Family secrets die hard. We love the story that our natural wild yeast sourdough starters are totally defined by their environment. We want to believe that San Francisco produces the best sourdough because of something in the air. We might as well believe it. There’s no way to know for sure. Until now that is.
Well, that is not exactly true. Scientists have been identifying the yeast and bacteria that make up sourdoughs for some time now and we have learned there are dominant species that span the globe, and many others that add to the unique character and flavor of each sample. But how exactly is this affected by age, geography, and travel? The Ron Dunn Lab at North Carolina State University wants to answer those questions, so earlier this year they put out a global call for sourdough samples. As soon as I heard, I scooped up my mother and sent her off to the lab.
The results of The Sourdough Project are now in and best viewed in an interactive map showing the location of each sample and the list of yeast and bacteria identified in each. When I look at the sample with the same dominants as mine, it becomes clear that geography is definitely not the main factor contributing to the make up. I will leave it to the scientists to come to any conclusions as they pore over the growing list of data, but for now, let me introduce you to my mother.
If you take a look at the map my sample is the only one in Mississippi, number 433. What you will discover is that it is a very diverse sample with dozens of players involved. Let’s meet a couple of them.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae (strain 1) 95.50%
The most important player in sourdough is the yeast and this one is the most common species found in sourdough around the world, and my mother is full of it. This is also the yeast that brings us beer and wine. In fact, life would hardly be imaginable without S. cerevisiae. Perhaps we should have a holiday dedicated to it!
Lactobacillus paralimentarius 76.79%
The thing that makes a wild yeast starter different from a ferment made from packaged “baker’s” yeast, is the presence of bacteria that produce lactic acid enhancing the flavor, texture, and shelf-life of the finished product. L. paralimentarius is dominant in about a third of the samples and may also be present in fermented foods such as kimchi.
Other samples with similar make up can be found from coast-to-coast and even as far away as Australia. I feel connected to these fellow bakers in a way I never could have imagined before this study. I wish there was a way to share our bread, or maybe start a very exclusive Facebook group.
I am sure there are many more lesson to be learned as our knowledge of sourdough continues to grow, but for now, this is my takeaway: the world is connected in complex and unseen ways that we are only beginning to understand. We must learn to respect this or risk losing the things that make life worth living.
If you want to taste my sourdough products for yourself, then head on over to DeRego’s for some Naturally Fermented Craft Beer Grain Crackers. We bake them by hand and ship them all across the country!