Sorry, But Commercial Fresh Yeast is Not Natural

Sigh. I just got off the phone with the corporate office of Kneaders Bakery and Cafe.

Here's the problem, which a lot of people are confused about. My wife came home a couple days ago with a take-out bag from Kneaders. Here is what it says on the bag: "We love great European bread! We love everything about it -- the simple pleasure of kneading it by hand, the rich aroma of the levain (natural yeast)..." The parentheses are theirs, not mine.

The moment I read this on their bag, I knew it was not true. I wish there was a "magic" natural yeast -- by magic I mean a natural yeast that acts like the genetically modified yeast used commercially and sold in grocery stores.

But there is not.

And I also knew exactly what was going on with Kneaders -- they are not trying to lie to their customers. They just don't know what they are talking about. They have confused "natural" yeast with "fresh" yeast, like so many other people.

There has been a lot of confusion about this lately. I've been getting a lot of emails about it. Here is an email I got this morning from Arlene Butler, who is the Taste of Home field editor & former writer for the food section of the Ogden Standard-Examiner:

"Ten years ago my son brought a sourdough start home from his mission. It's history goes back to the Yukon & Alaska gold rush. It is an amazing start! It has a good balanced flavor and is very vigorous. I guess it had to be vigorous to survive the cold (minus 50). We also tried several other starts including a Mormon pioneer start that the people in Ft. Bridger WY have kept going but it was not as strong - the loaf was heavier.  No other starts have compared to this one. I just wanted to share that this start has gone 4-5 months (while I remodeled my kitchen) without being fed!  I am not sure why you have to feed yours twice a week but I am thinking it is because you are keeping it active."

Here is what I wrote back to her: 

"Thank you for your email. The problem with so-called "gold rush" starts is that the recipe to "start" them is to go to the store, buy dry yeast, and make a "start" -- which means that the start is simply fresh yeast, not natural yeast. Which is why your start was so vigorous (it is genetically modified and not natural). Kneaders is also advertising that they are using "natural" yeast but if you call their corporate headquarters, they say it is fresh yeast. Which means it is genetically modified and not natural. Melissa and I are very, very careful to make sure that any yeast we use and hand out is documented natural yeast. This is because if the yeast is just fresh, it does not predigest the gluten, which is exactly the same as using grocery store yeast. I hope that helps."

I spoke this morning to the corporate headquarters for Kneaders. David Vincent is their corporate baker and yeast expert. He had no idea that commercial yeast is genetically modified and is not natural. Here is what he said, through a spokeswoman, to me: "We do use a commercial yeast, so there is no guarantee that it is not genetically modified."

So what they are advertising as "natural yeast" on their take-out bags is actually just fresh yeast. There is so little education about the fact that commercial yeast has been genetically modified to be vigorous, but not to eat the gluten. I don't know what to do about this except keep speaking out and trying to educate people.

This is a painful subject for me because I have a friend who bought an enormous quantity of my books and immediately went to a local bakery, bought some of their fresh yeast, and started using in all our recipes. And it works perfect. Unfortunately, it is genetically modified and not at all natural. I have not had the heart to tell her this yet. I got another email earlier this week from someone who said to me that they wanted to use "dry active yeast" from the grocery store as natural yeast in our recipes. In our book I wrote that yeast was genetically modified in 1984. This person's logic was this: Dry active yeast -- freeze dried yeast -- was invented in World War II and therefore should still be natural as long as it is not labeled "rapid rise" yeast.

Here is the problem. Since our book was published, I have learned that yeast was genetically modified long before 1984. In fact, yeast is the preferred and original test subject for genetic modification. This is because it grows very fast, is a simple organism, and is free. If has been used by universities and laboratories to study genetics for decades. It is the most used genetic modification test subject still to this day, because it is free and easy to use, and there are more than 1,000 varieties occurring in nature, so there is lots of room for study and work. I have not yet been able to determine what year yeast in the grocery store first became genetically modified, but I now know for sure that it was before 1984.

Here is the other problem, to be frank. I preface this by saying that I'm not complaining, I'm simply explaining. I have other books to write, and other work to do (not the least of which is my full-time job), and no one is paying us for all this work and research. Our publisher has sold 10,000 copies now of our natural yeast cookbook, for which I will, in six months, be paid $2,000 as my wage. And that is less than I spent on photography of the recipes and supplies for creating my recipes in the book. So I've made exactly $0 for three years of work. I will continue to work on yeast research as I can, but you have to understand that this is volunteer work on my part, even though it directly affects the health of hundreds of millions of people who are being made sick because genetically modified yeast does not digest the gluten in flour. I'm doing what I can, as fast as I can. -Caleb

This is What Winter Gardening Looks Like -- Nov. 5 2012

Because there is so much interest in winter gardening when I give speeches and garden tours --  and so little first-hand experience out there -- I’m determined to keep a monthly update on this blog of the winter garden this year. So today I’m going to take you on a garden tour. All of these photos were taken in my backyard garden today, Nov. 5 2012.

Above is a picture of thyme in a glass cloche. I've been collecting glass cloches from thrift and antique stores -- this is a glass jar kept upside down. 

Two more glass cloches, each with lemon balm under them. If given some protection, lemon balm is perennial.

You can't hardly see it, but there is a spinach plant in this cloche. I found two of these glass cones at a thrift store for $1 each!

