Q. B”H Shalom. Dear Rabbi,
Recently, scientists in Israel were able to reproduce wine and beer from remnants of yeast they had found in jugs (estimated to be from 850 BCE found in Gath near Yerushalayim!)
1.Would it be halachically permissible to drink?
2. What if they were to reproduce wine?
There is no specific information as to who touched or prepared it.
A. Yeast is a microscopic fungus or an organisms too small to see with the naked eye. Each granule is a clump of single-celled yeasts, that are indeed alive just like plants or animals, that metabolizes carbohydrates (sugars) into carbon dioxide gas and alcohols. It is used as a leavening agent in baking. The carbohydrates turn into carbon dioxide and cause the dough to expand. Yeast is also used in the fermentation of alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer and spirits.
MBio, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology, (May 2019) reported, as quoted by Israeli press, that researchers have detected newly found yeast strains, that were used to make beer as much as thousands of years ago; and whose microscopic descendants still survive in the clay of the vessels used to produce or store the drink. The yeast may have spent at least some of that time in spore form, says Ronen Hazan, a microbiologist from the Institute of Dental Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Or, when circumstances were inauspicious, the cells may have simply gone into low-metabolism mode, breathing, eating and procreating extremely sluggishly. Either way, the colonies of yeast survived thousands of years to make it to this day.
More importantly, these hardy single-celled microorganisms are still capable of producing the alcoholic beverages they once fermented for kings, pharaohs and the simple folk of the Levant, thousands of years ago. The team of archaeologists and microbiologists brewed various kinds of “aromatic and flavorful beer” using yeast strains that were extracted from ceramics found at different archaeological sites across Israel.
Yeast is a cluster of microorganism and is not by itself a prohibited item, such as an insect. It is similar to harmless bacteria and other microorganisms, that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Its chametz status is dependent on the host on which it was grown. If non-chometz nutrients, such as molasses and high fructose syrups were used, it can be certified as non-chometz. Kosher L’Pesach wine must be fermented by yeast that did not grow on grains.
In general, other factors are also of kashrus concern even for non-Pesach use, such as vitamins, other additives, and the processing equipment as well as the transporting vessels used, for the finished yeast product to be certified as kosher.
Horav Shlomo Miller’s Shlit’a opinion is that the wine or beer created by using the centuries old, surviving yeast spores organisms to ferment them, is kosher. Even if the original nutrients were questionable, such as chometz or prohibited wines. Since after such an extended time, they were certainly already totally consumed, entirely dried or completely decomposed.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as revised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a