Italian Chemists Bake a Scientifically Perfect Yeast-Free Pizza

    When one hears the word “pizza,” the favorite Italian-originated dish immediately comes to mind. A person might have visions of steaming cheese, savory sauce, and a plethora of toppings on a crunchy, but soft crust. It’s a beloved food that can be found around the world in infinite variations. Thousands of single-celled organisms that go by the name yeast give their life to make a pizza. These cells die while helping the crust rise in the oven. Anyone with a yeast allergy is revoked of the glorious taste of pizza, until now. A crew of scientists from the University of Naples Federico II in Italy has designed yeast-free versions of this popular comfort food.

    So how exactly does yeast contribute to the process of pizza making? According to David Hu, a physicist at Georgia Tech, yeast is a “small microbe that eats the sugars in the dough.” As the yeast digests the sugar, they “burp carbon dioxide,” which creates the bubbles found in pizza dough. These bubbles can be found here because the dough traps them inside. After the dough rests and the cavities grow, the pizza puffs up. As the pizza bakes, the air bubbles are cooked right into the dough, creating that light, spongy texture. Although most people don’t have to think before wolfing down pizza, bread, cakes, or cookies, a small percentage of the population is allergic to the yeast inside the product. The leavening agent in pizza puts people with yeast allergies at risk of developing stomach issues, rashes, or anaphylaxis. The challenge the Italian researchers faced was getting that same rise of dough without yeast. 

    Ernesto Di Maio, a researcher at the Department of Chemical Materials and Production Engineering at the University of Naples Federico II, and fellow researcher Rossana Pasquino came up with their solution by placing the standard pizza ingredients — water, flour, and salt — into a hot autoclave. This is an industrial device designed to raise the temperature and pressure of whatever is inside of it. The applied pressure caused the gas to dissolve in the dough and, as pressure was released, created bubbles. The approach can be compared to carbonating soda. Because the autoclave they had on hand was small, they created a set of tiny pizzas, each the size of half a penny. According to Di Maio, these trial pizzas had an airy texture and tasted “exactly like yeast pizza.” 

    The Italians behind this yeast-free creation hope to purchase larger autoclaves that can make full-size pizzas in the future, as well as to introduce their technology to local pizza shops. As for Di Maio, who has a yeast allergy himself, his ambitions are set on working to introduce other yeast-free snacks into the world, like bread and cakes. Perhaps shortly soon, when one happily gobbles down a delicious pizza, they can hope that people with yeast allergies are also enjoying the doughy masterpiece somewhere around the world.