Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is Sourdough?

My friend and fellow food blogger, Mark Hansen, has been making sourdough bread in his dutch oven. He's not shared any of it with me, but what are you gonna do? In the spirit of friendship and food love, I've decided to offer this “blog response” on sourdough bread.

Sourdough refers to the process of capturing wild yeasts to leaven the bread. The process is as old as bread, with some of the earliest known records of sourdough dating back to ancient Egypt. It was probably the first form of leavening.

It turns out that true sourdough isn't just yeast. It's a combined culture of yeast and lactobacilus bacteria. Mark told me that it's the ratios between the two in the culture that determines how strong the “sour” taste is.

Even though it's been around for thousands of years, I credit the prospectors during the California gold rush with raising sourdough techniques beyond mere leavening techniques, and creating an American sourdough tradition. The famous “San Francisco Sourdough” comes comes from the prospectors who carried a mixture of flour and water in a packet strapped to their waists. The heat from their bodies fermented the mixture and created a natural leaven. This also gave them the nickname “sourbellies.”

San Franciscan's claim that their city is the sourdough capital of North America. I prefer to think of it as the sourdough capital of the world.

Photo by Josep Alarriba


mamakd said...

That is something I didn't know! Mmmm, sourdough bread. I agree about San Francisco, there is no better place to get sourdough bread!

Mark Dutch Oven said...

Thanks for the link! But shame on you for the bad pun in the label on this post... "Food Culture"? Boooo...

Brock said...

Actually, sourdough was not invented in San Francisco. Sour dough is the root of the French baking tradition. French bakers showed up in San Francisco and settled in to stay. For a great discussion of sourdough, see Dan Leader's book, "Not By Bread Alone" which should be required reading for anyone interested in baking artisan bread.

John Newman said...

Thanks for the book lead, Brock! I'd recommend to my other readers to go check out Brock's two food blogs. There's some pretty tasty info being served up alongside the tasty recipes, there.