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Sourdough is a bread product made by a long fermentation of dough using naturally occurring yeasts and lactobacilli. In comparison with breads made quickly with cultivated yeast, it usually has a mildly sour taste because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.



Sourdough is a dough containing a Lactobacillus culture in symbiotic combination with yeasts. It is one of the principal means of biological leavening in bread baking, the others using cultivated forms of yeast (Saccharomyces). It is important in baking rye-based breads, where yeast does not produce comparable results. Compared to breads made with baker's yeast it produces a mildly sour taste because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.



The preparation of sourdough begins with a pre-ferment, (the "starter" or "levain"), made of flour and water. The purpose of the starter is to produce a vigorous leaven and to develop the flavour of the bread. In practice there are several kinds. The ratio of water to flour in the starter (the "hydration") varies and a starter may be a fluid batter or a stiff dough.

When wheat flour comes into contact with water, naturally occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into maltose; the enzyme maltase converts the maltose sugar into glucose, which yeast can metabolize.<ref name="rosada">Rosada, Didier (1997) Advanced Sourdough. Minneapolis: National Baking Center.</ref> Flour naturally contains a variety of yeasts and bacterial spores, which will cause a dough to rise if the gluten has been developed sufficiently. The bacteria ferment sugars that the yeast cannot metabolise and their by-products are metabolised by yeast, which produces carbon dioxide gas, which leavens the dough. Obtaining a satisfactory rise from sourdough takes longer than in a dough leavened with packaged yeast because the yeast in a sourdough is less vigorous. The mixture develops a balanced, symbiotic culture after repeated additions of flour and water. In this process, the ratio of yeasts to lactobacilli may be altered.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> 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.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Refreshment of the starter

As it ferments, sometimes for several days, the volume of the starter is increased by periodic additions of flour and water, called "refreshments".<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> As long as this starter culture is fed flour and water regularly it will remain active.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

The ratio of fermented dough to fresh dough is critical in the development and maintenance of a starter. This ratio is called "inoculation" or the "refreshment ratio".<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>The Fresh Loaf</ref> Higher refreshment ratios are associated with greater microbial stability in the sourdough. In San Francisco sourdough, the ratio<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> is 40% of the total weight, which is roughly equivalent to 67% of the new-dough's weight. A high refreshment ratio keeps acidity of the refreshed dough relatively low.<ref /> Acidity levels of below pH 4.0 inhibit lactobacilli and favour acid-tolerant yeasts.

A starter prepared from scratch with a salted wheat-rye dough takes about 54 hours at Template:Convert to stabilise at a pH between 4.4 and 4.6.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

A dryer and cooler starter has less bacterial activity and more yeast growth, which results in the production of more acetic acid relative to lactic acid. Conversely, a wetter and warmer starter has more bacterial activity and less yeast growth, with more lactic acid relative to acetic acid. A dry, cool starter produces a more sour loaf than a wet, warm one.<ref>"Lactic acid fermentation in sourdough", Deborah Wink</ref> Firm starters (such as the Flemish Desem starter, which may be buried in a large container of flour to prevent drying out) tend to be more resource-intensive than wet ones.

Intervals between refreshments

A stable culture in which L. sanfranciscensis is the dominant bacterium requires a temperature between Template:Convert and refreshments every 24 hours for about two weeks. Refreshment intervals of longer than three days acidify the dough and may change the microbial ecosystem.<ref name="daniel.wing.michael.ganzle.correspondence" />

The intervals between refreshments of the starter may be reduced in order to increase the rate of gas (CO2) production, a process described as "acceleration".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Generally, if once-daily refreshment-intervals have not been reduced to several hours, the percentage amount of starter in the final dough should be reduced to obtain a satisfactory rise during proof.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

Faster starter processes, requiring fewer refreshments, have been devised, sometimes using commercial sourdough starters as inoculants.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> These starters generally fall into two types. One is made from traditionally maintained and stable starter doughs, often dried, in which the ratios of micro-organisms are uncertain. Another is made from micro-organisms carefully isolated from Petri dishes, grown into large, homogeneous populations in fermentors, and processed into combined baker's products with numerically defined ratios and known quantities of microorganisms well suited to particular bread styles.<ref /><ref name="pain au levain"/>

