enzyme bread tech

JohnD's picture



Most of us are aware that modern commercial bread had all sorts of additives which are supposed to “improve” the bread….bread “improvers”. The function of the improvers is to strengthen gluten, strengthen dough, improve handling, improve crumb structure, delay staling and so on. The results are the impossibly soft and white stuff which means “bread” to most consumers in the industrialised, largely western European-influenced world. I need not go into the quality of this type of bread, save to say it is clearly deficient in nutrients and fibre, both of which cannot be replaced by the addition of chemical vitamins and “fibre”.

The additives in bread cause increasing anxiety to many, with the ingredients label being more like a chemical formula and taking up a large part of the label. Those who inadvertently glance at the ingredient list are often shocked at the extraterrestrials indwelling, and may well wonder why bread needs all of these things, when the label on a good tasty wholesome sourdough will read Flour, water, salt. We`ve come a long way.

In order to avoid the lists of modifying chemicals on bread labels, and to increase the shelf-life of bread, not to mention creating light high breads from various grains not usually used in bread making, the new technology is using enzymes instead of chemicals. Briefly, enzymes speed up and catalyse reactions, and are an incredibly important and natural part of living processes. They would seem to be innocent additives deserving the title natural, and would appear harmless because of their natural origins. Most will hate reading this, but bakers often spat in their doughs because saliva contains necessary enzymes which speed up the fermentation of flour. Modern tech takes the same enzymes and uses them for the same purpose albeit not from human saliva. Far from it. The new enzymes are usually “functional” enzymes, carefully bred to perform highly specific functions, seems harmless or benign doesn’t it? Which is exactly the spin on these new,”novel” enzymes.

One of the most common and widely used new enzymes is something called maltogenic alpha amylase, which is used to increase shelf life. It prevents the re-crystallizing of starch ..staling..and bread stays soft for days longer than usual…meaning it can be sit on a shelf longer, be sold days later yet still be “fresh”. There are many others being developed, but its useful to focus on this one as its indicative of the processes involved with all of them really. One of the companies involved in this new bread tech describes their new enzyme like this ..“we have cloned and expressed a novel maltogenic alpha amylase from bacillus stearothermophilus on plasmid in bacillus subtilis. Originally the plasmid was very unstable…but was stabilised due to a spontaneous copy number reducing mutation”….…reassured? What their chemists have done is to take, clone, an enzyme generating fraction existing in bacillus stearothermophilus and combined it with a plasmid from another bacteria, then allowed it to mutate until a stable mutation was formed. A plasmid is a piece of an organic molecule which is not involved with its chromosones and can replicate independently. So this is recombinant technology, splitting up the structure of an existant molecule and adding a bit from another one to it to create a novel combination…also known as genetic engineering or molecular biology. Plasmids have all sorts of functions from conferring selective advantages to killing other bacteria and conferring anti-biotic immunity to bacteria. They can rapidly spread through a bacterial population. The chemists don’t know what the new creation will do, and in this case have lucked-on a stable form which they can then experiment with.

The bacillus used for the experiment, stearothermophilus, is an interesting one. It is highly resistant and is usually the one which will cause spoilage in those ultra long-“life” (UHT) products. Being gram-positve, its in the same class as those which produce anthrax, gastroenteritis, botulism, tetanus, diphtheria and meningitis. The bacillus from which the plasmid was taken is also interesting in that while generally thought to be benign, it “could be expected to temporarily inhabit the skin and GI tract of humans” and “ gene sequence transfers can occur between bacteria, and B subtilis has shown the expression of toxins from pertussis, diphtheria and pneumoniccocal bacteria”, also, “b subtilis can produce toxins as enzymes which disrupt mammalian cell membranes and cause allergic reactions in people continually exposed (as in bread production…consumption?) and finally, “there are reliable examples of infections caused by b subtilis, generally in immuno-compromised people, ranging from endocarditis, fatal pneumonia and septicaemia”. The point that gene transfer “can occur” is underlined by the fact that this bacillus is used for this very purpose, being compliant!. In the same manner  genetic modification is bullishly foisted on us as being safe, the US EPA found “no inreasonable risks with the use of these strains for enzyme production in fermentation facilities”…what you may ask is “unreasonable risk”?

It’s a case of the scientific community just saying, “trust us…we`re scientists” which is about the most un-scientific rationale one could offer. There are no double blind trials on any of this, which is the heart of the scientific method.  This is the new “faith healing” or “faith in technology” mind-set which deeply contravenes all that modern science is supposed to stand for. We unwittingly will be the human trial, but even without a double blind! How  does one then prove that  allergies aren’t caused by this technology, or how does the “scientific” community prove that your allergies (or gastroenteritis) aren’t caused by one of these novel organisms in your bread? Heat as in the baking process,denatures an enzyme, which simply means it becomes inactive and loses its shape, however the protein molecule is not broken down into amino acids…its still there.

While it is easy to scaremonger about this sort of technology in our food, that certainly isn’t my intention, and it is usually the only thoughts offered back by the “faith-scientists” as accusations…again deeply unscientific. No scientist can honestly assert that the scientific method is being followed in the genetic modification of foods. This sort of organism is being slid sideways into our foods as the innocuous replacement for those nasty sounding chemicals, which may even prove to be innocuous compared to the genies released from GMO vase.

The solution is to join the rapidly growing number of people who choose to make their own bread from ingredients they can  trust, or to support those bakers who make good honest trustworthy bread, even if the price is higher….what price your wellbeing?














Journeyman 2011 May 6

Nicely written John,thanks for gathering the info together . It never ceases to amaze me the lengths the bread 'industry ' will go to to try and keep  their white sliced fish bait selling by the millions.

Chorleywood process has already left a legacy of health problems for people. This new science could be even more damaging to people's health.

There's never been a more important time to raise people's awarness of what is being passed off as bread.and point them in the direction of sources of  good sourdough bread.


Rick in Wales

mattthebaker 2011 May 6

Thanks for posting this info John. It is good to hear a "different" opinion/analysis of the latest technology and research which many in the mainstream baking industry get real excited about  without considering the effects on health.

chazzone 2011 May 8

 Once again, I see that JohnD is spreading lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting and gullible audience.

HVHB 2011 May 8


 Once again, I see that JohnD is spreading lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting and gullible audience.


