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Bread baking boom means flour and yeast are flying off U.S. shelves

Kristin Schwab Apr 15, 2020
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There's something comforting about kneading your own dough and baking your own bread. Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Bread baking boom means flour and yeast are flying off U.S. shelves

Kristin Schwab Apr 15, 2020
There's something comforting about kneading your own dough and baking your own bread. Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

There’s no shortage of homemade bread recipes online right now. They show fluffy loaves fresh out of the oven, golden brown with beautiful cracks in the crust. Baking is fun, easy and delicious, the directions claim.

“It came out much more gooey … I tried to make it into a baguette,” said Antonius Wiriadjaja in New York, who has attempted one New York Times recipe five times with mixed results. “It came out looking like a rocket ship.”

Like a lot of people right now, Wiriadjaja has a lot more time on his hands and decided to get into baking. He had to order a $50 kit from a local bakery because he couldn’t find flour and yeast at the store.

And that’s because demand for flour and yeast is on the rise. Red Star Yeast, one of the country’s major producers, has said the surge is unprecedented. At Vermont-based King Arthur Flour, sales are three times higher than usual — even for whole wheat flour.

“Typically, at this time of year, we’re operating at 50% capacity,” said co-CEO Karen Colberg. “But in the past couple of weeks we’ve turned on to full tilt, and we’re operating 24/7.” Colberg said the country isn’t running out of wheat. Instead, the shelves are empty at grocery shelves because the supply chain is overwhelmed.

But why has baking bread become an obsession? In some places, a shortage of bread could be a reason. But also: carbs are comforting.

“There’s the kneading the dough with your hands. There’s the distinct way that the yeast smells,” said Amy Bentley, a professor of food studies at New York University. “And then I’m not sure that there’s any better aroma than baking bread.”

Plus, bread is cross-cultural. Sourdough, naan or challah — it all makes us feel more connected to family.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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