Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Unleavened Beer?

Soon, many of us will be keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread, a week long feast which is marked by its name - unleavened bread. We remove leaven and leavened products from our homes, and during the festival we eat unleavened bread, taking in "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth". The question always comes up, especially for newcomers, what is leaven? And at some point, what about beer? People ask because they know that bread and beer are both made with yeast. So it is a valid question. The instant reaction is "it's not the days of unleavened beer." But I think there is more to the answer than saying it's not the days of unleavened beer.

Credentials are in order for this discussion. I have made bread off and on for over 40 years. I have also made beer off and on for even longer. I am not a microbiologist nor do I play one on TV, for that I rely on "First Steps in Yeast Culturing" by Pierre Lajotte [1].

Leavened Versus Leavening

The Bible is clear that we should remove both leaven and leavened products, Ex 13:7 "Unleavened bread (matzoh meaning sweet) shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened (chametz meaning sour) shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven (s'or meaning leaven)  be seen among you in all your borders." That would include bread crumbs not because they are leavenING (bread crumbs do not contain live yeast cells, they were killed in the baking process), but because they are leavenED (chametz). And it would include yeast because it is leavenING (s'or), not because it is leavenED (chametz). Note this is a New Testament command as well, 1 Cor 5:7 "Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed."

Give Us This Day Our Daily Beer

The Sediment Is Brewer's Yeast
The problem is that beer does contain live yeast cells. And the yeast cells in beer are exactly the same yeast used to make bread.   "Most yeasts used in baking are of the same species common in alcoholic fermentation." - Wikipedia Yeast [2]. The beer is not leavenED, but it does contain leavenING. One might argue that they are really different yeasts in beer versus bread. I have done the experiment of harvesting yeast from a batch of homebrewed beer (see picture) and using it to make bread. It made perfectly good bread. Remember it's the same yeast.

Sediment in a Bottle of Beer
One might argue that there isn't enough yeast in a bottle of beer to make a loaf of bread. But there are many websites that show how to culture the yeast from a single bottle of beer into a sufficient population for brewing or bread making, for example How To Brew []. It is simple enough, I've done it, maintaining sanitation is the biggest challenge. The best beers to culture from will have sediment on the bottom - that sediment is yeast, visible viable yeast. Note that the German beer hefeweizen means "yeast wheat". Filtered or pasteurized beer will not throw sediment. Only the larger commercial breweries filter or pasteurize their beer. And when "it's not the days of unleavened beer" was coined (the American dark ages of beer), nearly all beer was filtered if not pasteurized. Now the craft beer industry is producing lots of unfiltered beer with live yeast. Remember it's the same yeast.

Straining At Gnats?

Agar plate with yeast colonies
Well, how little is too little to worry about? Now we enter the gray area. Lajotte describes techniques for growing a single yeast cell into a culture, and eventually into a "pitchable" population. Technically, a single yeast cell is leavenING,  but without proper equipment and techniques, unlikely to leaven dough. Amy's Bread by Amy Scherber [3] describes a method for creating a sourdough bread starter beginning with nothing but flour and water. There are yeast cells on the grains (which get ground into flour) that reproduce and eventually ferment the flour and water into a viable population for bread making. For this reason, when making matzoh, Jews only allow flour and water to be mixed no more than 18 minutes before baking lest it begin to leaven spontaneously - Wiki Matzo [4]. Once the starter is viable, it is incorporated into bread dough and leavens it. A pinch of dough is saved as a starter for the next batch.   Yeast lives on the skins of grapes too, and there are yeast cells in the air.  So one can start with zero yeast cells and make leaven.

Ancient Israel would have only known the sourdough method. They did not have the option to buy a cake of yeast after Unleavened Bread was over. They would have started fresh with flour and water to grow a bread starter. This takes a few days.

Don't Read This Paragraph

Beer makers, in their quest to distinguish their brew from the competition, get creative in choosing sources of yeast for their "wild ales".  Rogue Brewing has created Beard Beer by culturing yeasts found in the master brewers beard - Mental Floss [5]. 7 Cent Brewery in Australia used the brewmaster's navel lint as a source for yeast, "the first beer in the world fermented from yeast captured from the brewer's belly button fluff." - CNET [6].

