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Rise and Shine

Yeast is gross but also really awesome.

· Random Thoughts

One of my favorite memories from growing up was spending Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family and making the family’s AMAZING bread recipe. Seriously, it’s got a little bit of sweetness to it. YUMMMM!!!

So a few years back when I first spent Thanksgiving away from my family, instead spending it with my (now) husband’s family, this bread was the one thing I wanted to take with me. It was the one tradition I wanted to share with my new family.

So I called my mom and got the recipe and was at the store getting the ingredients when I stood in the baking aisle completely confused… I was staring at the yeast options and I had no idea what I was supposed to get.

As a biologist I pride myself on knowing that yeast is a live organism … and that it… uhh… does stuff when you put it in food… umm… like it makes it rise… but why? What is it actually doing? What is the difference between regular and “Rapid Rise” yeast? Do they do different things? Do they work differently? I HAD NO IDEA! I KNEW NOTHING! WHAT KIND OF A BIOLOGIST AM I?!?!

Answer: A normal one. A biologist doesn’t have to know every little thing about everything biological…

But I didn’t know the difference so I ended up just buying like 5 different kinds and hoping one of them was the correct kind. After feeling a little bit of embarrassment I decided I needed to learn a little bit more about what yeast was and how it works.

What I learned:

  • Yeast is a fungus (gross)
  • It is a single cell organism that evolved from multicellular organisms so it can do some things that multicellular things can do
  • Through fermentation yeast can convert carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohols.
  • Baker’s yeast is a specific strain of a single species of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • Earliest record of yeast to bake bread was from Egypt over 5000 years ago
  • Active dry yeast (the kind in my recipe) consists of coarse oblong granules of yeast, with live yeast cells encapsulated in a thick jacket of dry, dead cells with some growth medium.
  • The Rapid Rise is different because it has smaller granules and more live yeast cells. Many bakers think this makes the bread not taste as good.

I learned all of this plus a bit more, and so I was fully prepared to understand the parable when I read “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

– Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

First of all, wow! When we make our 3 loaves of bread, we use 7 cups of flour. This woman used SIXTY POUNDS!!! That’s a lot of bread that she is making. But the analogy makes sense because the dough is supposed to stand for the entire world and it’s a big ‘ol world that we are a part of. In fact it’s almost 25,000 miles around. So how is the yeast like the kingdom of heaven in this big batch of bread?

First of all I think of the idea of transformation. When you add yeast to dough you not only allow it to rise through the creation of carbon dioxide, but you also change the flavor of the bread through the creation of alcohols. So too does the kingdom of heaven transform everything that it comes in contact with. When we fully engage with our Lord, we are risen to a greater calling and add a few more flavors to our own lives. (some of us need to be a little less salty, too bad yeast doesn’t help with that)

Second, this transformation only happens when the yeast comes in contact with the sugar, it must be completely mixed in to the dough. So too are we called to spread the good news of the kingdom to every corner of the world in order to make the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. BUT another way to look at the last few words of the verse, “until it worked all through the dough” is to acknowledge that our God is already a part of every bit of creation. All creation is his handiwork and thus he has already worked himself into all of it.

Then finally we have to address the different kinds of yeast. I, an educated person, stood there staring and not knowing the difference. So too do most people look at morality. What’s the big deal to follow Jesus exactly; why can’t I be just a little different, take a few shortcuts? The bakers know the difference. As I said, the rapid rise yeast works more quickly, but bakers say it makes the dough taste worse. This is true about our moral life. It takes our entire life to fully develop our relationship with the kingdom. There is no shortcut. When we begin to look for them and cut corners, we lessen our connection to our God and His perfect plan. Following God day by day towards the kingdom may take a while, but it is worth it to be our best selves.

One final little tidbit that I think is neat is that in order to be activated yeast needs to be rehydrated. It needs water. And water is such an integral symbol in Christianity. We all need water. What a fun coincidence.