The Ultimate Ingredient Spectacle: Yeast the Sweet Beast

I am a lucky baker, especially in the areas of baking bread and using sourdough, because my family have been bread bakers for 120 years and have owned bread bakeries in many different areas of Turkey. The baking adventure started with our great grandfathers going to Tsarist Russia as a worker. They raised from the ranks of workers to bakery owners, returning to Turkey when the Tsarism collapsed. Later on my father managed bakeries in various Turkish cities just like his relatives. The way of baking bread would change constantly because every city had different kinds of wheat, different water and different air. My family’s knowledge in sourdough started to take root in these years. Sweet yeast is the most special type of yeast among tens of different sour doughs we were told when we were children.

Sweet yeast is a naive product used in the making of traditional bread, crackers and simit. It is also called chickpea yeast due to its ingredients. You must be extra careful while producing it or else it will be “offended”, as the old timers call it. It is used in the place of yeast or sourdough in bread baking, but it is very different from these as sweet yeast needs to be prepared fresh every time while baking bread. So, you will need to make sweet yeast every day if you bake bread every day.

Various sour doughs are used in bread baking in Anatolia and the geography is the deciding factor on their variety. Locals make sourdough using whatever is grown in the area that will facilitate fermentation and hasten it. Some of these produce include rye, wheat, rain water, dewdrops or onions.

You can keep growing your sourdough for many years once you make your starter using these ingredients. However, chickpea yeast, or sweet yeast, cannot be grown in such a way and has to be produced from scratch every time it is used.

As Turkey is one of the biggest 4 producers of chickpeas in the world, this legume is grown in abundance especially in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions. In these areas, chickpeas are not only used for dishes but also to speed up the fermentation process in making bread yeast, yogurt, pickles and fermented purple carrot juice.

The reason for using chickpea yeast in bread baking is;

  • Its taste and smell are nothing like sourdough or sourdough breads.
  • It makes the kneading and shaping of the dough much easier.
  • It positively affects the interior color of the bread and the color of the crust.
  • It shortens the baking time of the bread.

Moreover, chickpeas also differ according to the region they were grown in and the same variation applies to sweet yeast. Therefore, the breads baked with the chickpeas of a certain region will have the taste and aroma of that region.

The most preferred variety of chickpeas in bread baking in Turkey is called KOÇBAŞI.

This variety of chickpea, which is rather hard and large compared to other varieties, is grown mostly in the Western parts of the country.

It isn’t used industrially because it doesn’t have any standards. It is mostly used by small businesses and at home in the baking of crackers, hard biscuits and simit rather than bread.

My father used to tell us about the time before industrial yeasts became widespread and about the artisan producers whose only work was to make sweet yeast to sell to bakeries. It was accepted to be very prestigious to master the production of this yeast, which was hard to make. To understand if the yeast was good and suitable for baking bread, it would be gently lifted from its container and a match would be held to the gasses it emits. If the fire went bright, then that sweet yeast was good to be used.

My father used to say that it was very embarrassing to make bread with unripe sweet yeast, because not even the dogs would eat it.

Here is how to make it;

  • 125 gr chickpeas
  • 625 ml water (45-50 degrees Celsius)
  • 5 gr salt
  1. Smash the chickpeas with a hammer one by one. Wash them and place them in a dark tinted glass jar (boiled to sterilize). Cover them with the water and salt.
  2. Cover the jar with a clean cloth. Let it ferment at 35 degrees Celsius for 24 hours.
  3. In the past, bakers didn’t have any problem in summer in creating this warm environment and they used warm compartments on top of their ovens to keep the yeast in the right temperature in winter months.
  4. Strain the chickpeas after 24 hours pass and pour the liquid obtained in the kneading bowl. Add 900-1000 gr flour (the amount depends on the flour used). Knead it thoroughly and cover it.
  5. Let it stand in 35 degrees Celsius for 4 hours. Separate 1000 gr from this dough and put it in the kneading bowl. Add 5 kg flour and 3 lt water. Sweet yeast is ready to use 4 hours after kneading.

This sweet dough yields great results when used 20-30% while making bread.