If beer and bread use almost the exact same ingredients (minus hops) why isn’t bread alcoholic? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
All yeast breads contain some amount of alcohol. Have you ever smelled a rising loaf of bread, or better yet smelled the air underneath dough that has been covered while rising? It smells really boozy. And that sweet smell that fresh baked bread has under the yeast and nutty Maillard reaction notes? Alcohol.
However, during the baking process, most of the alcohol in the dough evaporates into the atmosphere. This is basically the same thing that happens to much of the water in the dough as well. And it has long been known that bread contains residual alcohol, up to 1.9% of it. In the 1920s, the American Chemical Society even had a set of experimenters report on it: The Alcohol Content of Bread.
Anecdotally, I’ve also accidentally made really boozy bread by letting a white bread dough rise for too long. The end result was that not enough of the alcohol boiled off, and the darned thing tasted like alcohol. You can also taste alcohol in the doughy bits of under-baked white bread, which I categorically do not recommend you try making.
Putting on my industrial biochemistry hat here, many of the answers here claim that alcohol is only the product of a “starvation process” on yeast once they run out of oxygen. That’s wrong.
The most common brewers and bread yeasts, of the Saccharomyces genus (and some of the Brettanomyces genus, also used to produce beer), will produce alcohol in both a beer wort and in bread dough immediately regardless of aeration. This is actually a surprising result, as it runs counter to what is most efficient for the cell (and, incidentally, the simplistic version of yeast biology that is often taught to homebrewers). The expectation would be that the cell would perform aerobic respiration (full conversion of sugar and oxygen to carbon dioxide and water) until oxygen runs out, and only then revert to alcoholic fermentation, which runs without oxygen but produces less energy.
Instead, if a Saccharomyces yeast finds itself in a high sugar environment, regardless of the presence of air it will start producing ethanol, shunting sugar into the anaerobic respiration pathway while still running the aerobic process in parallel. This phenomenon is known as the, and is speculated to be an adaptation to suppress competing organisms in the high-sugar environment because ethanol has antiseptic properties that yeasts are tolerant to but competitors are not. It’s a quirk of Saccharomyces biology that you basically only learn about if you spent a long time doing way too much yeast cell culture… like me.