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  • Simple Science

    The Cause of Fermentation

    Fermentation:
    Although alcoholic fermentation, and the fermentation which goes on in raising dough, were known and utilized for many years, the cause of the phenomenon was a sealed book until the nineteenth century. About that time it was discovered, through the use of the microscope, that fermenting liquids contain an army of minute plant organisms which not only live there, but which actually grow and multiply within the liquid. For growth and multiplication, food is necessary, and this the tiny plants get in abundance from the fruit juices; they feed upon the sugary matter and as they feed, they ferment it, changing it into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide, in the form of small bubbles, passes off from the fermenting mass, while the alcohol remains in the liquid, giving the stimulating effect desired by imbibers of alcoholic drinks. The unknown strange organisms were called yeast, and they were the starting point of the yeast cakes and yeast brews manufactured to-day on a large scale, not only for bread making but for the commercial production of beer, ale, porter, and other intoxicating drinks.

    The grains, rye, corn, rice, wheat, from which meal is made, contain only a small quantity of sugar, but, on the other hand, they contain a large quantity of starch which is easily convertible into sugar. Upon this the tiny yeast plants in the dough feed, and, as in the case of the wines, ferment the sugar, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. The dough is thick and sticky and the gas bubbles expand it into a spongy mass. The tiny yeast plants multiply and continue to make alcohol and gas, and in consequence, the dough becomes lighter and lighter. When it has risen sufficiently, it is kneaded and placed in an oven; the heat of the oven soon kills the yeast plants and drives the alcohol out of the bread; at the same time it expands the imprisoned gas bubbles and causes them to lighten and swell the bread still more. Meanwhile, the dough has become stiff enough to support itself. The result of the fermentation is a light, spongy loaf.


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