Zoe Stavri uses vaginal yeast – Candida Albicans, to bake a sourdough bread, confusing many people. She explained on her blog that she caused quite a visceral horror when she said that she would use yeast from her vagina to make the bread. It all started as a combination of a perverse sense of humor, scientific curiosity and a “touch of the thrush”, a yeast infection she’s been treated for. This infection results in a creamy white discharge from the vagina, which is similar to cottage cheesy (gross!). Stavri mixed a small amount of the discharge along with flour and water and posted pictures of the leavening process on Twitter.
Her twitter followers, apart from the misogynists and disablists, are mostly concerned about her health. But, Zoe sent an e-mail to Medical Daily saying that she did her research before starting the experiment. She wrote: “I never expected myself having to research microbiology, but here I am today. Before I started my sourdough, I wanted to check if anything in it could kill me, so I read up a bit on temperature ranges in which [C. albicans] lives and grows and thrives, as well as what else makes a sourdough. I looked into temperatures at which other potential contaminants from within and without my vagina could grow. I also looked into sourdough methods, extensively, to make sure I’m doing it right.”
Medical Daily contacted several experts in the field in order to get their comment on the situation, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and some food scientists, but they didn’t comment or point to any recent studies. Zoe was disappointed that most of the articles on conditions for growth of Candida Albicans are locked behind a paywall because she’s been fascinated by it. However, Fiona Rutherford was able to speak with yeast expert Dr. Ian Roberts on BuzzFeed news. Dr. Roberts is a curator of the National Collection of Yeast Cultures at the Institute of Food Research. He said that Stavri’s experiment was actually possible! Dr. Roberts said that “sourdough cultures are generally made using microbes that fall in from the surrounding environment, but there are many different species and strains of yeasts.” However, he also said that the normal baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is not likely to be found in the body. Furthermore, he did not recommend vaginal yeast for baking.
Theresa Eisenman did not recommend it also, in an interview with VICE about Cecilia Westbrook who successfully made yogurt from her vaginal yeast. In addition to Candida Albicans, this infection also contains Lactobacillus, a bacteria found in yogurt. Eisenman, an officer of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition says that vaginal secretion is not considered food and that it might transmit human diseases. Any food product containing vaginal secretions or other bodily fluids is adulterated.
The truth is experts don’t have anything specific to say since culturing this vaginal yeast is unprecedented. Stavri hasn’t found any differences between her yeast and the one usually used for baking.
“Five days in, and it looks and smells like a normal vaginal yeast-free sourdough should. I expect that the [C. albicans] itself hasn’t grown, and it’s just a very normal sourdough,” she said. “Within the next day or two it’ll be ready to cook with, and if it goes off like a normal sourdough, I have every intention of eating it, because I love sourdough.”