Please, give us more information.  I'm fascinated by your view on the topic.

HVHB 2011 May 8

Thanks for the information, I always enjoy your posts, as I did your book.

Unfortunately, I just typed up a great big reply to this and Internet Explorer froze and I lost it, so I'll try to repeat my prior brilliance:

Initially, reading your post, I was thinking “what’s wrong with alpha-amylase derived from malt,” until it clicked: that’s not the meaning of maltogenic.

Bacteria-derived alpha-amylase has been used for some years in the brewing industry, especially when using adjuncts (unmalted grains – or non-grain products).  For those of you who brew your own beer, you might know that the dry enzyme you can add is (most likely) bacterial alpha-amylase.

I suppose I can't help being a bit of a purist and like the idea of the Reinheitsgebot (German Purity Law) whereby only certain ingredients can be used in the making of beer (I'm not sure if it applies to other foodstuffs, but I think - to some degree - it "should") I like the idea of knowing what is in my food, and that it has been made using natural processes.  I don’t really like the idea that to make my food “better” there are people out there trying to come up with ways to turn inferior ingredients and processes into “good” products.  I, personally, don’t really think of these products as desirable.  This is where we get into the area of “Artisan” bread-making.

Mind you, I’ll drink commercial beer, even though much of it is brewed using adjuncts, and therefore needs additives to complete the conversion of starches into fermentable sugars.  I would eat bread with certain (limited) bread improvers in it – if I didn’t make better bread myself – but wouldn’t really use them myself.  However, I’m considering trialling malted grains in the development of some new recipes, which could be argued by some as a bread improver.  Malting is not really a naturally occurring process, but I don’t have a problem with that; does that make me a hypocrite?  So, that’s one of the difficulties here – trying not to be hypocritical in justifying what is acceptable, and what is not.

I am a bit opposed to the whole idea of “bastardising” the process of fermentation (and enzymatic conversion), whether it be beer or bread (or other), using synthesised compounds.  I guess this is a difficult one in that, (I think), bacterial alpha-amylase is naturally occurring.  

One of the issues raised here is genetic-modification, which I won’t go too much into, as I don’t know a great deal about it.  However, I do have opinions, which I will share, just because I’m just that kind of a bloke. 

Now, natural selection is - to some degree – genetic modification, as is the environment in, and process by, which we keep our leavens.  Hybridisation and cross-breeding occur in the natural world, so I don’t think we can entirely negate the validity of processes such as strain and characteristic selection, especially as this is how we end up with many of our grains we use for brewing and bread-making.  Many organisms multiply by cloning, naturally.

Also, harvesting alpha-amylase from bacteria, instead of grain, could be argued as being little different from harvesting wheat versus rye or corn for bread-making.  Bacteria and grains are both naturally occurring, indeed we love bacteria for its role in naturally leavened breads.

Anyway, fascinating topic for discussion, I say.  Unfortunately, I think that with topics like this, everyone’s line is in a different place.  John’s quite clear about his opinion, we can all take a wild guess about chazzone’s - whoever he or she is -  and Rick and Matt have expressed their opinions.  I hope I have made some sense with my fence-sitting.

Let’s open this topic up and get some more opinions out here.




JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 10

Thanks for the post. Alpha amylase is a natural process in that it is as Andy says a part of the wheat structure, but is also developed as wheat(naturally) sprouts. Andy echoes your comments in that obviously the brewers know more than the bakers...or the tech is applied more rigorously and perhaps more for qualitative than quantitative reasons.

To me, the issue is genetic modification, but i dont agree its a natural process governed by selection factors. The corporation "selects", not nature...even though seemingly similar mechanisms are in play....they arent actually, because "nature" ruthlessly selects wheras "industrial selection" is for hothouse flowers which would not survive in nature.

CaperAsh 2011 May 9

Thanks for this article.


I mainly believe in keeping things natural. Most of my breads have only natural starter (from flour and water originally), filtered well water, sea salt and organic flour. That's it.


That said, things can be added apart from spices and herbs. For example whey, butter, buttermilk, olive oil. These seem to me to be perfectly 'okay' (though I don't use milk products since I cannot get organic unpasteurized milk legally and don't trust commercial milk or milk products). Especially whey and yoghurt, for example, have a definite effect on fermentation, not just flavour.

I have also used the scum that forms when brewing beer and some people love the breads they produce - very high rising and flavourful) although I prefer the natural starters (more bacterial action I think making for a softer, more chewy crumb. (Traditionally, bakeries were located next to breweries in order to get this yeast for their baking, so much commercial medieval baking, I suspect, featured bread of this ilk versus our natural sourdough cultures.)


So if adding some things is 'okay' even if a 'naturalist', then why not enzymes, especially if they relate to malt which comes from sprouted grains? Because that malt is part of the enymatic process in the wheat plant cycle. It seems to fit.


My feeling on this is that

a) I really don't trust scientists and big business and supermarkets. Perhaps unfairly but I don't.

b) I might trust some sort of malt extract enzyme if it came directly from a natural source, not a laboratory. And I think probably that Barley Malt might already qualify as such, no? And if so, what enzymes does it have in it does anybody know?

c) in terms of the gastro-enteric effects mentioned in the article, do those results take into account the death of the enzymes above around 130 F I believe or were those results what happen with the living enzyme in the GE tract? That is an important difference.

d) finally and perhaps most importantly: in terms of fleshing out the substance of this article, could the author or someone better describe exactly how the enzyme mentioned works to prolong the shelf life/moisture of the crumb?

e) finally finally: what are the best techniques for a purely natural baker to maintain moisture? Because given that this is what modern people expect (super soft to the touch and last forever in fridge), any good trick to get closer to that are helpful to learn. My breads last a good week, but after 2 days they are already far dryer than the day after baking when they are a little translucent with a shiny, soft crumb and totally irresistible!

HVHB 2011 May 14

[quote=CaperAsh]b) I might trust some sort of malt extract enzyme if it came directly from a natural source, not a laboratory. And I think probably that Barley Malt might already qualify as such, no? And if so, what enzymes does it have in it does anybody know?[/quote]

 Some of the more prevalent ones are alpha-amylase, beta-amylase, and beta-glucanase, although I'm not sure how relevant beta-glucanase is to bread; anyone?

