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What Are Sourdough Starters?

Updated on June 13, 2011
Jar of Sourdough Starter photo: basykes @flickr
Jar of Sourdough Starter photo: basykes @flickr

Sourdough Starter History

Starters have already been used for probably thousands of years to be able to leaven and add flavor to breads. Present day chefs produce an array of baked products with starters, or soured doughs, which includes bread, hot cakes, biscuits, and even some cakes.

So, What Is a Sourdough Starter?

Exactly what are sourbread starters? It's really an artificial growth culture environment created by a baker. It's a basic combination of water and typically whole wheat flour, plus oxygen. This culture includes single cell microorganisms living together in a symbiotic relationship.

There are at least two different types of microorganisms and possibly more in each sourdough starter. The soupy blend contains Lactobacillus bacteria which change sugars into acids, along with producing several ingredients which add flavor. They also generate an environment that proves hostile for mold development. In return, wild yeast has the capacity to digest sugars, helping to generate the food supply the lacto-bacillus requires. The wild yeast strains grow well in the acidic environment and provide leavening. The sourdough starter can be used for taste and leavening for numerous breads that simply cannot be produced another way.

Sourdough bread is baked without any additional yeast. By creating a sourdough starter in which wild yeast multiply naturally, a baker can cause bread to rise naturally, as bread used to be made long ago. After the sourdough starter is created, it is mixed into bread dough. After the dough rises, it is baked like any other loaf of bread.

A Sourdough Starter Hand Me Down?

Not every loaf of sourdough bread tastes sour. It requires a bare minimum of twelve hours for the rich flavors to develop in sourdough loaves. This is mainly why a sourdough bread loaf takes such a long time to rise and bake in the oven.

It is actually possible to keep sourdough starter alive for hundreds of years. Imagine your very own personal sourdough starter being handed down to a great-great-great-granddaughter (or son)! Not just the recipe, but the starter itself! It's entirely possible!

Sourdough bread photo: Sifu Renka @flickr
Sourdough bread photo: Sifu Renka @flickr

Sourdough Starter Video

What Are Sourdough Starters? Comments

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    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 7 years ago from Wisconsin

      Mmm. You just got me thinking how good and tasty sourdough bread is...

      And the smell. :)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I wish my grandmother had because she always baked wonderful in a real breadoven.