Local methods

Bakers have devised several ways of encouraging a stable culture of micro-organisms in the starter. Unbleached, unbromated flour contains more micro-organisms than more processed flours. Bran-containing (wholemeal) flour provides the greatest variety of organisms and additional minerals, though some cultures use an initial mixture of white flour and rye or whole wheat flour or "seed" the culture using unwashed organic grapes (for the wild yeasts on their skins). Grapes and grape must are also sources of lactic acid bacteria,<ref>Template:Cite book</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref> as are many other edible plants.<ref name="pmid17542335" /><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> Basil leaves are soaked in room-temperature water for an hour to seed traditional Greek sourdough.<ref name="pmid12450829" /> Using water from boiled potatoes is said to increase the activity of the bacteria by providing additional starch. Some bakers recommend unchlorinated water for feeding cultures. Adding a small quantity of diastatic malt provides maltase and simple sugars to support the yeasts initially.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Bakers often make loaves with fermented dough from a previous batch (which they call "mother dough", "chef" or "seed sour") rather than making a new starter every time they bake. The original starter culture may be many years old. Because of their pH level and the presence of antibacterial agents, such cultures are stable and able to prevent colonization by unwanted yeasts and bacteria. For this reason, sourdough products keep fresh for a long time and are good at resisting spoilage and mold.

The flavour of sourdough bread varies from place to place according to the method used, the hydration of the starter and the final dough, the refreshment ratio, the length of the fermentation periods, ambient temperature, humidity and elevation, all of which contibute to the microbiology of the sourdough.


Finally, the starter is mixed with flour and water to make a dough of the desired consistency. The starter's flour weight is usually 13 to 25% of the total flour weight, though formulas may vary.<ref name="pain au levain">Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The dough is shaped into loaves, left to rise and baked.

Because the rise time of most sourdough starters is longer than that of breads made with baker's yeasts, sourdough starters are generally unsuitable for use in a bread machine.

Biology and chemistry of sourdough

Sourdough starter made with flour and water refreshed for three or more days

Template:See also A sourdough is a stable symbiotic culture of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and yeast in a mixture of flour and water. Typically, the LAB metabolises sugars that the yeast cannot metabolise and the yeast metabolises the products of the LAB fermentation. Broadly speaking, the yeast produces the gas that leavens the dough and the LAB produces lactic acid, which contributes flavor.

The yeasts Candida milleri or Saccharomyces exiguus usually populate sourdough cultures symbiotically with Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.<ref name="modeling.growth">Template:Cite journal</ref> The perfect yeast S. exiguus is related to the imperfect yeasts C. milleri and C. holmii; while Torulopsis holmii, Torula holmii, and S. rosei are synonyms used more frequently prior to 1978. C. milleri and C. holmii are physiologically similar, but DNA testing established them as distinct. Other yeasts reported found include C. humilis, C. krusei, Pichia anomaola, C. peliculosa, P. membranifaciens, and C. valida.<ref name="0-8493-9849-5">Template:Cite book See Table 183.6</ref><ref name="1-4020-8291-6">Template:Cite book</ref>

L. sanfranciscensis prefers to consume maltose, while C. milleri is maltase negative.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

There have been changes in the taxonomy of yeasts in recent decades.<ref name="0-8493-9849-5"/><ref name="1-4020-8291-6" /> Lactobacillus species' phylogenetic groupings have also been undergoing reclassification, first being studied in 1991 by Collins, et al.<ref name="pmid17542335" /> In 1995, Hammes and Vogel phylogenetically grouped L. sanfranciscensis to L. casei-Pediococcus.<ref name="0-7514-0215-X" /> In 2003, Hammes and Hertel grouped it to L. buchneri. In 2007, Dellaglio and Felis grouped it to L. fructivorans.<ref name="pmid17542335" />

LAB are anaerobic, which means they can multiply in the absence of oxygen. Hammes and Vogel in 1995 distinguished three metabolic groups of LAB:<ref name="0-7514-0215-X">Template:Cite book</ref><ref name="0-8247-4264-8">Template:Cite book</ref>

