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What's a real sourdough? Does homemade count? What about the one I started on my counter with just flour and water? It's the beginning of the new year, and I am thinking of trying my own culture... Well, this post is for you!

In September last year, we took part in the Real Sourdough campaign with the UK. We celebrated real sourdoughs and pushed back against "sour-faux." We also explored the main components of what makes a real sourdough culture. A few of you were curious about homemade sourdoughs and sourdough starters, so we thought we'd start the first blog post of the year here.

HomemadeĀ  Counts

Whatever it is that sparked you to try making your own sourdough, we are here for it. We love it when people get really into the foods that nourish them. And yes, homemade definitely counts. Our company started very humbly with a sourdough and an outdoor stone deck brick oven.

So whether you start your own sourdough, or get a head start with one from a friend, that's all good. For us, the key to understanding what "counts" as a real sourdough is that you understand the underlying principles of fermentation. It's that you get that the wild yeasts and bacteria in your kitchen contribute to your sourdough and other ferments.

It's that you're into the process and understand you need time for those yeasts and bacteria to do their thing: break down the components of the grains or seedsĀ  (in the case of sourdough bread products) to make them easier to digest. The live culture is why each of your loaves will be a unique shape, not a carbon copy of the one made before. With your own sourdough culture, you are, like us, working with a living organisms. And that's exciting!

By understanding these key aspects, you have all the skills you need to tell apart real and fake sourdoughs. And it won't matter whether they are homemade or commercial.

Making Your Own Sourdough

Making your own sourdough is not hard to do, and there are a lot of accessible resources both on the web (like here, here and here) and in print on how to get started. An example of one (in print) is from "Fermenting made Simple" by Emillie Parrish (Figure 1).

Picture of instructions for creating a sourdough starter at home.
Emillie Parrish's instructions for creating your own sourdough starter (from "Fermenting Made Simple" (Touchwood Editions, 2022).

We liked these key tips from Emillie on how to improve success with your homemade sourdough so are sharing them with you here, too:

  1. Keep your flour simple: avoid flours with additives that do a variety of things like shortening the proofing time, strengthening the dough, improving elasticity, etc. (Additives like these are common for bread flours). Just simple unbleached flour (white or whole wheat) will do.
  2. Keep your flour consistent: if you start with using white wheat flour, stick with it. If you start with whole wheat flour, stick with that.
  3. Air quality for fermentation: sourdough is one of the ferments that relies on wild strains of yeasts and bacteria that are present in the local environment. When you're fermenting at home - that means the wild yeasts and bacteria in the air of your home. Building a culture of wild yeasts and bacteria in the air in your home can take a while. The more you ferment, the easier it gets. If you're starting out brand new, it may take several weeks to help build up your new sourdough. Emillie also advises that starting with some other beginner friendly ferments, like cabbage or dairy ferments, can be helpful for contributing to air quality that's great for a sourdough.
  4. Time for your starter and fermentation to succeed: In kitchens where fermentation has been happening for years, it's easy to catch and maintain a sourdough starter. The wild yeasts and bacteria there are plentiful. If you're brand new to starting sourdough, it may take some extra time and patience to build up a healthy, active starter. This is true even if you purchased a starter or were gifted one from a friend.

Caring for Your Sourdough

There's a bit more to caring for your sourdough over time - including how to maintain the culture once it's started. Feeding your culture can be quite simple - and you'll need to find what works for you. Whether you can figure it out by look and feel (too runny, too watery, or too thick?), or whether you like to stick to precise measurements and step by step instructions. Over time, you'll figure out something that works. You'll notice that your sourdough will need more feeding when it's warmer (summer) than when it's cooler (winter).

Either way, you do want to look for those key bubbles that tell you you're on the right path.

Image of a nice bubbly sourdough culture in a glass measuring cup.
Homemade sourdough starter beautifully bubbling away (Emillie Parrish, 2022).

Next Steps

Of course - we also know that working on the recipe until you are happy with the outcome can take quite a bit more effort. Working with a live culture can be tricky for some folks to get the hang of, but getting started is key. And as a part of your experimentation, you might come up with different varieties or try out something a bit new from what becomes a tried and trusted base recipe.

We know that building and maintaining a healthy sourdough culture takes practice. And caring for your sourdough takes energy and love. We celebrate those of you who started new food adventures through the pandemic that included a sourdough, or those of you who belong in a line who pass down their sourdoughs through friends and family. And we're here to cheer on those of you who set a resolution to start your own sourdough this year!

We also recognize that not everyone is at a place where they have the energy or time, interest or skill to invest in their own sourdough. Don't feel guilty about that! We totally get it. For you - we are honoured to be in your pantries and to fill that spot for you with our sourdough breads and pastas.

Cheers to good food bringing together good people. And cheers to appreciating where good food comes from and to high quality, nutritious foods that help us thrive, whether they are store bought or homemade.

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