The Yeast is The Spice

Seasoned Sourdough Yeast Salt Popcorn and Sourdough Garlic Cream Cheese
by Heather Willensky@fermentsh

Sourdough Starter, and Kvass (or bread beer) for that matter, typically contain both lactic acid, yeasts, and sometimes acetobacteria that are associated with vinegar and acetic acid. Dehydrating sourdough starters of different kinds, like dehydrating pickling or fermenting brines, can create distinct tasting seasoning agents. 

There seems to be a resurgence of the use of microbe infused salts and the use of dehydrated ferment brines and cultures, including sourdough starters and leftover bread.

Sure, the idea of backslapping, or using a small portion of a previous batch of something cultured or fermented to make a new batch, is not a new concept, but it is interesting to see people realizing that unless a very specific set of microbes and environmental conditions existed in a specific area, recycling at least a few of the successful microbes is what has enabled us to create generations of cultures that can be passed down. 

The problem is how these things were and are passed down, and what creates a break in the links between generations. When that happens, artificial cultures are often used to replace what would have been created naturally.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but culture is not just about specific microbes, but how we have interacted with the enormous diversity of animals, plants, insects, bacteria, yeasts, fungi that are part of the human existence in the world.

With dairy fermentations, but also with all kinds of grain and legume and plant fermentations, we are rapidly losing that knowledge due to forced relocation, the convenience and cost of processed foods, lack of financial opportunities or Amy equitable resource sharing system, irreversible climate change, and apathy. 

Recycling cultures is not at all a new concept. Salt was always a very cherished commodity historically, so reusing it to create a sour, salty type of seasoning similar to citric acid or dehydrated vinegar or salt  is very well documented. The tanginess  of lactobacillus bacteria creates taste. It also provides safety to newer ferments by lowering the PH similar to how soluble lactic acid is used today in brewing and even things like soy sauce or miso. 

Heather relates her history of craving the umami of smoked salmon with a bagel and cream cheese, but sometimes specific ingredients are out of financial reach. But substances like bacteria, fungus, molds and yeasts are everywhere, often for free when you know understand the basic methods to create safe edible items and if you have access to resources like water and land and air and sun.

Ironically, the practice of dehydrating starches that have soured or fermented (sometimes both) is at least 5,000 years old and was really the start of grain, seed and other substances that served as the substrates of levain in dumplings, noodles, and breads. The Qi Min Yao shu, for example, describes in detail how soured rice or other grain water, or the lees from wine were used as leavening agents. Often, these were dehydrated into starters for a later date. In effect, the original qu (麹)or koji as most of you know it as represented by cakes and balls and disks of mixed microbes. 

Heather has some pretty creative ways to use the yeasts in breads and sourdough starters, searching for an umami taste that tasted like the comfort of home. She began fermenting in her kitchen in 2008. From the moment her swing-top bottles exploded at 4PM raining ginger beer down over her kitchen she knew she was in love. A former music licensing specialist, Heather has spent the past 14 years experimenting with fermentation from pickles to beer and bread. 

The pandemic and new motherhood provided an excellent opportunity to delve deeper into fermentation, exploring its limitless applications and techniques and connecting with the online fermentation community. You can follow her adventures on her @fermentsh instagram page.

April Flours is our month long benefit for #wckitchen to feed the people of Ukraine. $45 for a year of viewing event related videos and live sessions and edited replays when available. We have been uploading new videos as we go along. These videos are always in the showcase for the event, regardless of when you donate. We have turned the final week into two days with many sessions.

To register just for one of these sessions we are asking for a $15 donation for each one. Some of the sessions each day are pre-recorded, others are live. No replays are promised unless you donate $45 for the entire month, however. $75 Annual subscription for all events and videos from the last 6 years. Please use and note what it’s for.


David Asher, Trevor Warmedahl, Amy Halloran, Ellie Markovitch, Dawn Woodward, Naomi Duguid, Alex Gunuey, Laura Valli, William Rubel, Christine Krauss, Ken Fornataro, Daniel Gray, Zuza Zak, John Hutt, Maroua Jellibi, Sean Doherty, Peiman Khosravi, Kinga Vincze, Renu Anshie Dhar, Amy Kalafa, Eiko Takahashi, Heather Willensky, Zev Robinson

Friday, April 29th

  • Time and Nature, Making Vatrushky with different fillings, Piroshky using Multipurpose sourdough Recipe – (Amy Halloran and Ellie Markovitch) Live 12 PM -1:30 PM EST
  • Sechskornbrot (six grains and seeds bread) and Whole Wheat Sourdough Flatbread (Sangak)(Peiman Khosravi)
  • Whole Grain Khamiri (Whole Wheat Sourdough Flatbread), Dosa (Urad Dal and Rice), Bajra Roti (unleavened millet), Amritsari Kulcha (unleavened, laminated, stuffed bread) – Renu Anshie Dhar
  • Whole Grain Fermented Dumplings and Whole Grain Misos (Live ) Eiko Takahashi 4 PM EST
Saturday, April 30th
  • 11 – 12 PM EST Comparing approaches of pastoral/agropastoral cultures to dairying, cheese making, and land use: Mongolia, Sicily and Albania. (Trevor Warmedahl) Live
  • 12- 1 PM EST The Traditions of Ukrainian Dairy Fermentation David Asher (Live)
  • 1:30 to 3 PM EST Real Bread Bakers by Zev Robinson of with panel discussion on how bread, community, nutrition and agriculture are closely intertwined – (Zev Robinson, Naomi Duguid, John Hutt and William Rubel) Live
  • Sourdough Yeast Extract and Applications (Heather Willensky)
  • Kaja’s Sour Milk Lady with Berries, Zurek, Hemp Seed Butter, Kama, Winter Kvass (Zuza Zak)

Author: Cultures.Group

Cultures.Group shares information, educational resources, and unique experiences through online meetings and special events, and an extensive video library on fermentation, preservation, brewing, cooking, baking and how to use koji and other filamentous fungus to make tasty things. We are a collective of artists, scientists, educators, chefs, fermenters, bakers, students and advocates. One annual fee to access all the videos whenever you like, as well as any event we have during the year. Our library of digital materials serves as the foundation to create new videos and events, driven by what our members want to learn about. Our archives and events are not posted online, nor are they searchable using any search engine. You are invited to join our collective as a student, teacher, artisan, merchant, author, activist, scientist, philosopher - or someone that doesn’t consider themself especially noteworthy or knowledgeable. Want to know how fermentation, preservation, baking and cooking knowledge can help you feed your family and community during fat and lean times? Annual Membership and access to everything Website: https://Cultures.Group

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