  • Group A. Obligately homofermentative. They metabolise hexoses via the Embden–Meyerhof–Parnas (EMP) pathway to produce two molecules of lactic acid (C3H6O3), (>85%)<ref name="0-7514-0215-X" /><ref name="0-8247-4264-8" /> but no carbon dioxide (CO2). They cannot tolerate oxygen. "They grow at 45 °C but not at 15 °C."<ref name="">Template:Cite web</ref> "They are represented by L. delbrueckii and L. acidophilus."<ref name="" />
  • Group B. Facultatively heterofermentative. They metabolise hexoses to lactic acid,<ref name="pmid17542335">Template:Cite journal</ref> and pentoses to lactic and acetic acids.<ref name="0-7514-0215-X"/><ref name="0-8247-4264-8"/> They can use oxygen and will "produce more oxidized fermentations (e.g. acetate) if O2 is present."<ref name="" /> They "grow at 15 °C and show variable growth at 45 °C."<ref name="" /> They are "represented by L. casei and L. plantarum."<ref name="" />
  • Group C. Obligately heterofermentative. They metabolise hexoses via the EMP pathway to produce lactic acid, acetic acid, and CO2;<ref name="pmid17542335" /> and pentoses via the phosphogluconate pathway to lactic and acetic acids.<ref name="0-8493-9849-5" /><ref name="0-7514-0215-X"/><ref name="0-8247-4264-8"/> They are represented by L. fermentum, L. brevis, L. kefiri, and L. sanfranciscensis.<ref name="pmid17542335" /><ref name="" />

Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis was named for its discovery in San Francisco sourdough starters, although it is not endemic to San Francisco. In general, San Francisco sourdough is the same as a Type I sourdough.<ref name="p179isbn0-387-23180-3">Template:Cite book</ref> Type I sourdoughs have a pH range of 3.8 to 4.5 and are fermented in a room-temperature range of Template:Convert; Saccharomyces exiguus leavens the dough, Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and L. pontis highlight a lactic-acid bacterial flora that includes L. fermentum, L. fructivorans, L. brevis, and L. paralimentarius.<ref name="pmid12450829">Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name="p179isbn0-387-23180-3" /><ref name="pmid17008161">Template:Cite journal</ref> In Type II sourdoughs Saccharomyces cerevisiae<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> is added to leaven the dough, L. pontis and L. panis highlight the flora.<ref name="p179isbn0-387-23180-3" /><ref name="pmid17008161" /> These sourdoughs have a pH less than 3.5 and are fermented within a temperature range of Template:Convert for several days without feedings, which reduces the flora's activity.<ref name="The Secrets of Sourdough A Review of Miraculous Potentials of Sourdough in Bread Shelf Life">Template:Cite doi</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref> This process was adopted by some in industry, in part, due to simplification of the multiple-step build typical of Type I traditional sourdoughs.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Dutch wheat sourdough investigations found that, even though S. cerevisiae exerted infection pressure on sourdough's microbial ecosystem, it had died off after two refreshment cycles.<ref name="0-8247-4264-8" /> Continuously maintained, stable sourdough cannot be unintentionally contaminated by S. cerevisiae.<ref name="daniel.wing.michael.ganzle.correspondence">Template:Cite web</ref> 4% salt inhibits L. sanfranciscensis, while C. milleri can withstand 8%.<ref name="modeling.growth" />

A Belgian study of wheat and spelt doughs refreshed once every 24 hours and fermented at Template:Convert in a laboratory environment provides insight into the three-phase evolution of first-generation-to-stable sourdough ecosystems. In the first two days of refreshment, atypical genera Enterococcus and Lactococcus bacteria highlighted the doughs. During days 2-5, sourdough-specific bacteria belonging to the genera Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Weissella outcompete earlier strains. Yeasts grew more slowly and reached population peaks near days 4-5. By days 5-7, "well-adapted" Lactobacillus strains such as L. fermentum and L. plantarum had emerged. At their peaks, yeast populations were in the range of about 1-10% of the lactobacilli populations or 1:10-1:100. One characteristic of a stable dough is the heterofermentative have outcompeted homofermentative lactobacilli.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

History of sourdough

Sourdough bread

Sourdough likely originated in Ancient Egyptian times around 1500 BC and was likely the first form of leavening available to bakers. Sourdough remained the usual form of leavening down into the European Middle Ages until being replaced by barm from the beer brewing process, and then later purpose-cultured yeast.

