I ate my wafer...


Okoye is dead, long live Shades of Blue and Shades of Light.

Although it isn't really the point of gauche's recent post on food, the small bit on levan starters (sourdough) bread is interesting. I don't have an extensive background in bread making, but I do know a fair amount about beerbrewing. When making bread, the yeast (be it in levan, or commercial yeast) is only alive and functional for a matter of a couple of hours at most. Due to this, bread baking yeast is sold as a dried powder, which contains a good bit of random wild yeasts and bacteria, because it has a fairly short amount of time to impart flavors. In beerbrewing, the yeast is active for much longer, probably averaging about two weeks, approximately 300 times as long. Also, the yeast a vat of wort (baby beer) metabolize a much greater proportion of the final product than bread yeast.

Anyway, due to all of these factors, beer yeasts have rapidly moved past the crude technology of dried yeasts to a variety of liquid yeasts. Also, brewers spend a good bit of time matching trace minerals in their water to the style or type of beer. With the many strains of yeast available in combination with careful water analysis it is easy for brewers to create styles and regional types of beer that could not be duplicated with more traditional methods ( it is possible to brew a lambic, or rather a pseudolambic anywhere, without depending on leaving your wort outside in the right corner of Belgium!). I suspect that there are regional differences in bread that could be attributed to the wild yeasts and water chemistry available. Or to put it differently, careful analysis of any given leval starter, and the water used should allow another baker to create the exact same bread by blending liquid yeasts and adjusting water chemistry, without worrying about whatever random wild yeast are floating around.

I suspect that bread making has an art component that probably resists moving beyond the traditional levan method, and employing liquid yeasts and water management. It sounds much better on a sign to say that one's bakery uses a “traditional levan method” than to say that one uses “a variety of liquid yeast from test tubes” Frankly , the wine industry has a bit of the same tendency towards the art side of the fence as well.