Baking and brewing: The unexpected shortage of yeast in 2020

Joanne Clarke, Consumer Business Director at Anchor Yeast, says that even though they expected an increase in demand and sales, they still weren’t 100% prepared for the incredible demand during the first few weeks of lockdown. Some non-traditionally yeast-consuming stores saw an increase of up to five times normal sales!

The demand for yeast was unexpected but completely understandable, given that it’s such a versatile product and we were (initially, at least) going to be inside for three weeks while we tried to flatten the curve.

“Our retail partners battled to service the significant increase in demand at the beginning of the lockdown but very quickly caught up and were able to meet demand,” says Joanne. “Anchor Yeast doubled our production in order to meet the increased demand and ensure that we were able, with the assistance of our retail partners, to keep the shelves full and make yeast available to our valuable shoppers and consumers.”

What were we doing with all that yeast?

Yeast can be used to make anything from bread to vetkoek. When alcohol was banned, many South Africans took to using the handy ingredient to make their own beer.

Mimi Thurgood used yeast to virtually bake with her mom: “I baked challah, which I’ve been baking since I can remember so it wasn’t new. I just hadn’t done it at my own house for a while – I used to go to my mom’s house. So instead we baked on Zoom together.”

Everywhere we went, conversations sparked about baking, beer-making and jokingly bartering yeast.

Like Kate Thompson Davy, who had a cute moment with her housemate early in lockdown. They were on the hunt for yeast at the corner café; she was in one aisle and Danya Gibourdel in the other. “I said, quite loudly, that I couldn’t spot the yeast so she could hear me. Two women standing in the queue to pay, who were also housemates, turned around and laughed as they had just had the exact same interaction.”

Deprived of going outside and getting her favourite bagels, Sandi Butler recreated them at home. “It was a schlep, but they were delicious. We bought smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers so I could try to recreate my favourite breakfast, Kleinsky’s bagels from the Oranjezicht Market.”

Nashika Naicker initially bought yeast to make beer, but ended up making delicious rolls her nine-year-old son loved! “I had to make them every few days until he went back to school. I think he’s forgotten about them now, thankfully. It’s hard work!”

Tamara Oberholster, on the other hand, stuck to her intention to make pineapple beer and she even shared her brews with her neighbours. “It was the yeast we could do,” she jokes.

As we look back at the year that was, it helps to know that there were moments that brought us together like never before as we connected over human moments and a global collective experience.

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