So, you’re wondering, does wine have yeast in it? The short answer is yes. Wine has yeast. You cannot make alcohol without yeast because yeast is the only organism on earth that produces alcohol. However, there is a more nuanced discussion to be had. Let’s have it.
How Yeast Works
First, if you’re asking whether wine has yeast in it, you likely have an underdeveloped understanding of yeast itself.
Yeast is a single celled living organism with an enclosed nucleus, making it a eukaryote. It has been on earth for billions of years, as one of the planet’s first life-forms.
It is cousin to the mushroom, as a fungi, and is considered much closer to animals than plants. Why?
Well, it goes in search of food, rather than absorbing nutrients from earth’s elements, like plants do.
From the beginning, yeast has sought sugars as its energy source.
It can survive virtually any environment, and even in freezing temperatures it will lie dormant rather than dying.
In extremely hot temperatures, it will indeed die off, which is why boiling yeast causes it to be inactive.
Live, active yeast, hover in the atmosphere, on surfaces and even inside of our bodies, searching for sugar.
When it finds sugar, it consumes it for energy and then excretes alcohol, water, and carbon dioxide as waste products. This process of consumption and waste is what we fondly refer to as fermentation.
Thus, the first humans likely encountered yeast as a natural byproduct of coexisting with the earth in our earliest times.
It is often thought that the first alcoholic beverages made were honey meads, which is simply fermented honey and water.
If you think about it, it would have been quite easy for this accident to occur.
Humans create a refreshing beverage of water and honey, but when left out for several days, local yeasts would have been naturally attracted to this beverage.
Over time, humans would have noticed that this beverage was intoxicating and then deliberately left their drinks out to ferment.
This “accident” is certainly how ancient beverages like tepache from Mexico are made.
In that case, a pineapple is chopped up, including the peel, and placed in a container with water and sugar.
After about week, you have a fermented juice beverage thanks to the local yeast cells doing their job.
How Wine Is Made
It is in this way that wine has been made for hundreds of thousands of years.
Again, it was likely a happy accident that made the first wine.
Grapes were crushed for their juice and then that juice was left out for several days.
Bam. You have wine.
Over time, the popularity of wine grew and growing and harvesting crops of wine grapes became a specialty.
Specific, sweet grapes were chosen, the soil was inspected, and the climate was observed all to make a delicious and highly sought after wine.
Wine, after all, was once considered the elixir of the gods. Egyptians and Romans thought real magic was taking place when grapes were turned into a heady mixture of juice and alcohol.
But the process was, and still can be, quite simple.
Grapes are grown and harvested at their perfect ripeness.
The grapes are crushed and often left to sit on their skins and seeds.
The debris is filtered out, and the must is left in a vessel to ferment.
Winemakers have never had to add yeast to make wine, and this is where the conversation becomes nuanced.
You see, when it comes to wine, the grapes are never boiled or scraped. Plenty of wild, local yeast is sitting right there on the skins of the grapes. Those yeast cells are naturally transferred to the must, and even in an airtight container can ferment without any interference at all. You would have wine in a week or so, ready for secondary fermentation, which smooths out the flavors and aromas.
So, yes, wine always has yeast in it.
Now, today’s winemakers will actually add the yeast of their preference to extract certain flavors, aromas, and other characteristics, which may very well overpower the wild yeast in a competition for the sugars in the yeast.
This process is the one most winemakers today employ — a commercial yeast is added.
In either case, however, you will always encounter yeast in any wine you drink, even nonalcoholic wine, as the alcohol can be removed, but yeast is still very much a fundamental ingredient in wine, even if it is dead.
If you have a yeast allergy, it is best to avoid wine altogether. You also will want to avoid any alcoholic beverage, leavened bread, crackers, and pastries. Other fermented foods and beverages like Kombucha, pickles, yogurt, and kefir must also be avoided.
The good news is that yeast allergies are very rare, and in most cases, if you are reacting to something, it is likely the alcohol, not the yeast.
In which case you can still enjoy all those delicious, fermented foods and beverages. Just be sure the alcohol has been removed.
In the end, yeast is packed with nutrition and helps us create amazing food that can be both pleasing to the palate and to a healthy body.
It is also a fascinating little organism to learn about.
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