Content note: this post is about food
A few weeks ago Britain had its first taste of food shortages after it voted to crash its economy. Unilever briefly stopped supplying Tesco due to a dispute about prices. Around the same time, disgraced former former minister Liam Fox, who is currently in charge of figuring out post-Brexit trade, issued a call for innovative jams to become one of Britain’s chief exports.
In this climate, I decided there was no time like the present to start making a yeast extract from my vaginal sourdough starter: again, it’s my damn scientific mind, which sparked previous weird experiments. It took me a while, but the results were quite promising, and if Liam Fox won’t eat it, it just shows he has no confidence whatsoever in Brexit. Or British Values, because I’m sure making my own cunt marmite when there was a shortage is the epitome of that make-do-and-mend Blitz Spirit.
So, the headline: yes, it’s possible to make a quite tasty yeast extract spread from vaginal yeast, but my god, it’s a massive *puts on sunglasses* faff.
Now, the full recipe is currently available to patrons only, although will be made public in a little over a month. For as little as $1, you can read the recipe now, completely free from the trappings of recipe stories on blogs. When I make it public, there’ll be a lot of scrolling.
Let’s begin at the end, when I finally ate the damn stuff. What did it taste like?
Answer: not like marmite, but tasty anyway. It was sort of sweet, like chutney, with a strong umami edge: not as strongly umami as marmite, but more like the more delicate flavour of vegemite. The closest thing I could compare it to is brown sauce. I had very low expectations for the project, with my bar set at “Troll Everyone” with bonus outcomes being “Actually Produce Something Edible” and the most unreachable desirable outcome being “Edible And Actually Quite Nice”. Somehow, I succeeded in the Edible And Actually Quite Nice, with nobody being more surprised than me.
And why was I surprised? Because it started life as this:
That right there is some of my sourdough starter (to which, you’ll remember, I added some vaginal juices when I first started growing it), modified to make it more liquid and therefore frothier. Literally nobody, as far as I could discover, has ever made yeast extract from sourdough starter, so I was having to improvise the whole thing from start to finish. Recipes tended to call for either bakers’ yeast or brewers’ yeast. Having neither, I settled for making something which had a consistency somewhere between the two of them. It took a couple of days to get the yeast ready.
Yeast extract is made by autolysing yeast. In lay terms, this means forcing the yeast to eat itself and then enjoying the delicious, tasty by-product of its own self-destruction. It’s probably a pretty decent metaphor for the Tories, which is another reason why Liam Fox should definitely eat my vagemite, unless he’s too chicken.
In practical terms, autolysis is triggered by incubating the yeast at a precise temperature, or under a precise pressure, or a little bit of both. It’s also helped along by salt.
If you’re making yeast extract in a factory, you’ll need specialist equipment to put it under pressure, keep it at a very precise temperature, getting the pressure right, and so on and so forth. Hell, if you’re making it at home, you probably need some specialist equipment: some recipes call for a pressure cooker, while others call for a hob where you have a decent amount of control over the temperature. I have neither of these things, but I jury-rigged a very high-tech incubation chamber anyway.
The full recipe explains exactly how I autolysed yeast without any specialist equipment, and it actually did work, to my utmost shock. The picture above shows the yeast after the incubation. The dark band is the yeast extract itself. That’s what yeast extract is: a dark liquid that comes off of autolysis of yeast.
I incubated it in total for about 26 hours: I’d intended to do 24 hours, but I was playing a really awesome game called Night Witches with pals, so I was out for a bit longer. Strongly recommend playing Night Witches, by the way, if you like any of the following things: communism, planes, women’s history, yelling DAKA DAKA MOTHERFUCKER at imaginary Nazis.
A few hours into the incubation, it started smelling a bit like marmite. 15 hours in, and it definitely smelled like marmite. Once the incubation was done and I strained it, I sneaked a taste of the yeast extract, and it tasted… not like marmite, nor vegemite, but maybe the cheap off-brand yeast extracts you might end up accidentally buying.
I left it to separate further for a couple of days, and then my next task was to reduce it down from a liquid to something with a consistency of marmite, and to flavour it. While you can eat yeast extract on its own, and you can buy that from health food shops, it’s pretty horrible, so you need to flavour it. Even proper marmite is flavoured a bit.
I used the water from boiling vegetables to flavour mine. Specifically, I boiled up two carrots, a small pumpkin, some baby pickled onions and a normal onion. This probably explains why it has that sweet edge to it, because carrots and pumpkin are both quite sweet, and maybe my tastebuds are weird, but I also think baby pickled onions are sweet. Incidentally, I only used pumpkin because the recipe I’d seen called for turnips, and they didn’t have any in the shop, but they had loads of pumpkins. Here’s what it looked like when I multitasked reducing the yeast extract and boiling veg:
I then plonked the vegetable water into the pan with the yeast extract, and let that reduce. While it was still liquid, it would have made a passable gravy.