 [quote=CaperAsh]c) in terms of the gastro-enteric effects mentioned in the article, do those results take into account the death of the enzymes above around 130 F I believe or were those results what happen with the living enzyme in the GE tract? That is an important difference.[/quote]

 Just wanted to correct the reference to the "death" of enzymes and point out that they "denature".  Just to keep the terminology clear.  Enzymes are a protein structure and, for want of a better word, catalyse and regulate reactions whereby substances (eg starches such as amylose and amylopectin) are changed from one form to another (eg. sugars and smaller chain carbohydrates)

 [quote=CaperAsh]d) finally and perhaps most importantly: in terms of fleshing out the substance of this article, could the author or someone better describe exactly how the enzyme mentioned works to prolong the shelf life/moisture of the crumb?[/quote]

 I guess that's the scary part, really; it doesn't occur naturally in other circumstances, as far as I know.  So, what is actually happening?

 [quote=CaperAsh]e) finally finally: what are the best techniques for a purely natural baker to maintain moisture? Because given that this is what modern people expect (super soft to the touch and last forever in fridge), any good trick to get closer to that are helpful to learn. My breads last a good week, but after 2 days they are already far dryer than the day after baking when they are a little translucent with a shiny, soft crumb and totally irresistible![/quote]

 Don't keep them in the fridge - not really about moisture: more on this further down the page, - increase hydration rates in your dough, use natural leavens.

RealBreadCampaign 2011 May 10

Thanks for letting me know about this post, John. I'm going to circulate a link amongst Real Bread Campaign supporters here in the UK.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 10

Hi John

I am not au fait with the anti-staling properties of the "maltogenic alpha amylase" product you are describing but it is clear that the same enzyme - naturally produced, along with beta amyalse is present in wheat grain. It is most concentrated in the area of the endosperm immediately around the germ and is there to convert the endosperm from starch into sugar (the meaning of "malotgenic" I guess) at or starting just before the germ offically germinates - as the basic energy supply for the new plant to get out of the ground. Amylases chop long starch molecules into sugars, beta can only work by lopping off bits from ends so is slower acting but is present before germination, alphas can attack at various point in starch chain and but takes off only on germination (effectively at wetting of grain).

In baking, especially for long fermentations and especially for sourdoughs they are important as they supplement the yeasts own mechanisms for converting starch to sugar to feed on - they are why you can sometimes measure a double peak in dough rising as amylase activity kicks in.

I can't add much about the possible downsides of adding amylases either fungal or bacterially produced as is commonly done by milling inductry other than to say I would much rather be able to use the grains own supply. The real sin I think is that much grain that has adequate supply of its own amylases is rejected by millers for bread milling in case it has too much or just because industrial millers are control freaks. Grain is rejected for having falling numbers too low which is how enzyme activity is measured - particularly in the UK where there is strong possibility of rain around harvest time leading to enzymes (phytase, amylases and others) starting to go into action in the ear before being harvested. The problem I think lies partly with professional bakers who are not prepared to adapt their recipes and proofing times to variable enzyme levels between seasons and flour batches.

The ideal approach in my opinion is that given by these American millers http://www.cooknaturally.com/detailed/detailed.html who give online test results for all their flour batches - and for bakers to learn to unerstand these results, but realistically the equipment for doing these tests is beyond the means of small millers.

Brewers will be familiar with malt extract as an ingredient which I think if naturally produced as part of malting is fair dos as a baking ingredient - but there is distinction between common malt extract which is basically just dead malty syrup and diastatic malt extract where the enzymes are still alive. In my opinion adding some rye is another very simple and natural way to add enzyme (and additional yeasts typically present on rye grain) activity to your (wheat) dough or starter.

Incidentally the blue labal strong white organic "bio bake" flour from Doves Farm that many UK pro bakers will be familiar with as listed here indicates by its name addition of the fungal amylase "Biobake" http://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/smartlead/view/198826/4/Biobake-Optum - something that is not made explicit by Doves Farm at all. I used to like using it till I realised why it was so lively compared to other flours - I think I get the same liveliness nowadays by having our own BBA freshly milled flour - which includes grain that I suspect wouldn't be accepted by indutrial millers for its falling numbers.

Andy Forbes http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk



HVHB 2011 May 14

 Hi Andy,

Thanks for your informative post.

I think a good explanation here, regarding malt extract, would be to explain that malt extract has generally reached a certain point of modification at which point the process is halted by heating to a temperature which denatures the enzymes so as to keep the product at its optimum.

Diastatic malt is usually not yet extracted, and is in a "dormant" state awaiting moisture to restart activity.

I agree with the adding of rye, it does seem to have some good effects on dough in small doses.

Cheers, Andrew

Malhavick 2011 May 20


I'm new to the site and sourdough baking. I have been a life long Baker of breads and recently a sourdough enthusiast. From what I'm reading, I think there should be some clarification concerning additives called malt powders and syrups.

Diastatic Malt Powders or Syrups contain the active enzymes from the malted barley used in the process. These products are used to change the texture of your finished product. In the commercial bakery I worker for a period of time, the croissant maker used diastatic malt powder to give her products a soft moist interior and the sugars allowed the croissants to brown evenly.

Non-Diastatic Malt Powders and Syrups are added as a flavor enhancer and sweetener in baked goods. They have been heated to stop the enzyme leaving the sweetness. I have an old New York, NY Jewish bagel recipe I converted to sourdough starter from commercial yeast that uses the non-diastatic malt powder. Without this sweetener, the bagels do not develop the crust or flavor associated with this type of bagel.

As far as I know, these products derived for malted barley are considered natural products and used in very small amounts to boost the products natural amounts. In the US, there are even companies that market them as organic.

By the way, I really like this site!

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 20

Right....they are inherently "natural", and part of an age-old process, and as such im happy to use them. The results you report are really illustrative of their usage, and as Andy says, the enzymatic action in the sprouted grains can also be stopped by degree of the roasting process.. The organic malts are really good.The process gets distorted I think when refined sugars like white sugar are used....which is like giving the yeasts etc amphetamines. Glad u like the site.

