August 08, 2019
Many of us have experienced a delicious slice of sourdough bread, but what exactly makes it so tasty? Bakers create a sourdough starter culture of flour and water, and then leave it to be colonized by microbes, but where exactly these bacteria and wild yeast come from has been unclear until now.
Researchers from North Carolina State University sent flour, and precise instructions on how to make a sourdough starter culture to 12 bakers. The bakers then brought their starter culture to the microbial ecologists so they could sample the mixture to determine what microbes were in it using DNA sequencing. They were also asked to bake their starters into bread using the exact same recipe so the researchers could see if the breads tasted the same.
Preliminary results show that the 12 starter cultures were not the same, despite being made with identical ingredients and instructions. The cultures contained more than 350 different strains of microorganisms. The flour used by the bakers was sampled, as were the clean hands of the bakers to detect any microbes. It was shown that 319 of the microorganisms found in the starter cultures were found in either the flour, or on the bakers’ hands. This suggests that the starter culture is largely colonized by microbes from the flour and bakers, rather than just microbes floating in the air as was once thought.
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