Italian Scientists Create Pizza Dough That Rises Without Yeast

This tiny pizza, a couple inches across, was made in a lab in Naples using a new approach for raising dough that doesn’t involve yeast. Ernesto Di Maio

Ernesto Di Maio is severely allergic to the yeast in leavened foods. “I have to go somewhere and hide because I will be fully covered with bumps and bubbles on the whole body,” he says. “It’s really brutal.”

Di Maio is a materials scientist at the University of Naples Federico II where he studies the formation of bubbles in polymers like polyurethane. He’s had to swear off bread and pizza, which can make outings in Italy a touch awkward. “It’s quite hard in Naples not to eat pizza,” he explains. “People would say, ‘Don’t you like pizza? Why are you having pasta? That’s strange.'”

When Paolo Iaccarino showed up to work on his PhD in Di Maio’s lab, the graduate student soon divulged that on weekends, he’s a pizzaiolo — that is, a pizza maker at a legit pizzeria. He’s made a lot of pizzas over the last several years — “tens of thousands, surely,” he says.

So Di Maio put Iaccarino and another graduate student, Pietro Avallone, to work on a project to make pizza dough without yeast. The results of this scientific and culinary experiment are published in Tuesday’s edition of Physics of Fluids. Di Maio pulled in another colleague: chemical engineer Rossana Pasquino who studies the flow of materials, everything from toothpaste to ketchup to plastics. “Pizza [dough] is a funny material,” she explains, “because it flows, but it has to be also like rubber. It has to be elastic enough [when it’s cooked] to be perfect when you eat it.”

It’s within this unique material where yeast traditionally do their work. “Yeast are small microbes and they eat the sugars in the dough,” says David Hu, a physicist at Georgia Tech not involved in the research. As they digest the sugar, “they kind of ‘burp’ [carbon dioxide], and create the bubbles because the dough traps the bubbles inside.” Let the dough rest or proof, and those cavities grow, puffing it up. Then, as a pizza bakes, the air bubbles are cooked right into the dough, creating that light, heavenly texture. “Any sponginess is all due to the bubbles,” says Hu.

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SOURCE: NPR, Ari Daniel