ClareM 2011 May 17

In 1991 Doves Farm Foods registered the name Biobake as a Trade Mark, no 1465880,  in class 30 for flour and preparations made from cereals, bread, biscuits, cakes, pastry, yeast etc…  The Biobake name has been in use ever since and is printed onto sacks of bakers grade strong organic flour. Doves Farm organic Biobake wholemeal and white  flours are high in gluten for professional bakery use. They are Soil Association certified and do not include any fungal, or enzyme derived additives.

Over the last 20 years, since we launched organic Biobake flour, we understand that there have been scientific developments using genetic modification, enzymes and nanotechnology to create many food additives, including those offered to the bakery trade. Doves Farm Foods have no connection with the  manufacture or use of these types of additives.

We understand that Kerry Foods have recently launched a bread improver product with the name Biobake and that they are offering it for sale to bakers. Doves Farm Foods were very concerned to learn  that Kerry Foods  had applied the Biobake name to a range of highly refined bakery additives which are diametrically opposite to the credentials of our company, organic flour and other organic foods. The introduction, and coexistence, of a bakery improver with the same name as Doves Farm Biobake flour causes confusion to bakers and is detrimental to Doves Farm Foods product integrity. We are unable to contest the Kerry Foods use of the word Biobake as they have registered the name under a different class in the trade mark registry.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 10

Thanks for all of the above information.The enzyme produced with the recombinant tech is not the same as the naturally occurring one, it is an analog. It has the ability to digest usually undigested starch fractions, which I think are not within the scope of natural AA, which is why this is novel, and why it prevents staling...somehow, by prevevnting thr re-crystallisation of starch, which is what stales bread. The staling of a loaf of bread is an endpoint within terrestrial parameters. To prevent a loaf from staling within the "natural" timeframe is a technical feat which may not produce a wholesome food with the same food value because it is compromised by the action of this alien enzyme....somehow, obviously, but what does this mean? We dont know how this impacts on human digestion, so to release this tech on the public without bouble blind trials, probably over a generation, which would accord with scientific parameters, is irresponsible. So to some of the questions posted above, the answer is, we dont know? Is it so important that bread stays on the shelf longer? Why?...to enable bread factories- not bakers- and the production of refined unwholesome food, and containing genetically modified (deactivated)organisms to boot ! Its just vampire squid thinking. 

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 10

Ok John

got it, and Biobake seems to make same kinds of boasts about anti-staling also

But we both know and have experienced I would think certain sourdoughs that keep better than others as well as usually much much better than straight dough breads - so what is going on there? Is it the particular sourdough culture or the particular sourdough process or a combination? The best sourdough bread I ever came across sold from front room of a mysterious dark French farmhouse off a motorway layby kept for over a fortnight in my bicylce saddle bag on hot summer roads as I eked it out half slice by half slice. In my expereince such keeping qualities don't directly correlate with acidity./sourness.

Even 5% rye in a wheat dough in my opinion improves keeping though usually taste of bread and dough performance is not discernibly affected at this level and I almost never make bread without at least this much rye.

It always seems to me meeting micro-brewers and so on and hearing their level of knowledge backed by scientific research of how different yeasts, ingredients and processes affect what they produce, that baking lags maybe decades behind brewing in this respect. Maybe its just profit margins are higher in brewing and micro brewing has piggy backed on or reacted to and against yet benefited from big brewers' research methods and processes?

So much pro-baking lore seems to remain just that currently, probably has scientific basis, but as yet unknown. We variously know what does and doesn't work in baking but not why, whereas in micro-brewing they do often know why nowadays and are therefore able to manipulate that knowledge/lore much more cogently, sure footedly as well as creatively than in the past.


ps. a random example of what brewers get into and we don't seem to yet and I think one day could do http://resources.metapress.com/pdf-preview.axd?code=h35jmmhrt9ppwj6k&siz... - as an alternative to the current chemical and biotech quick fixes with unkown consquences as you remark.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 10

Thats such a great post Andy. Seems to me that bread is so undervalued as a food, and has simply been grabbed by corporates and exploited as a cash cow because of its basic-important-commodity status, that the tech of which you speak hasnt been developed for the intrinsic good of the product...as with brewing....but purely for cash-oriented exploitative reasons. Alcohol is the drug of our western societies and drugs are more important to the human psyche than foods it seems...well the evidence is obvious...so the medium of ale/beer-brewing which facilitates drug production, is paid so much more attention. Many object to alcohol being called a drug, which it clearly is, with an equal or worse side-affecting history than most illegal drugs, and I think its action as a drug is why the tech involved with its production is miles ahead of bread tech as you say.

Most of the bread-tech professionals ive met have a curious approach to sourdough. For example in Australia, it was simply grabbed as the next best thing and the "artisan" revival was turned into just a style of bread...its intrinsic value is ignored completely, and espousing it is not accepted or acceptable in professional circles...its just too earnest and becomes "alternative". Therefore, those who could develop this technology of which you speak, dont...they have developed the fake sours which a baker can buy and pitch in his bread and call it "sourdough".Because of this, legislators dont take it seriously either and sourdough is a yuppie fashion to them, and its therapeutic value is ignored except for a very few honest researchers who realise that it is actually curative in a diabetic situation for example....and so we have the legislative situation where any bread can be called a "sourdough" in flagrant violation of the trade practices act in Australia for example.

Its the same with all food tech...it is about how to suck the life (vampire) out of whatever is in reach of the tentacles(squid)...industrial food is obviously causing sickness and a ridiculous national health bill, yet the pathology-inducing machine just rolls on.......supported by an academy which is just the slave of the squid.

Back to your interesting question about how some sourdoughs are so different,and have different qualities, keeping for example, yes ive noticed it bigtime, and the actual "why" is often shrouded in folksy stuff, and some of us just stab at reasons..... its my problem with the scientific academy that abstract research just doesnt happen anymore, its all industry-focused instead of investigating real people-benefiting streams....there was one senior researcher in the CSIRO in Australia,who had observed what i had suggested to him, that diabetics virtually "recover" by eating sourdough bread as a large part of their diet. Instead of just glibly attributing it to low GI, he realised there was a lot more to it, particularly in the production of hormones, yet he couldnt do any research on it because it wasnt industry-oriented and linked to making money.....old bakers used to claim that water is immensely significant in bread production, someting pretty well ignored now, even by the enthusiasts, yet when i read your link to brewing tech and they talk about the calcium-dependence for certain genetic expressions which affect the flocculation of yeasts, and one correlates it with the varied compositions of water, there is definitely truth in there somewhere...but no researcher is going to follow such streams related to bread because theres no money in it and theres no drug-value....so actual people-benefiting research would not go down the path ive outlined in the original post, but would focus on those sourdoughs for example which you and i have observed dont stale rapidly, or even yeast tech with the same focus, but not by creating bread additives of incredibly dubious provenance.


