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The History of Sourdough

Sourdough is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread. The oldest recorded use of sourdough is from the Ancient Egyptian civilizations.

It was probably discovered as most things are by accident. If you simply mix any ground up grain with a liquid such as water or milk and let it sit in the open air at room temperature, wild yeasts in the air will settle in the mix, eat the natural sugars and convert them into lactic (and other) acids which give it a sour flavor. They also give off alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is what will cause the bread to rise. When worked into a bread dough, the bubbles get trapped into the structure of the bread, and that is the little holes that you see.

a microscopic picture of bakers yeast

The first recorded civilization we know about that used sourdough was the Egyptians around 1500 BC. There are many stories as to how they first discovered it, but you can probably imagine that some bread was left out and some of the wild yeast spores that are in the air at all times got mixed in the dough and they noticed that it rose and was lighter than the usual flat breads.

The Egyptians also made a lot of beer and the brewery and the bakery were often in the same place. a batch of flour may have been mixed with beer and produced a light loaf of bread, or the wild yeast spores were thick from the brewing and they got into the bread doughs and caused them to rise considerably more than the usual wild sourdoughs.

Through trial and error they found out that some of these sourdough cultures worked and tasted better than others. They could keep this culture alive by saving from their baking a little raw dough and adding more flour to it, and it would produce the same flavor. This is known as a sourdough starter. a good sourdough culture became very important to day to day living, and even taken by explorers when they went on expeditions around the world.

The Boudin Bakery of San Francisco During the gold rush days in California, some of the Boudin family who were well known master Bakers from France came to the San Francisco area. They found out that the sourdough culture there was very unique and they became very famous for their bread with this special flavor. The miners flocked to this bakery every morning for this special tasting bread. Since 1849 they have been using the same sourdough culture, which they call a "Mother dough" and the same recipe, flour, water, a pinch of salt and some of the this "Mother Dough".So important is their "Mother Dough" it was heroically saved by Louise Boudin during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.  

Sourdough also came in handy 'when old timers had to tan hides. They rubbed it into the skin, fur side down till soft and dry. Some claim there starters to the fame of originating in the old country or from the Klondike era. Recently a sum of $600.00 American was paid by a restaurant desiring the authenticity of Alaskan sourdough from the gold rush days.

Sourdough turns Carbohydrates into Proteins?

by Chef Cookie Soles

I would like to share a bit of research I came across recently concerning "Sourdough". What originally caught my eye was an analysis of laboratory tests. They say that Sourdough contains the greatest amount of protein for it's weight and size of any comparable food. "Hmm" I thought "just how does that come about when it's ingredients are all carbohydrates?" Apparently a wild yeast forms in the fermentation process of the starter. At that stage, a starch food is turned into a protein dynamo food.


Recipe for sourdough starter


1. Boil potatoes with the jackets on until they fall apart.
2.lift out the skins and mash potatoes in the water making a puree. cool and save 2 cups of the puree adding it to 2 cups of flour and 2 Tbs. of sugar.
Beat it smooth, then leave loosely covered in a warm place to start fermentation. Usually there is a good effervescent action within a week. To replenish your starter, add flour, water and a pinch of sugar. Leave it to work.


To make sourdough bread;

Use 2cups of starter,
1 cup warm potato water,
1/4 cup sugar,
3 tbs. oil,
112 tsp. salt,
5 cups of flour,
Make a soft sponge mixing the starter, sugar, water, and oil. Add the flour. Set in a warm place till doubled in bulk.
Add remainder of flour to make a dough that is easy to handle.
Knead to a smooth and elastic texture.
Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise to double in bulk.
Knead down and let rise again.
Bench and bake for 10 min. at 500 F.
Then 45 mm at 400F.

A few hints for your starter.

1. If it separates, (water forming on top) stir well and add flour to make a smooth batter again.
2. Leave a cup of starter to renew.
3. Add equal amounts of flour and water the night before to replenish your starter.
4. Sugar is used to boost the enzymes, not to sweeten. Too much sugar will make it rubbery. Use Soda to sweeten.
5. Cover sourdough pot not seal
6. Sour dough can be kept in the fridge when not needed. It takes at least a day at room temperature though, to start working again.
7. Sourdough reacts best at 68-77 degrees F
8. Do not use metal pots or spoons with sourdough. Wood or crockery are recommended as best.

"Sourdough" has also been called Chuck wagon bread, Cellar biscuits Yeast dough, Spook bread, Saurteig in Germany and in Africa they use the wild yeast and call it "Most".



Food in History , Reay Tannahill

Boudin Bakery

Hotel Online article


The holes that are created from carbon dioxide which is a by product from the yeast activity.

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