How Was Bread Leavened in Ancient Times?

Bread is a staple food that has been consumed for thousands of years. It is a simple food made from flour, water, and yeast, but the process of bread-making has evolved over time.

In ancient times, people did not have access to modern yeast or baking powder to leaven their bread. So how was bread leavened in ancient times? Let’s explore.

The History of Bread-Making

The history of bread-making can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where flatbreads were made using only flour and water. Later on, the Egyptians discovered that when dough was left out in the open air for some time, it would start to ferment and rise. This fermentation process was due to the natural yeasts that were present in the air.

Over time, different cultures around the world developed their own unique ways of making leavened bread. Some used natural yeasts from fruit or beer, while others used sourdough starters made from flour and water.

The Role of Yeast in Bread-Making

Yeast is a microorganism that feeds on sugar and produces carbon dioxide gas as a byproduct. This gas causes the dough to rise and create air pockets within the bread. In ancient times, people did not know about yeast as a microorganism but they knew that leaving dough out for a certain period would result in fermentation which will cause dough to rise.

The Use of Natural Yeast

Before commercial yeast became widely available in the mid-19th century, bakers relied on natural yeast to leaven their bread. Natural yeast can be found in many different places such as fruits like grapes or apples or can be cultured from grains like wheat or rye.

One common method of using natural yeast was by creating a sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is made by mixing flour and water together and letting it sit out at room temperature for several days.

During this time, the natural yeasts present in the air and on the flour will begin to colonize the mixture. The result is a bubbly, tangy mixture that can be used to leaven bread.

The Use of Beer Yeast

Another method used by ancient cultures to leaven their bread was by using beer yeast. Beer yeast is a byproduct of the beer-making process and was often used in bread-making as well. The yeast was scraped off the bottom of beer barrels and added to bread dough.

The Use of Baking Powder

Baking powder is a modern invention that was not available in ancient times. It is made from a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch. When mixed with liquid, baking powder produces carbon dioxide gas which causes the dough to rise.


In conclusion, bread has been an important part of human history for thousands of years. In ancient times, people used natural yeasts from fruits or beer or even sourdough starters made from flour and water to leaven their bread. Today, we have access to commercial yeast and baking powder which makes bread-making much easier but it’s always fascinating to learn about how our ancestors did it without these modern conveniences.