CaperAsh 2011 May 11

Yes, this is very interesting. It would be nice to have some more complete received wisdom about all this and I echo your disappointment with our knowledge base because of the way science and food studies work these days.


I wonder if the German baking lineages, many of which are quite modern and technical in operational nature, don't have some studies. They do have various sourdough additives ('backferment') which you can buy, and they use, and which use natural ingredients. Sekowa is a brand that is well known. I keep meaning to try to order some. More important than using it would be being able to read something about the logic behind the various ingredients and backferment formulas because I am sure they incorporate much received learning and wisdom about the bread fermentation process.


I have noticed one small thing of late, that is tangential to this thread: I have been using more and more fresh-ground spelt in my starters. For six month I only ever kept a rye starter in the fridge between bakes and then from that mother would build others, some rye, some spelt, some blends. Recently I have started also keeping a spelt-only mother in the fridge along with the rye. One nice thing about the spelt starters, especially if a spelt mother is built up with white flour for a white loaf, is an often almost sweet aroma, reminiscient of autumn apples. Doesn't happen every time, but after playing with various variables and paying attention I am at least fairly confident that the sweet effect is present when the spelt mother or mainly spelt starter is used in the loaves.


As to the keeping qualities: I sometimes make what I call 'pudding loaves'. I can make fresh-ground 'vollkorn' style breads with seeds and spices, or fruit and nut loaves, usually with about 180+ hydration and my usual slow fermentation method (10-12% of total volume starter, and 20-30 hours fermentation).

Now these pudding loaves, because of the high moisture content and, in the case of the fresh-ground, the much higher grain density (compared to steel-milled all-purpose white flour for example), retain moisture for much longer than any other loaves. This is not due to any difference in the sourdough cultures, which are the same as for the hearth loaves. So it must be due to the grain density (larger bits) being able to soak up and later retain more moisture.


In other words, I suspect one of the main aspects of those loaves that keep longer is, obviously, water retention. Salt is a well known water retender (not a word but..). I believe oil also helps in this regard. I wonder also if natural whey wouldn't also help but since it is illegal where I live I haven't played with it.


In any case, it would be interesting to learn more about the German backferments since I suspect their ingredients are designed to a) make the sourdough cultures reliable and vibrant and b) create better breads.


After googling around stumbled on this one which has some more info:


Also reference to this book: "The Gluten-free Gourmet Bakes Bread" by Bette Hagman, Owl Books, ISBN 0-8050-6078-2 . I suspect some of the techniques and studies on gluten free breads (good ones) will yield more information about fermentation/digestion etc. in general, whether or not one is interested in gluten free personally.


This one, very badly translated: http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.schrotundkorn.d...


Very well known Sekowa brand from Germany:



Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 11

Dear all

and thanks John
First, its fascinated me for a long time and I used to spend hours trying to find academic papers on subject etc to try to understand 'scientifically' the life cycle of baking yeasts (and lacto bacilli). Personally I think its worth every good baker knowing a bit on the subject from a sceintific poit of view, the different ways in which yeasts can multilply of which as I understand it there are three, the different ways they feed at different stages, differences between yeasts, aerobic and anaerobic feeding, acidity tolerance and so on. Did you know for instance that within a colony of yeasts in their budding multipication mode they can talk within the colony which way to move towards food (effectively there are scouts on the outer edges of colonies signalling to the rest) and that colonies can signal to each other not to crash into each other but tend to move apart. Some of this if better understood I think could help us understand better how different dough handling gives rise to different crumb structure and properties.

I guess part of the lag in knowledge compared to micro brewing is that it is actually with current techniques much harder to study what is happening in a relatively quick fermentating lump of dough than make observations in much slower and much more liquid brewing scenario.

Re. staling. Everybody likes a fresh loaf (though personally I get annoyed by people desecrating a loaf by cutting before totally cooled) but not everybody can have this every day, or twice a day a la Parisienne baguette. I know elsewhere John has written he thinks "rustic" style is modern invention but I would beg to differ at least a bit. The wonderous loaf I stumbled on in France occupied a small table in this farmer's front room/shop (the only other things for sale were about five years old cans of something but it was very dark so couldn't see well) as I recall it was about 70cm across and clearly not intended to be brought all by on person. There is a tradtion in France at least of large loaves brought (or sections of them) at weekly markets and/or weekly domestic baking where loaf is designed to last the week. There is even the Swiss village that bakes once a year but that is bit of a red herring since I believe actually their loaves then dried and eaten through the year after wetting. Revived rural wood burning ovens supplying farmers markets with "miche" now make regular appearance in many French cities with a style of bread that no baker inside cities typically makes. BUT its not a question of these breads tasting or feeling the same as they did first day but of how gracefully or not they stale, whether the texture and taste the second day is nice and interesting in its own right and how long that lasts like that. I actually have a white sourdough from St Johns bakery London here which is still very good, bouncy and good to eat without toasting from Saturday (its now Wednesday) whereas my own wholemeal baked on Friday has gone hard (but I know I baked too long too low as an experiment).

The most obvious question that one would think there might be an answer to is the perennial one regarding sourdough cultures - essentially one of nature or nurture. I think when Baker and Spice were in their original bakery with wood fired ovens beneath pavement behind Harrods they use to maintain five different starters for different breads each fed and kept different ways, one fed apple juice another potatoes etc but as far as I recall they made no claims about their origins. Nancy Silverton of La Brea also wrote a succesful sourdough culture can be started quickly any time any where. On the other hand a judge at our first Brockwell Bake bake off claimed to recognise that my (anonymous) loaf was made from starter from the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples which he recognised because his bakery used the same - but whereas his was directly snuck out back door of Ischia bakery mine was via http://www.flickr.com/photos/daigoexpressed/316470726/ - but I do suspect he was showboating as he was in a position to recognize my bread and knew I used Ischia culture. As I wrote before - within the micro-brewery world the idea that the particular yeast(s) and particular strain of them used would not make a difference - would now appear ridiclous - check this list here from one supplier. My own feeling at the moment is that what and how a culture is fed is as important as origin, one may be selecting out in one's culture through its maintainence particular yeasts from a pool - but whether that pool is the same wherever one goes and with whatever one starts a culture is another question. There have been a lot of studies of Italian sourdough cultures, both in regular bakeries in Sicily and those used for artisanal Panetone production without it seems any firm conclusions as to whether one sourdough yeast/lacto bacilli combination is good for this and another for that.



