The Real Bread Campaign, part of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming,
is funded by the Big Lottery's Local Food programme and the Sheepdrove Trust.
Although sourdough isn't a criterion of the Campaign's basic definition of Real Bread, we do believe that there are benefits to making bread using sourdough, rather than commercially produced yeast. These are the result of a combination of the culture itself and the longer fermentation time it requires to generate sufficient gas to leaven (raise) the bread.
You can read some of these benefits of genuine sourdough on our FAQs page.
Although we believe in the benefits of sourdough, it is not the core of our work. You can find much more detailed information and discussion elsewhere:
Sourdough is a name for a mixture (dough or batter) of water and cereal flour containing a culture of naturally occurring yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. It is often also used to name breads and pancakes made using such a culture.
Yeasts and bacteria are present all around us – for example in the air, soil and water. Those well suited to bread production are found in relatively high populations on the surface of cereal grains, such as wheat. By grinding the grains into flour and providing a suitable environment for these microorganisms to thrive (basically by adding water, maintaining an appropriate temperature, and providing food in the form of more flour) these populations can be increased in size and concentration, where they co-exist in a symbiotic relationship.
Eventually there will be enough yeast cells giving off carbon dioxide as a byproduct of their respiration to make bread rise. The interaction of the yeast and the natural enzymes they secrete will have a beneficial effect on the flavour, texture and aroma of the baked bread.
At the same time, the populations of bacteria will increase. The interaction of these bacteria and the products of their respiration (including lactic and acetic acids) also contribute to the flavour, texture and aroma of the bread. Additional benefits in a genuine sourdough include slowing the staling of the loaf.
The Real Bread Campaign will be calling for a change in law to protect the term sourdough, restricting its use to breads that have been made:
Our definition is currently under discussion and the criteria may change.
Nothing more than flour and water.
The surface of grains, such as wheat and rye, are usually home to thriving colonies of one or more species each of yeast and bacteria. These live in symbiotic relationship with the grain and so are, arguably, the most suitable to start a sourdough culture. Other ingredients are therefore unnecessary but here are some that might be suggested, along with some theories behind their inclusion:
Click here for a simple sourdough starter.
Nope. Sourdough culture will always contain one or more species of yeast. In some cases these yeasts might even include the same species (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that is sold as bakers' and brewers' yeast.
That said, the strains of S. cerevisiae found in bakers' and brewers' yeast have been modified of years of selective breeding (for example to produce large volumes of carbon dioxide/alcohol, respectively, and to generate different flavour profiles in the finished product), perhaps even by genetic modification in some cases. It is unlikely that even if S. cerevisiae is present in a sourdough culture that it will be genetically identical to a commercial strain.
Concentrations of yeast in a genuine sourdough may well be lower than in a bread made with commercial yeast. Rather than using a relatively large amount of yeast cells to produce the amount of carbon dioxide needed over a relatively short period of time, sourdough relies upon its smaller number of yeast cells being left for a longer fermentation period to generate the same amount of gas.
One further thought on yeasts in bread – yeasts die at around 60°C. As the internal temperature of bread should reach at least 90°C during baking, by the time a properly made loaf of any type of bread is ready to eat, it will contain no live yeast, only dead cells and byproducts.
Your personal experience may have already given you the answer to this, but the advice we must give you is to get tested by an expert in food allergy/intolerance. This will isolate the cause of your difficulty from all other possible factors. Your GP will be able to help.
See our FAQs page for a brief outline of, and differences between, these conditions.
The FAQs page also contains a growing list of studies, including at least one that has concluded that some people who encounter problems when eating bread made with commercial yeast might be able to eat genuine, long-fermented sourdough. The comments section of the Campaign’s own small sourdough study (to be published later in summer 2011) adds to the growing body of anecdotal evidence that supports this.
The Real Bread Campaign calls for funding for large-scale research to determine the impact of sourdough fermentation of wheat bread in relation to these conditions.
Bacteria are all around, on and inside everything in the world - including you.
With apologies for using the reductive language of certain TV adverts – there are ‘good’ bacteria and ‘bad’ bacteria. Those in sourdough are some of the ‘good’ ones, related to the bacteria used to make cheese, yoghurt, sauerkraut, and some types of salami.
Though bakers will often take pride in their sourdough bread’s tang and flavour complexity, it is possible to produce loaves with a much more subtle flavour and less pronounced acidity.
This item is taken from the section on sourdough in Knead to Know: the Real Bread starter:
As well as one or more types of yeast, sourdough cultures contain Lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria) that produce both lactic and acetic acids. A key part of mastering sourdough is keeping the concentration and ratio of these acids in balance. Too much acetic acid and the bread will taste very sharp and perhaps vinegary (it is the same acid that is found in vinegar), whereas bread with too little acetic acid and a higher level of lactic acid might not have any discernible sourdough characteristics.
Different yeasts and bacteria are adapted to different conditions. Lactobacilli that produce higher levels of lactic acid tend to prefer wetter batters kept at around 1-5°C, whilst those producing both lactic and acetic acid thrive better in stiffer batters kept at around 20°C. Acetic acid is produced in lower quantities than lactic and so takes longer to build up in a dough.
Therefore, to achieve a more pronounced flavour and sourness, you can try keeping your starter at a lower hydration (i.e. dough-like) and retard dough fermentation by proving overnight in the fridge. For a milder flavour and acidity, try keeping your starter as a batter and prove at room temperature.