Man creates starter from 4,000 year-old yeast

Acclaimed former video game designer Seamus Blackley (famous for his association with consoles such as the Xbox) has baked a loaf of bread using yeast extracted from an ancient Egyptian pot.

Whether the yeast is actually 4,000 years old is still a matter of speculation though, as scientists were still running tests at the time of going to press. The plan is to compare the yeast with as many other ancient samples as possible to find similarities and differences to modern versions.

Blackley fed the yeast sterilised Einkorn flour, an ancient wheat grain, and said he was amazed at how quickly he was able to create a sourdough starter.

He told the food blog Eater: “The yeast woke up right away. I was totally surprised. Usually, when you collect a wild yeast sample, you get a horrible, black, gross muck for a few days, and then you start to get the yeast taking over and amplifying, when you get a higher statistical percentage of yeast than other stuff you don't want. In this case, a lot of stuff grew – some stinky stuff – but I could tell there was a ton of yeast growing right away.

“It was kind of remarkable. On the second day it was bubbling like a real starter. I kept feeding it for the rest of the week because I wanted to be sure that we were only seeing stuff that ate Einkorn. It was a huge pain in the ass. You have to sterilize the flour for a couple of days, make sure that no modern yeast gets into the samples while you're feeding them. Even then, there is a bunch of modern stuff in that sample.”

Blackley worked with Egyptologist Serena Love and microbiologist Richard Bowman on the project.

The next stage of the project is to extract yeast from Old Kingdom (2613-2181 BC) ceramics, which are held by a museum in Berkeley, California.