History of yeast extract

With increased interest in consumer-friendly label foods, some questions that may come to consumers’ minds are “what is yeast extract” and “where does it come from?” While food suppliers often highlight the many benefits of using yeast extract in foods such as reducing salt, providing an umami taste and being vegan/vegetarian friendly, the history of yeast extract is important as well.

A centuries-old ingredient

The first recorded use of yeast extract was by the Ancient Egyptians, who we think used it to leaven bread and make alcohol. Since yeast extract comes directly from yeast in a natural process, consumers can feel at ease knowing that humans have been ingesting different forms of yeast for centuries, rather than being a new, trending ingredient that may lose favor down the road.
Yeast’s versatility really came to the fore in 1857 when Louis Pasteur discovered the fermentation process. Pasteur established the key role of yeast as the microorganism responsible for alcoholic fermentation and understood very early on that yeast was vital for forming bread’s aromas and flavors.

Yeast extract as a food flavoring

As enzyme technology advanced during the 1870s, a way to make yeast extract from brewer’s yeast was discovered and was then combined with meat extract to be sold as food flavoring. Thanks to this developing technology the use of yeast extract became common in the food industry.
Yeast extract can have several types of flavor profiles depending on different factors that influence the type and condition of the yeast used in making yeast extract. In 1902, the first yeast extract company was started in the UK and the commercial product was named Marmite. Here, salt was added to the brewer’s yeast to help produce yeast extract. Around this same time is when we began to see yeast extract appearing on food labels. All of this led to the creation of the yeast extract industry.

A broad range of products

Over time, the process has been modified with the invention and addition of newer technology, creating a broad range of yeast extract products made using baker’s yeast, brewer’s spent yeast or torula yeast. It is these three types of yeast that factor into the differing flavors and mouthfeels of various yeast extract products.

Yeast has been used, quite unknowingly at times, in food production for centuries. The continued use of yeast and yeast extract shows that they continue to be sought out ingredients that are safe for consumer consumption.