Sadly, I had to keep on reducing. And I reduced and reduced, until eventually, after a week, I managed to produce… probably about 3 tablespoons of vagemite.
I let it cool, and then I ate it. I ate the whole fucking lot of it, because it was surprisingly nice. It seems like sourdough starter doesn’t produce quite as much yeast extract as more conventional yeasts, so if I were to do it again, for, say, when Liam Fox eats it to prove he has confidence in Brexit, I’d probably use a lot more sourdough starter than I did here.
I think it would probably go quite nicely with a sharp, mature cheddar in a sandwich, or perhaps in a savoury cheesecake made with quark.
So what have I proved here? That, in the event of a second marmite shortage as prices rise after Brexit, you can make it at home reasonably cheaply, but it won’t particularly taste the same. That it’s probably much better mass-producing the stuff. That it is a lot of fucking effort to make marmite, but it is possible. That you can make it out of sourdough starter and it doesn’t–as all the forums said while dismissing the idea–taste in the least bit funky. That Liam Fox is a fucking wanker… but I didn’t need to take a week of fiddling about with yeast to know that.
Stage 1: Getting the yeast into the right consistency and frothiness
As far as I could tell, I needed the yeast to be thinner and frothier than its usual state as a 50% hydration starter. This phase took approximately 36 hours.
1/2 cup dried sourdough starter flakes (to dry, paint your starter on a bit of greaseproof paper, allow it to dry, and flake it off. It’s good to keep some dry flakes in reserve in case you kill your starter through neglect, like I did with my first one)
Probably about 1.5 litres water
Probably about 2 1/2- 3 cups plain flour
-Place the sourdough flakes in the bottom of a large measuring jug. Cover with lukewarm water, poured to the 400ml mark. Leave to sit, stirring occasionally, until dissolved. This takes about 3 hours.
-Feed with 1/2 cup of plain flour and 1/2 cup water.-Cover but do not seal, e.g. with kitchen roll.
-Feed with 1/2 cup plain flour and 1/2 cup water twice a day (morning and evening), discarding some when the jug gets a bit full, until you have a frothy, viscous liquid.
Stage 2: Incubating the yeast
Yeast extract is made by autolysing yeast. To autolyse it, we need to incubate it, and add some salt to help the autolysis. This stage takes a little over 24 hours
-Check the oven temperature by filling the glass bowl with water and popping it in and occasionally checking its temperature. The goal is 44°C, though if you have an electric oven like I do, there’ll be a little variance as it switches on and off. Aim for 44°C on average.
-Once the oven is the right temperature, discard the water. Pour 1 litre of modified sourdough starter into the bowl, mix with a pinch of salt, and cover with the plate. Place in the oven.-Check temperature of the starter periodically. Aim for 44°C.
-Incubate for at least 24 hours. You’ll see it starting to separate, forming layers. This is good. This is what you want.
-At the end of the day, the average temperature of my incubated yeast was actually more like 46°C across whole 26 hours it was in incubation (it was in there for longer because I went off to play games with friends, not for any important scientific reason). This is fine. I checked the internet, and really, as long as it stays under 50°C, it’s not going to go Horribly Wrong.
-Strain the yeast through the cheesecloth, into the smaller bowl. You want to keep the more liquid, darker portion, and chuck the lighter, thicker portion. The liquid IS the yeast extract. You could eat it on its own. I probably wouldn’t.
-Cover and leave for a few days. It will separate a lot more. Strain it through the cheesecloth again when you’re ready to reduce it.
Stage 3: Flavouring and reducing
Finally, what we need to do is turn the yeast extract from a liquid into something with a consistency that we can spread on toast, and add some flavourings. Shop-bought yeast extracts often use delicious additives. Mine is all vegetables, and 100% vegan (consensually-harvested human vaginal is entirely within the principles of veganism). This phase takes about 2 hours, including cooling time.
-Put the yeast extract in a flat pan. Reduce at a VERY low heat. Do not allow it to caramelise. It will take about 45 minutes to reduce it from a liquid to a kind of gel.
-At the same time, cover the vegetables in water and boil for an hour. Don’t add new water when some of it goes away. By the end of the hour, you should have about a pint of vegetable-water.
-Add the vegetable-water to the yeast extract in the flat pan (you can do what you like with the veg itself).
-Reduce at a low heat. This will likely take roughly half an hour to 45 minutes. -Allow to cool, and then it’s ready to eat!
Please note that what’s produced here doesn’t taste like marmite. It’s a sort of sweet and umami taste, more like brown sauce, or how chutney should taste. It’s surprisingly nice, but it definitely isn’t marmite.
If you want to be lazy, you can not bother with the first two stages, and buy some unflavoured yeast extract from a health-food shop and add the vegetable-water to that. I imagine that’d probably be OK. Maybe.
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