Back To Leaven

Sourdough Bread
One question newcomers don't ask is "what is bread?" Beer and bread are both made from grain, water, and yeast, but beer is not bread. Even though throughout history, beer has been known as liquid bread - Liquid Bread [7]. But is it "chametz" or "s'or"? At its simplest, bread is flour moistened with water and cooked, it is solid. Flour needs enzymes and yeast to rise without additional leavening, which narrows the field to a handful of grains. There is unfortunate complexity, confusion, and contradiction on the subject, among Jews and Christians and scientists, even among the Jews themselves. For example, the Jews say matzoh may only be made from five types of grain: wheat, barley, rice, oats and spelt, but this is from the Talmud, not the Bible - Wiki Chametz [8]. Science has concluded that the five grains are just different strains of wheat and barley  - The DAF []. What these five grains have in common is that they are self leavening, their flours plus water is enough to cause them to rise. Therefore, Jews argue they are the only grains that can make matzoh. And some Karaite Jews think "only the leavening of grains known to leaven are forbidden to eat as leavened" - Karaite Judaism [9]. Non gluten grains and non grain flours can be leavened with yeast (albeit poorly) or chemical leavening like baking powder, flours from oats, rice, lentils, coconut, or almond for examples. Scientists have even developed methods to make bread from cockroach flour - Neatorama [10]. Some don't think flours other than the Five count as "leavenable", some don't think chemical leavening is "chametz". As far as I understand it, over time the idea of leavening was merged with the the idea of self leavening grains. Most Jews would argue that since beer is made from barley (one of the Five) and fermented, it is chametz. I would argue that science has isolated the leavening agent yeast from the liquid beer, thanks to Anton van Leeuwenhoek, 1680 and Louis Pasteur, 1857 - Explore Yeast [11], and it is the leavening agent that's got to go, not the beer. One can separate yeast from beer, but one cannot separate yeast from a loaf of bread. Remember, it's the same yeast.

Don't Wine

Bread leavened with wine yeast 
Wine is commanded as the Passover service along with the unleavened bread. From this we see that fermented beverages are OK. But don't think it's because wine yeast is somehow different from beer yeast. It is still yeast (Saccharomyces). And yes, I did the experiment of making challah bread with wine yeast. It made perfectly good bread. According to Jeff Meyers [12], sourdough starters in ancient Israel were inoculated with the lees (sediment) from wine. Unlike beer, modern wine does not have yeast sediment in the bottle.

Back To the Future 

Something tells me no one has this leavening thing completely figured out. Like I said above, it is complex, confusing, and contradictory. Consider when the whole world keeps Unleavened Bread. Yes, they will. How is it possible to remove all the leaven from within your borders as a nation? or worldwide? This puts an undue hardship on bakeries. And breweries. Yeast is their livelihood. Many breweries jealously guard their particular strain of yeast, devoting laboratories and microbiologists to maintain it indefinitely. Chemicals and pharmaceuticals are routinely grown in Saccharomyces cerevisiae aka bread yeast Wiki Yeast[2]. I find it impossible that bakeries, breweries, and pharmaceuticals would have to start over every year. Is there a difference between home brewers and commercial breweries? Between the home baker and the commercial bakery? What about a brewer who wants to age a beer more than a year? Or a baker that needs to maintain his sourdough starter? Maybe I don't understand leaven completely.

Currently, people who keep Unleavened Bread rely on people who don't keep it. Some Jews will sell their leaven and beer and whiskey to a Gentile, then buy it back when the Days are done. Some of us keep our beer and whiskey, but throw out breads and leavening as we understand it. But still we rely on an outside source to replenish our bread supply the moment the Days are done.


What to do in the meantime, till Christ comes back? Take the simplistic approach that it's not the days of unleavened beer and ignore the whole question? Or put out (as in drink up) all barley based beer because barley is one of the Five self leavening grains? Or put out beer where sediment is visible? Or search for a better answer? I guess each of us has to decide. But decide based on the Bible and facts, not just traditions.


1. http://www.homebrewing.org/First-Steps-in-Yeast-Culturing_p_2037.html
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeast
3. https://www.amazon.com/Amys-Bread-Amy-Scherber/dp/0688124011
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matzo
5. http://mentalfloss.com/article/52658/beer-was-brewed-using-yeast-grown-beard
6. https://www.cnet.com/news/belly-button-beer-mines-yeast-from-navel-lint-totally-not-gross/
7. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/LiquidBreadMunsey.pdf
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chametz
9. http://www.karaitejudaism.org/talks/Leaven_Leavened_and_Unleavened.htm
10. http://www.neatorama.com/2017/03/01/Scientists-Have-Come-Up-With-A-Way-To-Make-Bread-Out-Of-Cockroach-Flour/
11. http://www.exploreyeast.com/article/history-yeast
12. http://jeffreyjmeyers.blogspot.com/2012/12/on-leaven-yeast-and-lords-supper.html

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