Yeast is a hot topic of conversation these days: where to find it, what you’re baking with it, and how to create your own at home.
Sudeep Agarwala, a yeast geneticist at Ginkgo Bioworks, has you covered for that last one. He rose to Twitter fame not long ago after tweeting DIY instructions for how to make yeast out of what’s hiding in your cupboard.
But Agarwala knows a lot more about yeast than just how to hack it to make your own sourdough. For that reason, we invited him to speak at our latest virtual event, From Sourdough to The End of Meat.
Agarwala started off his presentation with a massive timeline outlining the evolution of humans. He specifically pointed to 10,000 BC — the time when we first started to use yeast to ferment food and drink. Our newfound love of yeast completely changed the trajectory of how we ate food, ushering in new foods like bread and beer. “We’re now at an age when we’re thinking about reinventing our food structures yet again,” Agarwala said.
If you’re curious about how yeast will shake up our food system, you should watch the whole conversation. You can find the recording here. Here are a few big takeaways (featuring a guest appearance by yours truly!):
Yeast could mean the end of meat
Ginkgo Biowork’s spinoff company, Motif Foodworks, uses microbes like yeast to create the flavor elements that can better mimic meat. According to Agarawala, technology can help make meat alternatives taste even more like the real thing.
Only recently, said Agarwala, has yeast technology evolved to the point where it actually has a shot at replacing the key flavors of meat. “I may get in trouble for saying this,” he said. “We’re on the verge of eliminating meat from our diets altogether.”
Yeast isn’t the only microbe out there
“I love yeast, but there are other microbes that are working for us as well,” noted Agarwala. He pointed to air protein, which can sequester carbon from carbon dioxide, as well as microbes that can fix nitrogen. These technologies leverage microbes to not only produce an output, such as protein, but also reduce the ecological cost of creating food.
Algae and bacteria are also able to make other foods (like your kombucha SCOBY). “There’s a whole microbial world sitting in your kitchen cupboard,” Agarawala pointed out.
What about my sourdough starter???
Bread makers, don’t worry — Agarwala had plenty of insight into how we’re all working with yeast during the pandemic. But he also had some thoughts on why sourdough starters could be an important tool for the future of fermentation in general.
“Yeast is a technology,” he said. “Maybe now that we’re seeing this technology growing on our counters, it is going to be more comfortable to think about, ‘What else can this technology do for us?'”
Perhaps since we’re all obsessed with yeast now, consumers will be more open to new foods grown from microbes — such as meat — down the road.
Our next Spoon Virtual Event is on May 28th at 10am PT, where Spoon founder Mike Wolf will speak with the Design for Food team at IDEO about how we design for a more resilient food system in a post-COVID world. Sign up here.