact, scientists are now using yeast to alter cellulose and starch from a variety of plants to create biofuels for both cars and rockets, etc. Ethanol is also widely used as a solvent, among other chemical products.

Meanwhile, additional industrial uses include fortifying yeast with spider DNA to create silk proteins used in textiles. This process is reportedly being developed by Bolt Treads of Emeryville, CA in conjunction with apparel company Patagonia to create a number of designer fabrics.

In addition, ethanol is commonly used as an antiseptic in gel hand sanitizer thanks to its ability to kill other fungi, and numerous viruses, although it has proven ineffective against bacteria. Yet, while researchers have successfully programmed several forms of yeast to “secrete human proteins,” used to create various vaccines as well as insulin and medicines for treating treat hepatitis, etc., not all yeast is beneficial. In fact, several cause serious infections in the genital area such as chlamydia and candida. These, however, can generally be easily treated.

According to Mayo Clinic, yeast infections are more common in women (although men do get them). Causes of yeast infections, particularly in the vagina generally result from sexual intercourse, being pregnant and the overuse of antibiotics, as well as from having uncontrolled diabetes, a weakened and/or immune system, Oral thrush is another form of yeast infection. Nowadays, we can find various yeast supplements on the market, just be careful what you choose.

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