So what is sourdough? So many of us are enjoying this wonderfully subtle sour tasting bread but do we actually know what it is and how it is produced? Well here is a little insight into how it is made and the history of this surprisingly ancient method of bread making.
Sourdough is bread made with the fermentation of dough with natural occurring bacteria and yeast. It has a mildly sour taste not present in most bread made with baker’s yeast and better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.
The preparation of sourdough begins with a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing a colony of microorganisms including wild yeast and lactobacilli. The purpose of the starter is to produce a vigorous leaven and to develop the flavour of the bread. Flour naturally contains a variety of yeasts and bacterial spores. When wheat flour comes into contact with water, the naturally occurring enzyme amylase breaks down the starch into the sugars which sourdough’s natural yeast can metabolise. Obtaining a good rise from sourdough takes longer than dough leavened with baker’s yeast because the yeast in a sourdough is less vigorous. The acidic conditions in sourdough, along with the bacteria also producing enzymes that break down proteins, result in weaker gluten and may produce a denser finished product.
The history of sourdough
Bread is older than metal; even before the Bronze Age, our ancestors were eating and baking flat breads. There is evidence of Neolithic grinding stones used to process grains, probably to make flat bread; but the oldest bread yet found is a loaf discovered in Switzerland, dating from 3500 BCE. The use of leavening was discovered and recorded by the Egyptians; there is some discussion about how this process happened, and the degree to which there was an overlap between brewing and bread-making, but obviously without a handy time machine it’s going to remain one a debating point among historians of ancient food. What is not in doubt is that the ancient Egyptians knew both the brewing of beer and the process of baking leavened bread with use of sourdough, as proved by wall paintings and analyses of desiccated bread loves and beer remains. These techniques slowly moved throughout Europe and there are recipes from seventeenth century France using a starter which is fed and risen three times before adding to the dough! They were clearly more concerned with the flavour of the bread rather than an easy life for the baker.
The introduction of commercial yeasts in the nineteenth century was to the detriment of sourdough breads, with speed and consistency of production winning. By 1910, Governmental bills preventing night work and restricting hours worked made more labour intensive production less sustainable, and in response, the bakers moved again towards faster raising breads, such as the baguette. It’s only since the nineteen eighties that there has been demand again for sourdoughs in the UK, to the extent that in 1993, regulations were issued defining what could be sold as sourdough bread.
We have been producing our delicious sourdough since 2009 and are so proud of the product we make. The starter we have created is still going strong to this day. It has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years and the demand has increased even throughout our wholesale customers. We say if you haven’t tried it yet, you must! It’s like nothing you can get in the supermarkets (I mean, all of our bread is to be honest), but we’ll let you be the judge of that.
You can place orders for any of our breads over the phone at any of our three shops. Please call us for more information and we’ll be happy to help.