How the Inventor of Xbox Baked Sourdough Bread with 4,500-Year-Old Egyptian Yeast
Yes, you read that correctly.
Science has yet to figure out how to let us travel 4,500 years back in time to see how people lived, but at least you can taste what their bread was like. Seamus Blackley – a baking hobbyist who is best known, oddly enough, as one of the inventors of the Xbox – recently was able to whip of a loaf of sourdough bread using ancient yeast from around 2,500 B.C.
Blackley pulled some strings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard’s Peabody Museum to collect yeast from Ancient Egyptian pottery with the help of Egyptologist Serena Love and microbiologist Richard Bowman (who helped with extraction and identification of the microbes). Blackley then baked bread with one of the yeasts they uncovered and documented his entire journey on Twitter, where the experience went viral, racking up over 28,000 retweets.
“Using a nondestructive process and careful sterile technique, we believe we can actually capture dormant yeasts and bacteria from inside the ceramic pores of ancient pots,” he tweeted. “I awoke and fed the sample organisms. Although this sample surely contains contaminants, it also likely contains actual ancient yeast strains.”
Blackley said the sample – which was confirmed as ancient against modern samples – was ready for use after a week of “feeding and careful culling,” and though his baking technique was modern, he said he decide to only used ancient grains – “organic and milled fresh: barley and Einkorn and Kamut” – since “modern wheat was invented long after these organisms went to sleep.”
“The idea is to make a dough with identical ingredients to what the yeast ate 4,500 years ago. The aroma of this yeast is unlike anything I’ve experienced,” he posted. “It’s much sweeter and more rich than the sourdough we are used to. It’s a big difference…. The crumb is light and airy, especially for a 100-percent ancient grain loaf. The aroma and flavor are incredible. I’m emotional. It’s really different, and you can easily tell even if you’re not a bread nerd.”
Love told the BBC that their next plan is to bake similar bread using ancient methods, including recreations of Egyptian-style pots. And Bowman believes there might even be a chance to bring these products to market. “We'd like to do something to sell it,” he said, “perhaps collect ancient recipes.” But Blackley offered a more ethereal takeaway: “The Pharaoh was the emperor of all the known earth,” he told the British news outlet. “Now we can recreate their methods and share bread with them.” Who wouldn’t want to eat like a Pharaoh?