CaperAsh 2011 May 11

well, one place to start experimenting with different ones is here: http://www.sourdo.com/ One day I will experiment but for now I just use my own home grown one refreshed every week. In any case, Ed Wood says he can tell significant differences in both taste and fermentation properties so I think that it is true that different cultures are different.



Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 11


well, one place to start experimenting with different ones is here: http://www.sourdo.com/[/quote]

well, yes and if you check the flickr link I gave my Ischia was from http://www.sourdo.com/ and I have at back of fridge their SF and have had French. But to be honest I haven't detected obvious differences between them (maybe because maintaining all in same manner?) though certainly Ed Wood dried samples gets a starter going quicker than just random. But if you compare Ed Woods setup and information on different cultures - which is bascially anecdotal, despite his pathologist's background - with what is going on at http://www.brewingscience.com/PDF/prodlist/BSI_Yeast_Descriptions_Guide.pdf its a whole different ball game, in terms of sample delivery, statistical profiles, tasting notes, yeast and bacteria identification service and so on.

I have been offered brewer's yeasts to try for baking before. It would be great to experiment in adding some of these tasting notes given by http://www.brewingscience.com to breads to order according to what yeast and/or cutlure was used. But stumbling block it seems to me is how can one add lacto bacilli to the yeast in question without at same time adding other yeasts - how does one get a supply of lacto-bacilli by themselves - though I see http://www.brewingscience.com do offer one. Then of course one would also need a lot of space, containers, sterile equipment probably and above all time if doing a comparative study.





CaperAsh 2011 May 11

I looked at the pdf but not the flickr for some reason. Duh!


I have used bakers yeast in the following way and it works and is interesting and some of my customers want more of it even though I am not satisfied because it feels less balanced in terms of digestion somehow.


I use home brewing kits to make my own beer since I am not wealthy and prefer to pay about 20c a bottle versus $1.50 or whatever it is now in our government run liquor commissions here in Canada. (Wine is something only upper middle class people can afford to drink in this country, which is basically a criminal, classist policy if you ask me!).


I take the scum that forms in the early part of fermentation and use that, and that only, to create a mother culture. What you get, I think, is something with more yeast and less bacteria since the resultant doughs, are strong rising like instant / commercial yeast doughs and there is a similar texture and feel to them which is hard to describe but reminiscent of the difference between yeast-only risen and true sourdough risen loaves. At the same time, the flavour is denser and also the crumb is like halfway between the yeast and the sourdough in terms of softness, texture etc. Where it is really interesting is the flavour. There is a sharp multifaceted flavour from this beer yeast which is truly interesting. I made a 100% WW loaf with this yeast and one time a little black strap molasses. It was quite a hit, but without the molasses it was also very good. And most rewarding, perhaps: even though this was 100% WW the loaf rose like a white champ, really high. I have never got my natural sourdough cultures to get a rise like that with 100% whole grain.


So that's a cheap way to explore: get different types of brewer's yeasts via the kits and then also feed them first on different things - including barley malt and hops etc. - before adding them into flour and water to make a mother culture.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 11

Ive used brewers yeasts,from ales, NOT lagers to generate successful cultures as did all anglo-celtic bakers of yore. The process is incredibly difficult and i realised just how skilled English/Irish/Scottish bakers were, because the best of them brewed as they baked, generating their own polycultures of sacc C from worts made from actual malted barley...all a lot more difficult than sourdough. ( what is very interesting as ive been in the Uk quite a bit lately, is the extent to which the English seem oblivious and unintersetd in this fantastic skill and great bread they once produced, seemingly convinced that the French know it all!).... After the yeast was added to the dough, the fermentation was usaually 15-18 hours, with turns of the dough in a trough/trow....ive done this quite a few times and the dough is distinctly acidic, albeit attenuated sourness, nothing like a sourdough, nevertheless discernable....and they were aware of keeping the "twang" to a minimum because the cultural preference was for sweet not sour bread. I think bread made with this system is the equal of sourdough really and deserves much more attention. Ive even made baguette with this method and they are the best baguette ive ever tasted with the best crust ever...which is not suprising as baguette arent French at all but Viennese, as Poilane pointed out, and actually based on this fermentation system which is  anglo-celtic in origin....even the Romans were amazed by it when they got to Gaul....so I would say that time is the parameter which releases endemic acidity in a yeast based ferment.

Im indebted to Danubian a contributor to this site for sending me a book from about 1910 which documented this lost art of fermentation....the book was being thrown away from a TAFE library as I understand it.

I document these loaves on my blog: baking in the UK 09

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 12

[quote=JohnD]I document these loaves on my blog: baking in the UK 09[/quote]


you don't actually seem to mention using ale yeasts in that post

I have now re-read Elizabeth David - English Brad and Yeast - section "Ale Barms, Brewer's yeasts and home-made yeasts" in which she says two main things appeared to be to take yeast from top of brew and to "wash" that to remove bitterness - but its also clear that result is then fed with brewing type food - malted grains typically and in some case hops (as you write). But it is not totally clear whether result can be turned into bread making culture that is ongoing or in all recipes requires raw input from brewing each time and whether Elizabeth draws a clear distinction between the result and a sourdough culture (which she isn't big on at all, really only mentioned in this book in passing). Is there something in the method that is getting rid of or keeping out lacto-bacilli?

Peter Reinhart in "Crust and Crumb" I think totally muddies the water by giving a method to start a sourdough culture which he calls "Barm Sponge Starter" which seems apart form name only to be linked to orginal barm leavening by including sprouted wheat in start food, yeasts coming form raisins instead of any brewing bi-product, clearly includes and encourages lacto-bacilli and is clearly designed to be used and maintained just like any sourdough culture. 

