Today I’m continuing my series on misconceptions around veganism. In this post I’ll answer that common question, “Is yeast vegan?”
When I was a kid, there were always stacks of old comics around the house. Little Lulu, Archie, Richie Rich… And in the back of the comics was my favorite part – the advertisements. In my fantasies I’d shop amongst those last pages buying X-ray glasses, hand buzzers, Sea Monkeys, and a machine that you could use to make your own money. That one seemed the most useful. After all, with that, I could buy everything else on the list.
There were just two problems. One, these comic books were very, very old, and most likely, they weren’t even selling those items anymore. Two, my mom wouldn’t give me any money to buy my own dollar-making machine. Didn’t she understand you have to spend money to make money? Without the extra cash, how could I hope to raise a small Sea Monkey family of my own?
I made my pitch. For only $1.25 I could raise a barrel of… crustaceans. For a mere 50 cents more, I could get them rushed to me in case I was suffering from a Sea Monkey-related emergency. I’d feed them a steady diet of spirulina and eagerly watch their antics, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it. Even showing her the well-accessorized mom, dad, and two adorable kids depicted in the ad didn’t help.
Coincidentally, do you know what else they put into the Sea Monkeys’ food packet, in addition to spirulina? Yeast. That brings me to today’s question, which surprisingly enough, does not involve brine shrimp. It is instead…
Is yeast vegan?
Perhaps it is dreams like my childhood one involving Sea Monkeys that confuses people where yeast is concerned. Maybe they imagine getting a little packet of yeast, adding some food of sugar and warm water, and watching the contents come to life.
“Surely,” they say, “there are some microscopic Yeast-A-Beasts down there wearing tiny red bows of their own.”
But unlike Sea Monkeys and their crustacean brethren, yeast is from the fungus family, like mushrooms. Even though when yeast is given sugar and warm water it looks like they’re throwing an impromptu foam party, it’s just an illusion. They don’t even have a central nervous system, let alone the ability to put together a good dance mix.
While most cooking mavens refrigerate food to prevent fungus growth, when a baker is using this fungus for bread, warm water is best. Yeast feeds on sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide makes the bread rise. Cooking destroys the alcohol and yeast, and the bubbles that are left behind make the bread soft. Yeast gives bread part of its signature flavor and delightful smell.
In addition to bread-making, yeast is also used in fermenting beer, wine, and soy foods like tempeh and miso. Of course, nutritional yeast flakes (an inactive form of yeast) are a staple in many vegan kitchens.
For those among you who are still dreaming of a little plastic home for your Yeast-A-Beasts, you could build a Sea Monkey-style dwelling for your microscopic fungi, but I think they just call that a terrarium.
This series on misconceptions around veganism continues with: Are Vegans Privileged And Out Of Touch?