Getting Philosophical About Sourdough

sourdough loaf by A Couple Cooks, find the tutorial below


In a recent article for Heated, Caroline Hatchett dives into the science of sourdough – the bacteria specifically, and busts open a few myths along the way. She starts off with the story of Sara May, a writer, whose sourdough starter turns black during a long move undertaken during lockdown from Philadelphia to Ithaca.

This is the entry point for those of us who name our starters like pets, who believe that feeding specific ingredients to starters will alter the flavour of the final bread we produce from them.

it might sound nice, but wild grapes aren’t needed and they won’t add anything to your loaf


Not so. Hatchett talks of bakers adding grapes or cabbage leaves to the fermenting starter, but concludes that just simply combining flour and water is enough to attract the yeast in the air.

She cites the Global Sourdough Project, “a study in which they sequenced yeast and bacteria genomes in 500 sourdough starters. Among the starters they examined, 92 percent were dominated by one of two strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast family most commonly associated with fermentation in wine, beer, and baking.”

And romantic notions about capturing wild yeast? Forget it. As Hatchett writes, “those little packages of baker’s yeast at the grocery store? They contain S. cerevisiae. If you’ve ever used commercial yeast in your home, it’s possible, even likely, that the “wild” yeast in your sourdough originated from one of those packets, having established itself in your kitchen and later inoculating your starter.”


flour and water are all you need to get your starter started


The Global Sourdough Project found that “before the advent of commercial baker’s yeast, sourdoughs likely had more diverse yeast colonies, with climate and geography playing a larger role in biodiversity.”

So your starter isn’t all that special. But the act of making it is. And the connection to the food we eat that we make ourselves is inherently valuable. We are freaking out daily in a world gone sideways and wondering if the kids will be okay at school and the winter is coming and no one knows what to expect – but if we are making sourdough it can ground us. It can be the warm thing that we hold in our hands as the nights begin to deepen and the chill sets in.



As May says in conclusion, ““For those of us with a relative amount of privilege, the time that the shutdown afforded was supposed to be this luxury. It was supposed to connect us to our roots. Women, especially, embraced domestic tasks in a lot of cool ways. But it was a fantasy we were telling ourselves to get through a very scary part of the pandemic. As months dragged on and reality set it, we realized this is not a phase. We had to figure out how to completely reconstruct our lives.”

And we’ve done that. We have changed, and many of us are better for it. Realistically speaking, fresh sourdough coming out of the oven isn’t going to fix this new normal we all find ourselves in, but philosophically it just might. If only for today. Let a simple loaf of bread bring peace.

Here’s a recipe with video from  A Couple Cooks.

Read Hatchett’s full article here.


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