Known as mother dough, sourdough starters have been around for nearly 6,000 years. Many people use this type of technology to produce their own breads or baked delicious sweets.
It is not a mistery that many researchers and bread-makers want to know how sourdough technology came about. Old starters are surrounded by some kind of mystical meaning. What is a sourdough? – if we were microscopic – we would be able to see yeast consuming carbohydrates and other bacteria producing gas and lactic acid. This is what gives a sour flavour to sourdough.
Sourdough starters, Egyptians and Romans
Dr. Serena Love is a gastro-Egyptologist (@drserenalove on Twitter) and she states that during the pyramid age (1500 BCE), we have textual evidence that pyramid builders consumed bread, beer, and onions daily. This leads only to the hypothesis that they were producing their own bread, many batches, really.
We wouldn’t know for sure if Egyptians were deliberately using sourdough starters and sourdough technology. They used a mixture of flour and water and stored a sample of dough for the next day’s bake. This could be a testimony of the use of sourdough technology; however, Dr Love states that they were just learning to produce bread on a larger scale.
To have textual sources of the use of sourdough technology, we need to wait until Pliny the Elder who, in 77 EC, wrote about Ancient Rome and Romans baking activity (read more info in this book from Prof. Eric Pallant: Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making From Ancient to Modern Bakers).
Another source is the New Testament were there are many references to baking and using backslopping to produce bread. Backslopping is when you use a portion of a successful fermentation as a starter for initiation of a new fermentation.
One of the best documented cases of ‘ancient’ sourdough still used for bakery purposes is the one from a German starter culture producer: Böcker.
They have a very good reputation of selling a good sourdough started and have been propagating sourdough since 1906. They do have documentation that this sourdough has been propagated over the last (more than) 100 years.
Now, can you make your sourdough starter last for 100 years?
I think we only have to wait (refresh) and watch!