Bread made from 100 percent rye flour, which is very popular in the northern half of Europe, is usually leavened with sourdough. Baker's yeast is not useful as a leavening agent for rye bread, as rye does not contain enough gluten. The structure of rye bread is based primarily on the starch in the flour, as well as other carbohydrates known as pentosans; however, rye amylase is active at substantially higher temperatures than wheat amylase, causing the structure of the bread to disintegrate as the starches are broken down during cooking. The lowered pH of a sourdough starter, therefore, inactivates the amylases when heat cannot, allowing the carbohydrates in the bread to gel and set properly.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> In the southern part of Europe, where baguette and even panettone were originally made with wheat flour and rye flour, sourdough has become less common in recent times; it has been replaced by the faster-growing baker's yeast, sometimes supplemented with longer fermentation rests to allow for some bacterial activity to build flavor.

Sourdough was the main bread made in Northern California during the California Gold Rush, and it remains a part of the culture of San Francisco today. The bread became so common that "sourdough" became a general nickname for the gold prospectors. The nickname remains in "Sourdough Sam", the mascot of the San Francisco 49ers. A 'Sourdough' is also a nickname used in the North (Yukon/Alaska) for someone having spent an entire winter north of the Arctic Circle and refers to their tradition of protecting their Sourdough during the coldest months by keeping it close to their body.<ref></ref>

The sourdough tradition was carried into Alaska and the western Canadian territories during the Klondike Gold Rush. Conventional leavenings such as yeast and baking soda were much less reliable in the conditions faced by the prospectors. Experienced miners and other settlers frequently carried a pouch of starter either around their neck or on a belt; these were fiercely guarded to keep from freezing. However, freezing does not kill a sourdough starter; excessive heat does. Old hands came to be called "sourdoughs", a term that is still applied to any Alaskan old-timer.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

In English-speaking countries, where wheat-based breads predominate, sourdough is no longer the standard method for bread leavening. It was gradually replaced, first by the use of barm from beermaking, then, after the confirmation of germ theory by Louis Pasteur, by cultured yeasts. Although sourdough bread was superseded in commercial bakeries in the 20th century, it has undergone a revival among artisan bakers.

San Francisco sourdough is the most famous sourdough bread made in the U.S. today. In contrast to sourdough production in other areas of the country, the San Francisco variety has remained in continuous production since 1849, with some bakeries (e.g., Boudin Bakery among others) able to trace their starters back to California's Gold Rush period. It is a white bread characterized by a pronounced sourness (not all varieties are as sour as San Francisco sourdough), so much so that the dominant strain of lactobacillus in sourdough starters was named Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Sourdough also became popular because of its ability to combine well with seafoods and soups such as cioppino, clam chowder, and chili.

Sourdough has not enjoyed the popularity it once had since bread became mass-produced. However, many restaurant chains, such as Cracker Barrel, keep it as a menu staple. Manufacturers make up for the lack of yeast and bacterial culture by introducing into their dough an artificially-made mix known as bread improver.

Types of sourdough bread

There are many breads that use techniques similar to that used in the making of sourdough bread.

Baking soda (and sometimes baking powder) may be added to a sourdough-type starter. This neutralizes the acid in the starter and generates carbon dioxide in the process, providing a lift to the dough or batter in a manner similar to Irish soda bread. This method is used in kitchens where the starter is kept off-balance with a high acid level. It is common in Alaska.

Amish Friendship Bread uses a sourdough starter that includes sugar and milk. It is also leavened with baking powder and baking soda, making like a quick bread. An Amish sourdough is fed with sugar and potato flakes every 3–5 days.

German Pumpernickel is traditionally made from a sourdough starter, although modern pumpernickel loaves often use commercial yeasts, sometimes spiked with citric acid or lactic acid to inactivate the amylases in the rye flour.

The Flemish Desem bread is a popular form of whole-wheat sourdough, cultured in a dryish medium.

Other recipes use starters that are not natural leavens. The Italian Biga and French Poolish add sourdough-like flavors to breads by allowing the yeast to ferment for at least half a day. Unlike a true sourdough, these recipes usually start with commercial yeast, and the production of lactobacillus is incidental.

In Azerbaijan, whole-wheat sourdough flatbreads are traditionally eaten.<ref>Forgotten Foods Comparison of the Cuisines of Northern and Southern Azerbaijan by Pirouz Khanlou</ref>

In Ethiopia, teff flour is used to make Injera. A similar variant is eaten in Somalia (where it is called canjeelo or lahooh) and Yemen (where it is known as lahoh)

See also



Further reading

  • Jeffrey Hamelman (2004). Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-0-471-16857-7

External links

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