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Back to the questions

When was yeast first discovered ?

The bread that we eat today is the result of an age-old development dating back at least five thousand years. This ancestral heritage is the result of discovering an inexplicable process at the time that could make dough rise.

Several civilizations, including the Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and, later on, the Gauls and Iberians, produced fermented foodstuffs. Bread, wine and beer were all the result of empirical processes not fully understood in their day.

It was not until the 19th century that scientific progress revealed the secrets behind the power of yeast. Between 1857 and 1863, the French chemist, Louis Pasteur, proved that fermentation was brought about by living micro-organisms. These natural contaminants of seeds and fruit were identified as being the microscopic fungi called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

The yeast industry, however, had started in Austria in 1846, with the Mautner process, then in 1886 in England with the continuous aeration of the culture medium. Decisive progress was made in Denmark and Germany between 1910 and 1920 with the process involving gradual sugar addition in the presence of oxygen.

In the final decade of the 20th century, worldwide baker's yeast production reached 2.5 million tonnes a year. It was the largest ever known production of micro-organisms, due to the tremendous technical and scientific progress the industry had managed either to exploit or develop. All the fermentation industries, which go to make up our biotechnologies, benefited from its innovative spin-offs. This includes the production of enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, or molecules of a therapeutic nature, including hormones, antibiotics and vaccines.