Food: The continuing saga

A sourdough culture may be fed and maintained indefinitely

Papaya salad (photo credit: PR)
Papaya salad
(photo credit: PR)
Sourdough cultures are a veritable zoo of microorganisms – different strains of yeasts and lactobacillus bacteria.
They feed off sugars in the chemical process of fermentation. This process facilitates production of many types of food, such as wine, cheese, yogurt, beer and bread.
In sourdough cultures, their organisms can exist and even thrive in a highly acidic environment. Two end products of fermentation are lactic acid and acetic acid (vinegar). Acetic acid retards the growth of harmful bacteria. In addition, lactobacilli produce a natural antibiotic that kills unwelcome organisms.
The longer fermentation is allowed to proceed, the more good byproducts are produced. The strains of natural yeast commonly found in sourdough cultures ferment over a longer period of time than baker’s yeast, producing more of the other byproducts. The higher concentration of acids accounts for the name “sourdough.”
The esters produced add a new dimension of flavor to the bread. Thus sourdough bread keeps better and is more flavorful.
Strains of yeast and lactobacilli vary according to geographical location. Over the years, I have acquired a collection of sourdough cultures from around the world from a colleague who travels abroad seeing bakeries that bake using sourdough.
To make your own culture, one tip is to use rye flour to start the culture, as it teems with more microorganisms than other types of flour. Once it is active, it may be perpetuated with cheaper white wheat flour.
A sourdough culture must be treated like a pet. You have to clean up after it (when it overflows), feed it and even wash it. These organisms require a constant supply of nutrients, which are provided in the form of flour and water on a regular (eight- to 12-hour) basis. If they are refrigerated, they need to be fed once a week.
If you constantly feed the culture without using it, it may overflow. It may also become too acidic and require washing – i.e., throwing away all except one cup of the culture, cleaning the container, sterilizing it with boiling water, replacing the cup of culture in the clean container and resuming feeding.
To adapt a baker’s yeast bread recipe to sourdough, add 1 to 2 cups of culture (depending on how sour you want the bread) to ¼ of the flour and water from the recipe, mix and leave to ferment for eight to 12 hours until fully bubbling/risen. Add the remaining ingredients, knead into the final dough and proceed as per the original recipe. To compensate for the flour/water in the culture, reduce the total flour/water content of the original recipe by whatever flour/water in the culture you are adding.
For example, if you add 1 cup of liquid culture (½ cup flour, ½ cup water), you must reduce the original recipe’s flour and water content by ½ cup.
Unlike a sachet of baker’s yeast, which may be used only once, a sourdough culture may be fed and maintained indefinitely.
Makes 15 pancakes
✔ ½ cup white flour
✔ ½ cup rye flour
✔ ½ cup water
✔ 2 cups liquid sourdough culture
✔ ½ tsp. salt
✔ 2 Tbsp. sugar
✔ 2 Tbsp. butter, melted
✔ 1 egg, beaten Mix flours, add sourdough culture and ¼ cup water. Cover and leave for 8 to 12 hours.
Add remaining water, salt, sugar, egg and butter and mix gently to a smooth batter.
Heat greased (or Teflon) pan to 200°. Ladle in batter to form 7-cm. rounds. Cook until bubbles form on surface. Flip and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Serve hot.
■ Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and is the inventor of Rambam Bread.