Sourdough Bread: History Beyond The Bread You Know
- Yash Lakhan
Updated : March 16, 2023 12:03 IST
Most people would agree that the tangy taste of sourdough sets it apart from other baked goods. Interestingly, the same bacteria responsible for the tangy flavour in yoghurt and sour cream also contributes to the distinct acidity of sourdough bread. Both yeast and bacteria occur naturally in wheat flour, and when combined with water, they become active. In essence, flour and water are the only essential ingredients.
Sourdough bread might have been considered a speciality bread by many, but it is simpler to make than no-knead artisan bread. Not to mention its health benefits and excellent flavour, which feels like a bite of heaven in your mouth. Sourdough bread is made using naturally occurring yeast and bacteria found in flour. Conventional sourdough recipes consist of just three ingredients: starter culture (flour and water), salt, and flour. Milk, oils, yeast, or sweeteners are not added at all. It's as natural as bread can get.
Most people would agree that the tangy taste of sourdough sets it apart from other baked goods. Interestingly, the same bacteria responsible for the tangy flavour in yoghurt and sour cream also contributes to the distinct acidity of sourdough bread. Both yeast and bacteria occur naturally in wheat flour, and when combined with water, they become active. In essence, flour and water are the only essential ingredients. Over time, natural processes lead to the creation of a mixture with sufficient leaven (yeast) for bread to rise. It's incredible how such excellent results can be achieved with so little effort, isn't it?
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The Origins Of Sourdough
It is believed that the first known civilization to create sourdough bread was the Egyptians around 1500 B.C. The origins of bread-making are so ancient that they cannot be determined with certainty. Many hypotheses exist regarding its discovery, but it is popularly assumed to have been an accidental find. Legend has it that the Egyptians left some dough out, and some of the wild yeast spores in the air mixed with it, causing it to rise and giving rise to the familiar sourdough bread we know today.
Evidence suggests that the Egyptians had a strong tradition of beer-making, and it's been discovered that breweries and bakeries were often located in close proximity to one another. Therefore, there is another speculation by scholars that early sourdough bread may have been created by combining flour and beer or by adding wild yeast spores from the brewing process to bread doughs, resulting in a light and fluffy loaf. Through trial and error, bakers discovered that certain sourdough cultures produced better results than others, and they began to preserve these cultures by keeping some unbaked dough and adding more flour to it. This process eventually led to the creation of sourdough starters.
It is also widely believed that the practice of baking sourdough bread was passed down to Ancient Greece from Egypt, where it was first done by women at home before being taken up by professional bakers. The Greeks are said to have shared their knowledge of bread-making with the Romans, who further improved the technique of kneading and baking. Some sourdough recipes dating back to the 17th century in France involve a starter that is fed and raised three times before being added to the dough.
Moving on, it is further believed that French master bakers brought their sourdough methods to Northern California during the California Gold Rush in 1848, and those methods are still used in San Francisco today. The bakers discovered that the sourdough culture in California was unique, and they became famous for their bread, which miners rushed to buy every morning. The Canadian Yukon and Alaskan regions also adopted the sourdough custom during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Miners and settlers would carry a pouch of starter with them because traditional leavenings were unreliable in harsh conditions. They were called "sourdoughs" because they even slept with their starters to keep them from freezing. Sourdough bread was replaced by commercial bread in the 19th century, but it soon made a comeback in the 1980s and is now consumed by millions of people worldwide. Thus, irrespective of the speculations about its discovery and origins, sourdough's popularity is on the rise, and more and more home bakers are trying their hands at making it.