Recently there was a TV program in Australia which aired the issue of whether some commercial sourdough breads were actually sourdough. As ive been writing about this for years I thought id look at two of the loaves involved in the controversy. Helgas were quick to issue statements claiming their bread was a genuine sourdough and Bakers delight followed, with advertisements about how their bread was made with a 200 year old starter, and was authentic sourdough. Of course both of these companies and many others now use the terminology which was effective and meaningful in the before time when I used it, but now is its just laughable jargon.
The word "Traditional" is just a joke now.....they all use it....but really their breads are "conventional" and bear no realtion to any breads which were actually baked traditionally...was "traditional"white sliced high fibre a favourite of the Australian pioneers? or perhaps of Renaissance Italy?...ot even of the diggers of WW2? of course not...similarly we are told that Helgas bread is "bread with character"....the milking of gastronomic writing for new advertising terms has just about reached its limit....we hope. Ive got "Fresh" fatigue syndrome, and will have to start using Sanskrit terms to keep ahead of the viral copy writer thieves.
But as there are no legal statutes about what constitutes a Sourdough bread, and what distinguishes it from regular yeast bread, either of these companies and any other can say what they like with impunity....hence Helgas can legally call an obviously regular industrial white yeast bread a "sourdough".and nobody cares....or Bakers delight can claim their Sourdough is made with a 200year old authentic (another word!!) starter.
What is interesting to me, as the first commercial sourdough producer in Australia, with 35years experience in baking ,is the actual nature of these breads from a critical viewpoint. To this end, I have technically and organoleptically analysed them. Organoleptic means sensory criteria...taste/touch/smell and analog flavours as used in assessing wine/cheese or other foods.
The Bakers delight sourdough looks very "ish"....its (shown) dusted with the "sourdough" template in white flour and its crass really, but this will work commercially definitely maybe. On first appearance, it looks really underbaked...theres no "character" here...its a tame clone, light golden colour with some attractive crust cracking, and obligatory leaf-cuts along each side....all very controlled. Their customers may like this, as their formula seems to have gained a following, and its interesting to watch the domestication of the beast...but one wonders how much of the beast is actually in there to lose? Its all about the words.
I reckon the crust is leather/vinyl and not really a crust but a baked skin like a fake sun tan. Aesthetically it rates zilch next to a Fruition stunner for example. But these are different ends of the market and the denizens of Bakers delight might well think a real Melbourne Artisan loaf too alien?
I handed the unwrapped loaf to a friend who`s first comment was that it smelt yeasty upon opening. This is the spectre which haunts the loaf right through the tasting....the flavour of yeast lurks in the background, especially when toasted, which is usually a good guide. Theres acidity, but frankly it tastes like the starter is 200years old. Its really musty/acetic acidity, there are no delicious organic acid aromas or flavours, and no freshness in the acidity, which only just but not always outweighs the yeastiness...and its not sourdough yeastiness which is far more broadly profiled in its flavour/aroma characteristics. Somewhere along the line, yeast goes into this bread, or has been pitched early on in the starter development....and as the label says that it contains natural yeast, its perfectly legal for them to have put yeast in, called it "natural yeast",but still call it a sourdough. On the other hand, Ive always obseved sourdoughs being contaminated with yeast when both are made concurrently as they are at Bakers delight.
The texture is cake like and really precious....again its all about control, which it has to be when youve got hundreds of franchises making it. It has some of the sourdough characteristic of a creamy mouthfeel but is a little softer, is easily swallowed , but has no real flavour appeal...no wheaten dynamics for example, which is a characteristic of good sourdough as the inherent flour/wheat flavours are released by the fermentation..Theres no "wild" yeasts in here, theyve been tamed and the texture reveals this. It tastes like its made with really cheap flour, and this is to be expected, but the loaf was $5.50 for 650gms...more expensive than organic sourdoughs...which is really cheeky...and , like the advertising jargon, just milking the market.
One thing which is fascinating about sourdough advertising, is the claim to San Francisco heritage for the starter culture....even some artisans claim this. What characterises San Franciscos original Sourdoughs is the presence of lactobacillus Sanfranciscensis ...bactriologically, this is what distinguishes it from other sourdoughs. It has been shown to have originated in the dental plaque of San Francisans,...it is in the sourdough because bakers spat in the dough regularly. Why would anyone want to advertise this?? especially Australians who can make pure beautiful starters from nature here. Dont believe the hype.
The only thing going for this loaf is that its better than the shocking stuff in plastic bags from supermarkets. But as ive said many times before, there is no reason why a chain like Bakers delight cant make a really good sourdough, and other breads, but standards are so low in Australia, that their bread appears good by default.
The Helgas loaves are beyond comment really, and their claims that these are genuine sourdoughs are just laughable....but as there is no statutory definition of a sourdough, for all intents and purposes they are a genuine sourdough!