Sourdough has a rich and ancient history that dates back thousands of years. The tradition of sourdough bread making began in Eygpt and has since spread across civilizations and became a staple in many cultures including Greece, Rome, and Native American tribes. During the 19th century, its popularity declined with the advent of commercial yeast. However, in recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in sourdough bread and its traditional methods. Artisanal bakers have embraced natural leavening techniques to create bread with authentic flavours, complex aromas, and unique characteristics. Sourdough starters, passed down through generations, have become part of family traditions and local cultures.
The Puratos Sourdough Library in St. Vith, Belgium, is a unique library that houses 105 sourdough starters from around the world. The library, established in 2013, aims to preserve the tradition of sourdough, which was once a common feature in home kitchens. Karl De Smedt, the sourdough librarian, oversees the collection and is passionate about sourdough despite being allergic to flour.
The library's collection includes starters with renowned, unusual origins, and estimated ages. De Smedt hopes to maintain the starters as closely as possible to their original state for research purposes. The library's website also hosts an online sourdough database where bakers can register their starters and share their ingredients and flavour profiles.
The library's collection represents sourdough traditions from various regions, including former gold-rush frontiers like San Francisco and the Yukon. De Smedt follows a strict protocol to collect and transport the starters, ensuring their preservation and preventing contamination.
The library collaborates with researchers to study the microbiological makeup of sourdough starters. By sequencing the strains, patterns and connections between sourdoughs from different parts of the world are being discovered. The library also collaborates with the Rob Dunn Lab to study the effect of microbes on bakers' hands and the bread they bake.
The collection serves as a valuable resource for studying the history, flavours, and potential of sourdough, ensuring that this traditional bread-making method continues to be appreciated and understood.