In that all methods, even Reinharts are adding live sprouted grain I would suggest part of essence of method is that this is adding enzymes as well as yeasts to the final dough (wow, back to original subject of thread, sort of).

I wonder if using barm from other than English bitter production, Belgian or German weiss beer yeasts for instance what would one get and would it need washing in same fashion as ale barm?

time to have a word with my local brewer I think http://thekernelbrewery.com/ next to one of our wheat farmer's London premises


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 12

These were the same breads i had made previously with barm made from a few different ale yeasts i bought and pitched ina wort in Australia.. The process is analogous in that I used the fresh organic yeast from rapunzel in germany to make these loaves in the UK, which is made in the same way as barm. This yeast is technically barm , but they have used the advantages of tecnology to stabilise the process. If one examines their yeast making process, its just as a barm baker would have done.

Elizabeth David didnt quite get that right.

Lactobacilli start to breed as soon as flour meets water. A plain dough of flour and water will acidify within 12 hours. The bacteria of the sourdough are maltose fermenting, and the barm is brewed in malt  so lactobacilli are to be expected.. The bakers were scrupulous in their attempts to keep the dough from souring getting "twangy", which is more what washing the yeast is about, clearing the bacteria.away. The washed yeast they kept in water as a "stock" to innoculate the wort or the dough, and it had to be remade regularly and kept bacteria-free.

But when one tastes this bread, its not a sourness, yet there is acidity. getting that balance correct consistently is difficult, far more so than  sourdough bread production, and there are numerous mentions of yeast "exploding" in Victorian and colonial literature.

As I understand it, when those sort of beers are bottled, the yeast cells are mostly dead and on the bottom. Ideally, the barm is scooped from the surface of the wort as it reaches a head.

CaperAsh 2011 May 12

"The process is incredibly difficult and i realised just how skilled English/Irish/Scottish bakers were.."


Well, maybe I was just lucky. But I skimmed the top off two different brews, one a stout and one an English ale mix from an Australian company and didn't wash it or anything and just gave it a day to work with good quality organic flour (wholewheat or rye I can't remember) and it made a typical starter - it seemed to me - and baked great bread. I prefer my normal flour-sourced starter and threw them away after a while but I didn't find anything difficult at all.


That said, I use very simple techniques and can tell from taking a gander at your Baking UK 09 post that your technical experience is up there. In fact, I found that a provocative post because, as someone who grew up in England and occasionally exposed to authentic gourmet food there - which existed in private homes with cooks - I know how deeply good some of their breads can be. I had all but forgotten until reading that post.


What is the title of that 1910 book please ? Maybe I can find it. I have a 1910 edition of Estoffier so such things are still findable.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 12

Reproducing the bread daily and maintaining the yeasts is the difficult art. You would find as the days went on and you had to keep making worts from ground whole barley which varies notoriously, and trying to keep it within parameters without refrigeration, that rogue yeasts creep in. Its nothing like as self-protective as a leaven. The highly nutritious wort attracts all sorts of aliens. Australian bakers dreaded the hot autumns with air full of fruit yeasts and other yeasts as these infect the wort really easily. 

The book is back in Ausralia, im in the UK, and I cant remember the exact title, but will work on it, sorry!

CaperAsh 2011 May 12

That makes sense. Thanks.


But I wonder if what I did without considering it isn't okay for many namely: start the culture using the wort scum and then keep feeding it with flour and water thereafter until the next batch of fresh scum is used to start another culture. The culture would no doubt change a little from week to week.


Once I get into a solid rhythm again I think I'm going to experiment with this. Grain cultivation happened, it is said, in order to make alcohol. Only after that did people get into bread. I also read somewhere that in medieval Europe many bakeries were located next to a brewery to pick up this scum for their own use.


In any case, the two definitely do go together and I will try some more, although of course would be MUCH better if I were not using kit beers as the source. I just found out there is an ex German brew master in my neck of the woods. Maybe we can make up some worts occasionally just for my baking use....

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 13

Hi all,

cycling though Kent yesterday to visit one of our grain supplying farms yesterday http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery.php?page=5&project=68 and seeing the elderflowers out this week I remembered what I had stupidly forgotten  - that I tried creating a starter from homemade elderflower champagne mash and unpasteurised "champagne starter" cordial a couple of years ago.

If you don't know already elderflowers attract or contain some particular yeasts that produce a sparkling very slightly alcholic brew (some pics of elderflower brewing here http://www.myplot.org/gallery.php?page=1&project=47). I wanted to see if the "sparkling" side of things produced any noticeably different crumb when converted to a sourdough type culture and whether any flavour passed over. The answer was some lack of sourness and elderflower flavours (probably from mash) but no noticeable crumb change + low volume on first two uses for baking, after which this culture became very standard - possibly infected by my usual starter.

A question

John do you think the "yeast washing" described by Elizabeth David is exactly the same as seems to be meant by brewers now i.e. version with water here http://www.beer-brewing.com/beer-brewing/brewers_yeast/yeast_washing.htm - a process of diluting, letting settle and then decanting leaving aside sediment and layer of water above it?
I am sprouting some wheat and barley and intend then to sun dry these so as to retain enzymes live - then mill as fodder for yeast froth I hope to get from Kernel Brewery.



Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 13

I am getting confused agian now

these guys are after what is left on bottom after washing yeast


but for baking would this also be true despite having gone for what is on top of primary ferment as original source?

found reference to history of baking with brewing yeast here


so this goes back to the Phenicians or maybe even they got it from the Atlanteans (got a right ear-wigging from old bio-dynamic farmer yesterday about the Atlanteans as the great original plant breeding farmer/priests)


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 14

Its fairly well decided that the "Atlanteans" first mentioned by Plato, were the inhabitants of Thera, now called Santorini in the Aegean...it all fits with Platos descriptions. They were a trading people above all and the recent digs on Santorini have produced stunning frescoes etc and show that they were using Minoan script or vice versa. The concept has fuelled fabulous stories hasnt it lol.....they may have introduced many foods into Europe because they were trading from Africa/ India/Persia/China etc...even wheats and grains.

back to the future....those bottom yeasts are from lager brewing as i understand and mostly dead (containing high amounts of the anti-oxidant glutathione), but definitely not the ones used for bread making. It seems the death knell of the barm process in theUK was the widespread introduction of and acceptance of Lagers and Lager brewing...meaning the source of the barm was lost. One of the problems with reports from history about baking is that none of the writers know anything about food and baking in particular, so they always get it wrong and introduce confusion....theres a lot of it in archeology...recent translations of Sumerian literature have revealed extensive culinary knowledge and recipes which stunned (european)archaeologists who assumed they lived on gruel...duuuuh.