This is one of my homemade cold frames filled with the fastest growing winter lettuce -- it grows an astonishing four times faster than any other lettuce -- Grand Rapids. We had this lettuce for dinner last night. 

This is inside another homemade cold frame -- spinach and a rare Chinese kale.

This is some of the 109 square feet of winter wheat planted in my garden right now. This wheat will never need any protection, and it will be ready to harvest in the first week of June. This is my largest wheat planting in my garden to date -- all from our own seed. I started with about 20 grains of antique wheat and have now grown it out to this!

A glass cloche on the left with Swiss chard on the right. This chard has not had any protection yet because it has been unseasonably warm.

This is a view inside another one of my homemade cold frames. On the left half you see my bush beans. On the right you see some of my multiplier onions. Because the onions are so tall, I had to put a big frame over them -- but that meant lots of empty air space above the beans, and on a night when it hit 10 degrees outside, the top leaves of the beans froze. I should have put them in their own fitted frame. 

This is a view of multiplier onions and a whole bunch of self-planted Swiss chard. All of this has been outside without any protection so far. 

This is inside another cold frame, this one purchased from the internet for about $120. These are cabbages and lentils. 

A close-up of my lentils in flower -- in November! This is only possible in a cold frame. It's taken me five years to find a lentil seed that would grow in my very, very short growing season with alkaline soil. I will sell a very limited supply of these lentil seeds between now and Christmas. 

These are the cabbages we are eating now. These cabbages are 20 months old, and spent all of last winter under a cold frame. If you look closely you can see on the bottom left and bottom right that there are new baby cabbages too. 

What is this ugly photo, you say? This is one of my winter lettuce trials. This is a section of three lettuces planted a couple weeks ago and grown without any protection so far. The two stones in the center mark the three sections. You can see the lettuce in the center has failed to thrive. The lettuce on the right is doing okay, but the lettuce on the left is really thriving. We'll see how it does over the next two months. 

This is an overview of my perennial herbs -- savory, garlic chives, parsley, lemon balm, time, bergomot. 

This is a close-up of Marvel of Four Seasons, inside a homemade cold frame.

This is Green Oak Leaf lettuce, inside a cold frame.

This is Red Iceberg, which is a ballhead lettuce. This is a little baby, just planted about a month ago. It will begin to form a ballhead in late January.

These are a variety of winter pea that withstands hard frosts! These have been in a cold frame. I have another section of a different type of pea that is actually doing better than these, but I forgot to take a picture :(

These are the rutabaga. The deer started eating them, so I set a cheap wire cage over them. They will be ready to harvest for Thanksgiving, fingers crossed!

This is a purple mustard greens plant, and it has not had any protection yet this winter.

Inside a cold frame full of my Winter Green Jewel romaine lettuce, with some more purple mustards up front.

This is our former glass front door to the house, now being used to cover a raise bed of fall-planted carrots, which are thriving.

This is Caleb's Deep Winter lettuce, in a cold frame.

These are some of the rarest onions in the world, and certainly the rarest onions in this country -- I am the only one growing them. These are the best winter onions according to historic garden writers. I'm trying to save them from extinction. The seed for these were flown in from the Netherlands for me by the federal government. I planted the seeds in Feb. 2012 -- these are the same plants, being saved for seed. My friends have been saying we should sacrifice one so that we can see what this very rare onion tastes like, but a tasting will have to wait at least another year -- everyone of of them is needed for seed production right now. 

Some makeshift cloches covering baby leaks, with a garden decoration.

A close-up of baby leeks in a cloche.

More leeks thriving in a cloche.

These are a cloche of those very rare onions you saw a moment ago. These were planted from seed a few weeks ago. There is very little of the seed left, and no way to get more.

An overview of some of the cloches. In the front is a 2-foot-deep hot bed made of a mix of natural materials, topped with an old bale of grass hay while it heats up. I just made this hot bed a couple days ago, and when I finish it I will plant more peas. I really wish I'd planted a lot more peas -- we could eat them all.

This is a glass house covering four huge collard greens plants. 

This is a closeup of some mature Swiss chard which has not been covered with any protection yet this year.

One of my pride and joys -- a baby cantaloupe plant in November! This is one of the rare cantaloupes that used to grown historically over the winter. This is being kept alive by a three-foot-deep hot bed. Cross your fingers for me!

This is a broody hen. She is sitting on 10 eggs. Last year I had not one but two broods of chicks hatched out here in October -- a feat so rare that a picture of it ran in the local paper. I've never, ever heard of a hen hatching out chicks in November -- its a frightening comment on how unusually hot it is this winter here. Nevertheless, we've had no other chicks born here this year, so we really want this brood to be a success!

These are figs on my fig tree in my geothermal greenhouse.

This is a peach tree, which I grew this year from seed, and a Swiss chard plant that is almost three years old, in the geothermal greenhouse. 

The winter tomatoes are coming along beautifully in the geothermal greenhouse! Here is a closeup of a roma tomato.

The tomato plants in the geothermal greenhouse are a whooping 7 feet tall! They fill the greenhouse from top  to bottom -- and it is hard to get a picture!

Carrots and lettuces under cold frames. 

This is an overview of part of my garden -- you can see a bunch of cold frames in the front right, and composting beds topped with sand on the front left, with my scarecrow and bunches of cold frames in the background.

Thanks for touring my winter garden! My vegetable by vegetable guide to winter gardening -- the first we know of to ever be published in the U.S. -- hits bookstores in April 2013!