There is no doubt that sourdough is the bread of the moment, with bakeries around the country experiencing a big demand for this increasingly popular loaf, which is made with ingredients whose origins often go back years, sometimes up to a hundred!

But what is sourdough and how does it differ from traditional bread?

Sourdough is bread which has been made using a ‘starter’ instead of traditional yeast to create risen loaf.

What is a starter?

The ‘starter’ used in making sourdough is a mix of flour and water, which is fermented and ‘fed’ with additional flour, initially over a few weeks, to create what bakers call the ‘mother’. This ‘mother’ has a thick, batter like consistency and can be nurtured by the baker for months, or even years. It is from the ‘mother’ that a baker takes the ‘starter’ mix to use as a raising agent in each batch of dough.

Each time a baker removes a new ‘starter’ from the ‘mother’ mixture, they replenish it with an equal mix of flour and water, in order to keep their ‘mother’ going.

Sourdough starter

How does it work?

When a baker creates the initial ‘starter’, the flour and water absorbs natural yeast from the air around it. As this ferments and the ‘starter’ is ‘fed’ with flour, the yeast is strengthened until the mixture can act as a raising agent in the dough mix.

Some facts about Sourdough…

  • The fermentation of the yeast releases lactic acid, and this is what gives the sourdough it’s distinctive, slightly sour taste
  • Legend has it that sourdough was created when an Ancient Egyptian accidentally left his flat bread dough overnight, allowing the yeast to work and giving him leavened bread
  • One bakery, Bread Ahead in London, even had theirs blessed by priests at Southwark Cathedral
  • Sourdough ‘mothers’ can be kept for generations, although there is no official record of the oldest one in the UK
  • There are ‘sourdough hotels’ in parts of the world where bakers can leave their ‘mothers’ if they go on holiday

Sourdough bread