The science behind sourdough

Have you ever wondered what makes sourdough special?
Dr Kate Howell, who teaches in the
Master of Food Science, explains the science behind our latest obsession in this bite-sized lecture.

Long before becoming one of the social media sensations that would define isolation in 2020, sourdough bread has been the subject of extensive research by microbiologists across the world and here in Melbourne.

The familiarity of sourdough disguises an extraordinary diversity between loaves of varying origin, despite all starting with flour and water. This is because they combine to produce unique yeasts and bacteria which then interact with each other.

For most of us, this is relevant because it makes our morning toast delicious. For scientists, the yeasts and bacteria found in sourdough starters are an important part of agricultural research.

A wide range of environmental factors significantly influence the microbial diversity and taste of sourdough. While this means you aren’t likely to find a French sourdough in Melbourne, it’s exciting to learn what this means for Australian food.

“Most of the agriculture in Australia, almost all of it, was imported in the Western tradition, along with the crops. We suspect that the yeasts and bacteria were imported as well. We really have an opportunity to explore the greater diversity that we would expect from the Australian environment and think about the traditions of Aboriginal food systems that existed on the continent for tens of thousands of years before Europeans arrived,” says Dr Howell.

Despite a history spanning thousands of years, sourdough still seems to be trending here in Melbourne. We look forward to new discoveries emerging, from both our kitchens and our labs.