The history of sourdough

the history of sourdough

When it comes to bread, regardless of its final form, we all subliminally know it has been around for quite some time. However, some types of breads have a very interesting history and evolution, like sourdough.

The first recorded civilization to have used sourdough was the ancient Egyptians around 1500BC. Like many inventions, it was believed that Sourdough was discovered and created by accident.


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If you simply mix any ground up grain with a liquid, such as water and milk, then let it sit in the open air at room temperature, wild yeasts in the air will settle in the mix, eat the natural sugars and convert them into lactic (and other) acids which give it a sour flavour. They also give off alcohol and carbon dioxide, with the carbon dioxide causing the bread to rise.

Therefore, given that the Egyptians were quite proficient and enthusiastic beer makers, and the brewery and bakery were often in the same locations, or at least next to each other, it seems this was destined to occur. So, how did this happen? A bag of flour may have been mixed with some beer, creating a light loaf of bread, or wild yeast spores from the brewing process got in to some bread dough, causing them to rise higher than other breads. It’s anyone’s guess.

Perfection comes from trial and error, which is how they altered sourdough’s taste to suit the palette. Once the Egyptians worked out the combinations that produced the best taste, they discovered how they could keep this culture alive by taking a little amount of raw dough and adding more flour to it, which would produce the same flavour.

This came to be known as a ‘sourdough starter’, a good sourdough culture became very important to day-to-day living, and was even taken by explorers when they went on expeditions around the world.

From Egypt, bread-making spread north to ancient Greece, where it became a luxury product that was first produced in the home by women, and then in bakeries; the Greeks had over 70 different types of bread, which includes savoury and sweet, using a wide variety of grains.

In Germany, the use of sourdough was quite universal until brewers yeasts became common in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds. The overlap between brewing and baking was reflected in the fact that monasteries were producing both bread and beer, using the heat of the oven to dry malted grain and the yeast to raise the bread.

Yet the nature, and more specifically the taste, can also be influenced by the location. One of the best examples of this lays within San Francisco around the time of the gold rush.


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While there is a legend that Christopher Columbus was the first person to bring European sourdough to America, most will refer to the gold rush period as the historical starting point for sourdough in the U.S.

It is also when San Francisco went from a small outpost of uncertain allegiance (it was Mexican for quite some time), to a relatively big city as it was flooded with miners. With them they brought, or in some cases made, bread starters. These starters were so important they would cuddle them on cold nights so the yeast and bacteria would not die.


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However, in San Francisco, they found that the bread tasted different – sourer, chewier, tangier – than they were used to from back home. Yet it was with the opening of the Boudin Bakery in 1849 when the San Francisco sourdough got its official beginning.

In the 1970’s, two researchers set out to discover the truth behind the unique taste of the San Francisco sourdough. They discovered there was a type of bacteria found in the bread that had never been catalogued before. Eventually named L.sanfranciscensis, this type of bacteria was the biggest contributor to the unique taste of sourdough produced in San Francisco.

Although named after the famous city, and believed to have exclusively come from San Francisco at the time, it was later discovered this particular strain of bacteria is not exclusive to San Francisco, and has been found in France and Germany as well.

Bread is more than the mixture of flour and water, as it can have quite a rich history and cultural importance to many nations. Bakers Maison has taken the lessons learned from around the world, and applied it to our Sourdough range, which includes products such as the artisan sourdough baguette, sourdough café style loaf and more. To have these wonderful products on your ingredients list, please feel free to contact our distributors in your state for further information.

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