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I'm intrigued by all the questions about creating and 'feeding' sourdough starter. But I am unfamiliar with the bread itself.

What is sourdough bread? how is it different than 'regular' bread. Is it sour? Why is it worth all the hassle of maintaining a starter?

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2 Answers 2

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Sourdough bread is bread that has been all or partially risen with the help of wild yeast. It is made sour because of wild lactobacilli that are picked up with the wild yeast. Where the yeast eat sugar and produce CO2 for rising- the bacteria create acid and other compounds that make the bread sour and distinctly flavored.

Because of the wild nature of the microbes, the bread will taste a little different in every place that it is made. The lactobacillus that gives San Fransisco sourdough bread its characteristic flavor is actually named Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.

The starter can be a hassle to make and to keep. It requires almost daily attention to feed it and can waste a fair amount of flour unless you bake bread frequently. You can freeze the starter but it will require a few days of feeding before it can be used again. Many baked recipes besides bread are also delicious with sourdough starter. Sourdough waffles or coffeecake are fantastic.

Whether it is worth the effort is a personal decision. Many people don't like the flavor and you would have to love the flavor enough to make almost every bread with that flavor to justify the starter upkeep. Personally- I used to keep a starter but my kids don't like the flavor and I got tired of all my bread tasting the same. I just buy a loaf for the 2-3 times a year that I am craving a Reuben sandwich.

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The tanginess is not only Lactobacilii-caused. There are other harmles bacteria in a sourdough starter, and both lactic acid (smells like yogurt) and acetic acid (smells like vinegar) are created. I hope this helps to better imagine the taste of the bread - but of course, the best thing to do before deciding whether to create a starter is to eat some store-bought sourdough bread. –  rumtscho Oct 3 '12 at 19:34
    
Sourdough starters aren't difficult to maintain at all and you don't have to freeze it between uses. During a busy 6-month period, I forgot all about feeding mine but a little flour and water for a few days and it was good as new. Keep it in the fridge and you don't have to feed it every day but it does need a feeding boost when you do start using it. –  Rob Oct 3 '12 at 21:41
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@Rob- I've had many starters die because I was inattentive. I'm sure it's possible to get a workable process down. For me it always felt like I was slave to the starter instead of the other way around. I'll try again eventually. –  Sobachatina Oct 3 '12 at 21:45
    
@Sobachatina: I like your slave metaphors. –  Cerberus Oct 3 '12 at 23:10
    
Isn't dry sourdough commonly available where you live? Here in Germany you get small packs of dry sourdough (similar to dry yeast) in quantities suitable for a loaf or two of bread. –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 4 '12 at 1:48

Sourdough bread is basically a french/artisan bread (so it has a firm outer crust, unlike sandwich bread) with a bit of sour/tanginess to it. This added flavor is caused by the starter; using shortcuts doesn't produce as developed a flavor as keeping a starter on hand. Luckily, sourdough starters aren't too difficult to produce, especially if you keep them in the fridge (meaning you only have to feed them once every week or so).

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Sourdough breads are not necessarily french (they are common in many other countries) nor artisan (sourdough is also used in industrial bread). They can be sandwich and pan bread, of course. And the use of a sourdough starter is not incompatible with soft crust. –  J.A.I.L. Oct 30 '12 at 12:30

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