What are the Origins of Sourdough Bread? Brief History of Sourdough

Published Categorized as Beginner Guides

Baking and devouring loaf after loaf of sourdough bread is all well and good. But do you know where sourdough came from? Sit back and absorb the brief history of sourdough bread and its beloved tanginess!

sourdough history

Table of Contents

What is Sourdough Bread?

Sourdough bread is a type of naturally leavened bread made from naturally occurring bacteria and wild yeast, otherwise known as a sourdough starter. The sourdough starter is fed and kept alive for at least a week before it is used to make sourdough bread.

Each loaf of sourdough imparts a distinctly sour taste, coupled with a crisp crust, and incredibly soft interior.

Where Did Sourdough Originate?

The true origins of sourdough bread are super ancient. We are unable to make a certified claim on where this delicious bread first originated.

However, the first recorded civilization that we can fathom with confidence to have made sourdough loaves, was the Egyptians during 1500 BC.

With countless theories surrounding this possibility, many assume that this form of bread baking was discovered purely by coincidence. It’s thought that the Egyptians left out a mixture of flour and water by accident. Some of the wild yeasts in the atmosphere merged with the dough, causing it to rise and create sourdough bread.

The best food discoveries were often made by accident. It seems that the ancient Egyptians were no strangers to this.

Some also assume that Egyptians loved their beer and brewery. Often had the two in the same place, consequently resulting in flour accidentally mixing with beer and producing a light loaf of bread.

This discovery was trialed and perfected before the Egyptians learned that some of the sourdough cultures tasted better than others, especially when kept alive.

sourdough origins

Where Did Sourdough Travel Next?

From Egypt, news of sourdough’s brilliant fermented dough spread north to ancient Greece. Here it was initially baked at home by women, then at bakeries.

Interestingly, there are sourdough recipes that originate from 17th-century France, where they also used the same sourdough culture we know today!

Master bakers of France then took their sourdough baking formula to the Northern California gold rush days that occurred in 1848. In fact, it remains part of the culture of San Francisco today! These bakers realized that the sourdough cultures in San Francisco were very unique, consequently becoming famous amongst miners. They hasted to their local bakery every morning in search of their sour-style bread.

Since then, San Francisco sourdough bakers have been using the same sourdough culture which they later nicknamed the “mother dough.” This sourdough culture was identical to our sourdough bread recipes as we know them today: flour, water, a pinch of salt, and “mother dough.”

The mother dough was so beloved that it was heroically rescued by Louise Boudin during the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Where Else Has Sourdough Been?

Sourdough baking then made its way to Alaska and the Yukon territories of Canada during the Klondike gold rush days of 1898. The extreme conditions encountered by experienced miners made it impossible to rely on conventional leavenings like commercial yeasts and baking soda, as a result, miners resorted to carrying a pouch of sourdough starter around their necks!

As if that wasn’t crazy, miners were known to sleep with their starter in an attempt to keep the culture alive and prevent it from freezing during extreme weather conditions.

origins of sourdough bread

Benefits of Sourdough Bread

There is a huge difference between traditional and modern sourdough bread baking. For starters – no pun intended – the sourdough bread you buy from the grocery store does not even come close to the loaves you bake in your kitchen!

Sourdough bread that has been permitted to ferment using wild yeasts in the atmosphere has an incredible variety of health benefits. You won’t get from commercially produced bread doughs. Sourdough bread is incredibly easy to digest, has very low gluten content, retains more nutrients, and helps avoid certain health issues like diabetes.

This is why the art of making sourdough bread has grown so much in popularity since its first origin. We simply cannot ignore the wonderful lighter texture of our loaves, resulting in nothing but better bread that remains popular amongst home bakers to this day!

How to Make Sourdough Starter?

Making a sourdough starter is incredibly easy. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll begin to love the results so much that there’ll be a new loaf in your kitchen every day!

Here’s how to make it:

Ingredients

  • 60g unbleached whole wheat flour
  • 300g warm non-chlorinated water (divided)
  • 360g all-purpose unbleached flour (divided)

Instructions

  1. Using a clean glass jar, add 60g of whole-wheat flour, and 60g of warm, non-chlorinated water. The mixture will appear very thick and lumpy to begin with, but don’t worry this is completely normal. Cover the jar loosely and let it sit in a warm place.
  2. The next day, check the starter for any bubbles, if there are none don’t mix it, simply let the mixture sit for another 24 hours.
  3. On the third day, you’ll need to feed your starter no matter what it looks like. Scoop out half of the starter and throw it away. Then add 60g of all-purpose flour and 60g of warm water. Mix and cover loosely.
  4. On the fourth, fifth, and sixth days, discard half of the starter and feed as you did on day three. You’ll notice a natural rise and fall to your starter, which is important to note as this indicates that your starter is ready to bake. You can even monitor the growth of your starter using a rubber band, or marker pen, to mark where your starter began, and how much it grows with each feed.
  5. On the seventh day, your starter should be very bubbly and almost ready to bake bread. it should emit a subtly sweet and tangy aroma, appearing light and airy. If your starter does not look like this, then continue feeding it for a couple of days before using it.

What is Sourdough Discard?

A sourdough discard is a portion of sourdough starter that is discarded before each feeding. The discard is often kept in a separate jar due to its incredible aroma and flavor. This can be used in a variety of sourdough discard recipes.

From sweet to savory treats, sourdough discard does not disappoint! The only thing to consider is that a sourdough discard does not leaven bread dough in any way. This is simply because it is an unfed portion of the sourdough starter. Because of this, you will require some form of commercial yeast, to help nudge your dough rise.

origins of sourdough bread

Mouth Watering Sourdough Recipes

Sourdough bread isn’t the only type of baked good you can bake with a sourdough starter!

You can use the same recipe to create a variety of truly flavorful treats, and some of these can include:

History of Sourdough

Baking sourdough bread with a natural leaven or sourdough starter produces wonderful, and flavorful loaves. They delight the taste buds with each bite.

And we have the Egyptians to thank for discovering this blessed leavened bread even if it was by accident!

Origins of Sourdough Bread – FAQs

Is Sourdough From Germany?

Sourdough bread is a slight twist on a classic German recipe. Although sourdough bread is normally made with water, you may find that it is often made with milk in the Southern regions.

Why is San Francisco Known for Sourdough?

Bakers found their loaves were imparting a distinct tangy flavor, and this is mainly due to San Francisco’s foggy climate, which is essentially the perfect environment for wild yeasts and bacteria to thrive.

Did Sourdough Originate in San Francisco?

Despite its connection and stories, sourdough didn’t originate in San Francisco. Rather it is one of the oldest types of bread, that dates back to ancient Egypt.

By Natasha Krajnc

Hi! My name is Natasha and I'm specialized in home sourdough bread baking and currently based in Slovakia - a very small country in Central Europe. My bread baking story began in 2011 when I decided to give up commercial yeast. I felt tired all the time (especially after eating bread and other foods made with yeast), I wasn’t motivated to do anything, had trouble concentrating throughout the day, my abdomen was bloated and I was like a trumpet on steroids – basically, I was quite a wreck. I was a big bread lover (and still am) and having to stop eating bread was quite hard at that time but I felt I was on a right way to give my body a chance to heal itself.

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