The story of sourdough


Sourdough is a traditional fermentation-based breadmaking process that has been around for more than 5,000 years. About 150 years ago, it was largely forgotten due to the industrial revolution and the manfacturing of commercial yeast. But sourdough is back, and it’s a great story for your customers.

With more than 25 years of experience, Karl de Smedt is what you would call a sourdough expert. He explains: "The sourdough revolution started in the '90s when trendsetting bakery concepts highlighted the craftmanship and flavours of sourdough and put it back on the menu. A classic sourdough consists of only three ingredients: flour, water, and microorganisms. You can recognise it with your eyes shut by the more complex and powerful smell and flavour than yeast-only bread."

Skills required
"When I went to baking school, I never learnt what sourdough was. And that’s the case in the majority of the countries where I've been, so a good baker is not necessarily a good sourdough baker. You can compare it with other fermentation processes like cheese or wine making: it all depends on the maker and their knowledge. The same is true of sourdough: you need to master the skills in order to create a perfect bread.”

Expanding the market
The growing popularity of sourdough brought new challenges for bakers and supermarkets. In order to meet consumer expectations - perfect quality, consistent flavour, excellent bake - there was increasing demand for specialist expertise. "Puratos was one of the first to face up to this challenge. Since 1994, we've been producing high- quality solutions that deliver the delicious and distinct flavour of traditional sourdough. As a progressive company, we've challenged the market. Today you see sourdough everywhere. Bakers have realised that it brings added value to their bread offering. You can really make a business out of it."

The story of sourdough

Products based on fermentation are a wonderful source of stories. The way you ferment them, and the ingredients you use, can all contribute to the narrative. “When you read the back of a bottle of wine, you’ll find a story about its soul and character, how it’s made and the foods that it pairs well with. With sourdough bread, you can create the same type of stories. You can inform people that the bread is made in Scandinavian or San Francisco style, and tell about the microorganisms found on grapes and apples that have been used to make the sourdough. And then explain how this all adds to the flavour profile, giving the bread a more cereal flavour, or more fruity notes. We simply need to define these stories and tell them.”

Sourdough gives bread a distinctive taste. But the result will be different depending on the origin of your ingredients and where you actually make it. “This is what makes sourdough bread so special,” Karl says. “Again, you can simply compare it to what the terroir can do to wine. At this moment we store 87 different sourdoughs from around the world in our Sourdough library in Saint-Vith. Some have more or less the same flavour profile, as they come from the same region. But there are enormous differences between sourdoughs from China, Peru, the UK, or Denmark.”

Local organisms
One distinguishing factor is the local type of flour that is used. Some sourdoughs are based on wheatflour, some on durum, rye or wholewheat. Also, microorganisms and microclimates differ from one place to another. It's the same if you make the same type of cheese in the northern Netherlands or the south of Italy: it will be different because the microorganisms and fermentation parameters, like temperature and humidity, are different.

Mexican sourdough: beer and lime
“When I travel around the world, I'm very fortunate to talk with customers and hear and see what they’re doing with their sourdough breads, what type of ingredients they’re using and how they start up the converstation with their consumers. When I was in Mexico I met a baker who added beer, eggs and lime to his sourdough starter from time to time. It gave a really specific flavour, and a unique story to share.”

At Puratos, we partner with our customers to explore all the possibilities of sourdough. With more than 25 years of sourdough experience, we’re a knowledge partner you can rely on. To find out how we can help you to develop excellent sourdough breads, please contact your local representative.