Will Grocery Stores Run Low On Yeast And Flour Again As Delta Cases Surge?

There's something about freshly baked bread that makes it the perfect comfort food. The wafting aroma as it bakes, followed by the warm loaf coming out of the oven — it's all too gratifying. Unless you are gluten intolerant, a classic recipe for bread calling for just flour and yeast is all you really need to delight in the experience. And it can be nourishing and fuss-free once you figure out how to get the yeast to rise. 

But in the past year, there have been mass shortages of flour and yeast. Because so many people were stuck at home due to the COVID-19 lockdowns — not to mention indulging in comfort foods for a bit of reprieve from the chaos — baking ingredients were at a premium. As Food & Wine reports, shortages were in part due to an extreme increase in sales, compounded by the limited production and packaging capacities of companies also affected by the pandemic.

For consumers, it wasn't really a matter of getting enough bread on the table but relishing in the experience of making it. The Science History Institute hypothesizes that the process of baking your own loaf of bread is a way to connect with past traditions, not to mention the sense of achievement gained (as long as your loaf doesn't collapse). When you bring sourdough starter into the picture, there's certainly something to say about caring for wild yeast and a colony of bacteria when everything else seems to be out of control. 

What can home bakers expect as cases are on the rise again?

While flour and yeast supplies seem to have bounced back after the widespread shortages of 2020, it's hard to tell whether the same issue will occur this time around as Delta variant cases are on the rise. Aside from the current surge, cooler fall temperatures are on their way, prompting people to actually want to turn on ovens again. Although there are currently no reports regarding flour and yeast shortages in the U.S., there are ongoing issues across the globe. 

According to Business Insider South Africa, that country is facing very limited supplies of Marmite, a yeast-based spread. On the other hand, the source notes that Bovril, the alternate contender, is not in low supply. Whether the Marmite shortage in South Africa is an indicator of an imminent absence of yeast in American supermarkets is anyone's guess — and time will only tell if the U.S. will be impacted by new shortages.

As for flour, miller Thor Oechsner explained to Business Insider in 2020 that the problem wasn't as much quantities of flour available but the small package size that home bakers tend to purchase. He advised, if you want to beat the shortage, think about buying flour in 25- or 50-pound bags, assuming you have a place to store it and keep it from going stale. Meanwhile, if your supermarket runs out of yeast, MasterClass has a straightforward recipe to create your own yeast starter — as long as you can get your hands on some flour!