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Sourdough is delicious, naturally leavened bread that relies on fermentation, instead of commercial yeast, to rise.

To make it, everything begins with the sourdough starter which consists of two very simple ingredients: flour and water.

We’ve put together a number of pages to help you understand what sourdough bread is, what gives it its distinctive flavour and how to make it at home.

The origins of sourdough bread

If you think sourdough bread is, well, a bit of a luxury – an artisan bread for food lovers only – then you might be surprised to learn that sourdough was the most commonly consumed type of bread until as recently as the 19th century, when baker’s yeast took over and modern bread making methods began.

There is a significant debate as to the exact origins of sourdough bread, though.

The earliest physical evidence we have is a loaf of naturally leavened bread that was found in Switzerland and dates back to around 3700 BCE.

It’s well documented that the ancient Egyptians made bread on a semi-industrial scale to help feed the thousands of workers involved in constructing the great pyramids, around 2500 BCE. 

We also know that the Egyptians knew about fermentation, mixing flour and water and leaving the mixture outside in the open air. They commonly used barley and emmer wheat both to brew sour beer and, according to some sources, to make sourdough bread.

Others argue that, due to the relative simplicity of the process, the first naturally leavened bread would have been made within the first agricultural-based civilization known as the Fertile Crescent, now part of the Middle East.

In fact, there is firm evidence that bread making itself began in this region, as traces of barley in grinding stones dating back 22,000 years were found at an excavation site called Ohalo 11 in Israel.

What are the ingredients of sourdough bread?

As already mentioned, a sourdough starter can be made from two very basic ingredients, flour and water

Once the starter process and/or the first rest is complete, some bakers will mix in other ingredients such as a good quality salt, sugar or honey and perhaps some oil  – before kneading and shaping the sourdough loaf ready for proving.

The flour I use for the sourdough bread made in my classes is locally milled at Charlecote Water Mill, near Hampton Lucy in Warwickshire.



sourdough bread ingredients flour.jpg

Why is sourdough bread called sourdough?

The distinctive taste of sourdough bread is thanks to the lactic and acetic acids created during the natural fermentation process.

Lactic acid, which is also present in yoghurt, has a mild taste, while acetic acid has a vinegary, or sour taste.

So, if you want your sourdough bread to taste more sour, then you’ll have to work on increasing the amount of acetic acid created during the starter process.

Sourdough bread might come from two very simple ingredients, but it’s the subtle variations within the method that can result in very different flavour profiles.

Introducing the sourdough starter & the sourdough bread making process

The sourdough bread making process begins with just flour and water – and the creation of the sourdough starter, which can be the consistency of a liquid batter or a stiff dough, depending on your recipe and method. 

Find out more about the sourdough starter.

The sourdough starter is the leavening agent that replaces the edition of commercial yeast, and is crucial to helping the bread rise during baking.

Over a number of days more flour and water –‘refreshments’ – are added to the sourdough starter mixture, a process that’s also known as feeding. 

Meanwhile the mixture slowly ferments, combining with the natural yeasts and friendly bacteria found in the flour itself and from just being exposed to the air.

Once the starter is ready, you’ll then need to work with the dough to get it into shape ready for baking.

Find out how to make sourdough with our sourdough bread recipe.

Is sourdough bread good for you?

Sourdough is gaining in popularity not just because it tastes great but also thanks to its health benefits when compared to mass produced bread.

For example, because of the naturally occurring bacteria and acids that are formed during the fermentation process, nutritionists suggest that eating sourdough bread is better for your digestive health.

The fermentation process also helps to lower the impact of sourdough bread on blood sugar levels, meaning that it has a lower glycemic index than commercially produced bread.

Read more about this in our guide: Is sourdough bread healthy? 

Do you want to learn how to make sourdough with an expert?

Our all day bread making experience covers the beautiful, if not mysterious, world of sourdough making. 

Book your place on our sourdough baking course.


Learn more about sourdough bread...

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