It’s a common belief that the microbes in the air influence your sourdough starter; in fact, it’s generally thought that this is how starters begin. Mix water, flour, let the air work its magic, and voilà! Fermentation.
Therefore, our very, very old starter from San Francisco would have remnants of its beginnings, perhaps, but the Utah air should have created some definite alterations.
But in July, the BBC released an article about a recent study that took place in the Karl de Smedt sourdough library in Belgium. The Gastropod team went with two microbial ecologists from North Carolina State University, and they met with 12 bakers from around the world.
They’d sent specific flour to the bakers and a recipe to begin the starter. Then, the bakers used that starter in Belgium to make identical loaves.
But the loaves weren’t identical. According to writer Veronique Greenwood, who wrote the BBC article, almost “all the microbes found in the starters themselves were either also found on the bakers’ hands or found in the flour. Only 31 out of more than 350 were not, suggesting that the common idea that starter microbes are wild and drift in on the air is less likely than that the microbes already in flour and on bakers’ hands are what’s making bread rise.”
So what do you think? Is the environment more or less involved? Are the microbes coming from the bakers or are the starters getting the microbes from them?
Stay tuned! I know I will be.
Author: Michelle Hubbard is a graduate of Brigham Young University with an English degree and an editing minor. She won Leading Edge’s “Best First Chapter” award and later joined the publication as a slush reader and editor. After attending the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in Sandy, Utah, she became a volunteer and this June will be her ninth year as an assistant. She is also a writing officer for Misha Collin’s charity Random Acts. A draft of her middle-grade novel, Oscar and the Ghosts of Paris, placed second with the Utah Arts Council. She lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with her husband, sister, two children, and far too many pets