Sourdough has a long and interesting history that dates back to the Egyptians. While the timeframe is widely debated, it is believed that this discovery was made as early as 3000 BC but most likely occurred between 2500-1500 BC. While we will never know for sure, we are under the assumption that the Egyptians likely made this discovery by mistake! Just like the present, their starter was made by allowing wild yeasts and bacteria present in the air to ferment the mixture. As bread making techniques spread throughout the world, so did the use of sourdough starters. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used sourdough starters to make their bread, and the technique was later adopted by the native tribes of North America.
Sourdough bread became especially popular in America’s gold rush era of the mid-1800s. It was a reliable way to make and leaven bread in the rough, remote areas where bakers often had limited access to the then-newly-introduced commercial yeast. Rumor has it that new Alaskan settlers would even sleep with their starters to keep them from freezing! The nickname “Sourdough” was also given to miners known to carry sourdough starters with them in their packs.
In the early 20th century, the use of sourdough starters began to decline with the increased availability of commercial yeast. This was due in part to the fact that commercial yeast was more reliable and quicker to use than sourdough starters, which can be finicky and require a lot of love and attention. However, in recent years there has been an overwhelming resurgence of interest in sourdough bread, as more and more people have become interested in traditional, artisanal methods of bread making. (Plus, there are more benefits to sourdough bread!)
There are many different variations of sourdough bread, ranging from the classic San Francisco sourdough to the tangier New York-style sourdough. No matter where it is made, however, sourdough bread is always made using a starter that has been carefully loved and cultivated over time. In some cases, starters (like the Duffy’s Dough starter) have been passed down through generations of bakers and are considered a valuable family heirloom.
Sourdough bread is not just a delicious food, it is also a testament to the history and traditions of bread making that have been developed and passed down for thousands of years. It is a living, evolving thing, constantly changing and adapting as it is passed down from one baker to the next. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a beginner baker, there is something special about the historic process of making sourdough bread.