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Ancient Beer: Unleash the Yeast

Imagine sipping a beer or biting into a loaf of bread made from yeast strains dating back thousands of years.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Primer’s Heritage Yeast, the world’s first archaeological microbiology start-up, this extraordinary experience is becoming a reality.

By harnessing ancient yeast strains discovered in beer pots from biblical sites such as Gath, Jerusalem, and an ancient Egyptian site in the Negev, the company aims to produce and sell “ancient yeast” for bakers and brewers worldwide.

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The Birth of Primer’s Heritage Yeast

Founded in late 2022 by brewmeister Itai Gutman, Primer’s Heritage Yeast emerged from a collaboration between Gutman, Yissum (Hebrew University’s technology transfer company), and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The start-up’s goal is to provide active dry yeast strains with historical origins to bakers and brewers.

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While the company is based in Germany, negotiations are underway to establish manufacturing facilities in North America. Although tax payments will be made in Germany, the Israeli universities affiliated with the involved archaeologists will receive royalties once production and sales commence.

Ancient Yeast Strains and their Origins

Primer’s Heritage Yeast draws its unique strains from archaeological finds at significant sites.

Gath

Excavations led by Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University unearthed beer pots dating to around 850 B.C.E. The pots were found in biblical Gath, the hometown of the legendary Goliath. These vessels feature filters that may have been used to strain impurities from the beer.

Jerusalem

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Pots were also discovered at Ramat Rahel during excavations led by Prof. Yuval Gadot and Prof. Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University. They date back to approximately 500 B.C.E. Residue analysis confirmed that these vessels once contained mead, a type of honey wine.

Ein Besor

Dr. Yitzhak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority provided Primer’s Heritage Yeast with pots from this ancient Egyptian site in the Negev, which yielded yeast strains estimated to be 5,000 years old.

Reviving Ancient Yeast

The archaeological microbiology endeavour took flight when microbiologists discovered living yeast cells within the porous unglazed ceramics of these ancient vessels. The question of whether yeast could survive for millennia in a dormant state, without a source of nutrition or light, was answered with a resounding “yes.”

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The yeast cells had survived, providing a direct connection to the past and the potential to revive these ancient strains for brewing and baking purposes.

Primer’s Heritage Yeast, in collaboration with microbiologist Prof. Ronen Hazan of Hebrew University’s Institute of Biomedical and Oral Research, is now focused on harnessing the ancient yeast strains for commercial use.

By cultivating and producing active dry yeast, the start-up aims to provide bakers and brewers with the opportunity to create products infused with a touch of history. From traditional bread recipes to craft beers, the ancient yeast strains offer a unique and unparalleled taste experience.

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Preserving History and Cultivating Innovation: The efforts of Primer’s Heritage Yeast go beyond the realms of brewing and baking. By resurrecting ancient yeast strains, the start-up helps preserve and celebrate cultural heritage.

This initiative showcases the intersection of science, archaeology, and gastronomy, offering consumers a chance to experience flavours from the past.

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