Scientist bakes sourdough bread with 4,500-year-old yeast found in Egyptian pottery

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Cooking is arguably both an art and a science — and if you're a physicist with some 4,500-year-old yeast in your cupboard, then it's a history lesson, too. Seamus Blackley, a scientist and video game designer, recently baked loaf of bread using some ancient yeast found in Egyptian pottery, and his culinary journey has gone viral.

Blackley worked with Egyptologist Dr. Serena Love and microbiologist Richard Bowman to obtain dormant yeast samples from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard.

The yeast was cultivated from the pores of ancient ceramic pots that were once used for beer and bread making, Blackley explained on Twitter. Over a year, Blackley and his colleagues collected samples from these pots and studied the microorganisms within them.

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"Samples go to [Bowman] for rigorous analysis EXCEPT I was naughty and kept one…" Blackley wrote.

Two weeks ago, with the help of Egyptologist @drserenalove and Microbiologist @rbowman1234, I went to Boston’s MFA and @Harvard’s @peabodymuseum to attempt collecting 4,500 year old yeast from Ancient Egyptian pottery. Today, I baked with some of it… pic.twitter.com/143aKe6M3b

— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019

Blackley sterilized his contraband then fed and cultivated it into a yeast that was good enough to bake with. He combined the yeast with ancient, organic grains, added some water and unfiltered olive oil, and created an ancient sourdough in the 21st century.

"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," Blackley wrote on Twitter.

He photographed each step of the baking process, and although he had to go through a few extra steps to sterilized and cultivate the ancient yeast, he did end up with a normal-looking dough. "This crazy ancient dough fermented and rose beautifully," he wrote, sharing a photo of the unbaked dough.

Blackley baked the dough with a special touch: he scored the hieroglyph for "loaf of bread" on top, paying homage to the bread's Egyptian roots.

"The aroma is AMAZING and NEW," Blackley wrote. "It's much sweeter and more rich than the sourdough we are used to. It's a big difference. After this cools we will taste!"

Then came the big moment — what did this dough, made with ancient yeast, taste like? "The crumb is light and airy, especially for a 100% ancient grain loaf. The aroma and flavor are incredible. I'm emotional," Blackley wrote in his stellar review of the creation. Of course, he may have been a little biased: he was the man behind the culinary marvel.

"It's really different, and you can easily tell even if you're not a bread nerd," Blackley wrote. "This is incredibly exciting, and I'm so amazed that it worked."

And here is the result. The scoring is the Hieroglyph representing the “T” sound (Gardiner X1) which is a loaf of bread. The aroma is AMAZING and NEW. It’s much sweeter and more rich than the sourdough we are used to. It’s a big difference. After this cools we will taste! pic.twitter.com/sYCJ8uP1oj

— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) August 5, 2019

First published on August 7, 2019 / 12:54 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Scientist bakes bread from 4,500-year-old yeast

"The aroma and flavor are incredible. I'm emotional," Seamus Blackely wrote in his play-by-play of the baking process

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