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I have a very simple question, but difficult for me..

How to tell if a sourdough is a real / traditional Sourdough? A lot of times I wonder if the sourdough I have in cafes or those ones I buy from shops are real sourdough. I know sourdough takes a long time to make and have heard that some bakeries take shortcuts to make sourdough.

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If you can't tell the difference does it really matter? The point is the enhanced flavor. If they are able to achieve a flavor that pleases you does it matter if they used a "traditional" technique? –  Sobachatina Nov 11 '10 at 13:30
    
If you want to know for sure, you can always make it yourself. –  justkt Nov 11 '10 at 15:16
    
RE:Sobachatina - The reason I wanna find out the difference is because I bought sourdough sometimes and their texture is nothing like sourdough to me. I wonder if some bakers cheated! –  Foodrules Nov 12 '10 at 2:07
    
@Sobachatina I believe sourdough is healthier as it decreases the amount of phytic acid (an antinutrient) in bread. –  Annan Mar 15 '11 at 23:26
    
There isn't One True Sourdough to Rule Them All. There are many different starter cultures, many different processes, different recipes. All can be "real sourdough" but may be nothing like each other. –  sourd'oh Jan 15 at 18:51

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There isn't really a "test", per se, to tell if a bread is a "real sourdough" or not. Without getting overly technical, the tangy "sour" is created by a lactobacillus (bacteria) culture feeding on the byproducts of the yeast used to make the dough rise. The byproducts of the bacteria produce the lactic acids which give the resulting bread its sour taste.

The taste of sourdough can be simulated by adding other acidic components to the bread dough. Practically speaking, the only way to tell the difference is if you have the experience of a refined palate that you recognize the taste difference.

Ah, but here's the tricky part. Once a baker has a stable culture of yeast and bacteria (starter), they'll save a bit of the fermented dough to add to the next batch, and so on for batch after batch. It is not unusual for bakers to continue their culture for years or even decades. So the problem of recognizing the authenticity of sourdough is that each bakers' sourdough will have it's own distinctive taste. Yikes. So much for the standard taste test.

There is one test I can think of; although, I don't know how practical this is: A very "healthy" sour dough culture is the result of having reached a really stable and balanced, symbiotic relationship between the yeast and bacteria. This is desirable because it prevents other undesirable bacteria from setting up shop. Because of this inherent stability, real sourdough breads are very resistant to mold and other reactions that cause them to go bad. So, if your sourdough bread seems to last longer then you would expect from fresh bread, that might be a good indication of real sourdough. Of course, this can also be the result of preservatives added to the bread; so… no help there.

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After baking (190°F+), I'm pretty sure there is no sourdough culture left, healthy or otherwise. –  derobert Jun 20 '11 at 16:30

I'm sure it's possible to cheat, but if the bread is coming from a professional bakery there's no need. Once you have a starter going it's the easiest thing in the world to keep one around and going to innoculate new dough. Perhaps on a truly industrial level you might find some chemical added to approximate the flavor without actual lacto infection, but I doubt it's worth it for a local baker, even a large one.

If you're suspicious of the texture, that's a place where corners CAN be cut. Proper sourdough doesn't need a ton of starter, but you do need long slow rising times to "infect" the whole dough. That's also something that helps build that awesome texture. And that's something a corner-cutting bakery might be tempted to slack on. They might just dump in a lot more starter and short on the rising time--you still get the taste mostly, but not the texture.

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The longer rise time is definitely a reason a bakery might want to cheat. It means they need more space to store rising bread, for the same throughput. –  slim Jan 12 '11 at 13:42

I used to work in a bakery for a grocery store and to make the 'sourdough' we added a sourdough flavoring mix to otherwise regular white flour. the difference in real sourdough is that real sourdough uses a starter that you feed, replenish, and re-use. the bakery "sourdough" was light gold-yellow in color and had white inside. real sourdough is generally cooked darker and has a cream-beige inside, as well as a chewier texture and larger open crumb. its generally very heavy bread while the bakery 'sourdough' was quite light.

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