Similarly, the idea that the Phonecians introduced ale based yeast brewing is a wild guess, although the Sumerians were doing it at the dawn of recorded history, so the transmission could have come through the Phonecians as they were the trading people of the ancient world, who (fullswing) may even be the original Therans, hence Atlanteans!!! However the Celtic peoples who were making the ale-yeast bread which astonished the Romans when they invaded Gaul, seem to have been making it forever...ale is a cultural continuity  in Celtic history. The practice of ale-yeast bread may have died in France with the collapse of the Roman empire, but interestingly it did not seem to have died in the Celtic areas of Brittania,  Eire and Scotland, as the Romans could never quell them and just walled them out of the Empire. Hence we have this history of ale-yeast bread in England/Scotland/Eire which given the surrounding cultures-all of whom make sourdough/levain- is quite an amazing culinary survival, and it really annoys me that the English dont acknowledge and celebrate this!!!...theyve become lager louts!!

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 14

its clear that many ancient Egyptian bakeries (though not all, especially really big ones around pyramids etc) were both brewery and bakery http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3b/FuneraryModel-BakeryA...

a couple of other points.

maybe the continued adding of a portion of UK grain to mill grist for flavour and sweetness at height of the period of otherwise reliance on North American and Australian wheat for bread baking during 1930s is mainly to do with higher enzyme levels typically in UK wheats v. imported grain without enough.

its generally glossed over by those opposed to it that Chorelywood Process has made it possible for UK to be almost self reliant for milling grain in typical years - indeed its impossible to use Chorleywood process in North America with their own grain as its too strong. But given that the dominant market for UK milling grain is therefore for use by CWP I have no idea what the implications are for natural (or unatural) enzyme content required compared to either straight or sourdough process.


Malhavick 2011 May 20

 I actually bought a starter from Ed Wood. It's still working for me! I also bought two of his books, one was about the history of the sourdough culture and the other had some recipes. Good information if you want to learn about the history and a good springboard for converting recipes. It's what gave me the idea to convert the commercial recipes.


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 14

yeasts are an archetype of "Quantum biology"....they morph according to substrate (food) and terroir as you say, and the attempts of Cartesian science to pigeon-hole them all for convenience are silly....its like the previously held ideas about the rigid nature of genetics, now arcane as we know about gene-exchange and epi-genetics....all is in constant flux and yeasts are an exemplar of this, dependant on selection....we can buy numerous types of "saccharomyces cerevisiae"..its like saying numerous types of humans....supposedly the same because we are all "humans", but in actual fact we differ dramatically (black to white and all), but can also morph over generations(difference between immigrants to the new worlds and their offspring, notable the Japanese in the US)...hence also the difficulty in actually pigeon-holeing  the lactobacclli...Ed Wood opined to me that in the end unless you get out an electron microscope they are all so similar as to defy classification, and even then its doubtful.

I used to test this out because i`d read a common peasant practice was to make 3kg loaves from the whole crop and store them dry in the rafters. I succeeded in keeping some of my 2kg boule for 8 months like this, then steamed them back to edibility, and this is clearly the root of these bread "salads" where the bread is cubed and mixed with juicy vegetables and olive oil.

I agree about the whole "keeping " thang...my breads are always edible for a week and more, its just that many moderns are what the Essenes would have called "seekers after smooth things"...soft pappy bread...nobody chews anymore, everything is soft and sweet...bread disneyland!.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 14


I think I would have to question some of your logic here, or at least the conclusions from it. If we take the analogy of human individual variation, surely the diversity of humans is a strength. We are back again to nature and nurture question. Surely if we can take a strain of yeast that is known to produce some particular out of the ordinary taste result or functionality when used for brewing, find out how to use it (if possible) in baking so that it maintains this exceptional individuality, even if that expression is not recognisably linked to its expression in brewing, this might be interesting. Such an approach might open a whole new palette of baking possibilities.

I have checked my 5 volume "The Modern Baker" 1924 by John Kirlkand, lecturer at the National Baking School - evidently then as now the place was a bastion of industrial baking. There is a 14 page section on "Manufacture of home-made barms and yeasts" which indeed makes things sound extremely complicated and time-consuming, mostly seemigly in preparation of wort. The conculsion given is "There may be in cases a strong sentimental reson for the baker to continue making and using his home-made barm, but except in circumstances already alluded to, where factory-prepared yeast cannot be obtained, it is really an unwise policy". On the one had the author may be exagerating the complexities in order to promote industrial yeast, on the other hand I think there may be this element of the baker not knowing which "gesture" is the crucial one for the barm preparation and therefore doing all known "gestures" in case ...



JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 14

Walter Banfield says the same, but they werent of that era, barm was long gone....and of course they would, thats what i mean, its a really difficult art, yet it was maintained for a long time. I m sure its one of the artisan skills that has been underestimated, especially to do it continuously with good quality....or it could be procured from a good local ale- brewery on a regular basis.......or from another if it wasnt ready or had gone twangy! ah for the daze of yore!

Kirklands incredible...what a bakery polymath...his pics of french bread circa 1910 are revealling, and all the shapes and some of the cultural references. his section on rolls and also buns are brilliant...after Kirkland,Banfield is the last of the great bakery authors I think who clearly had that aritsanal knowledge of bread making as well as their modern technical skill. Banfield is a good writer as well  and  I can see why Elizabeth David was so impressed by him..


Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 14

fingers crossed Brockwell Bake will be setting up mill with bakery with Vincent Talleu (and butchers) next door to Kernel Brewery before end of year - so you can see why the subject would appeal. Also the brother of a close friend is a totally bonkers micro-brewing geek who tried to get me to use some of his yeasts before - I think I need to sit down with the brewers and you and talk/think things through.

Kirkland has long descriptions of various different styles of wort or starter food preparation, with and without flour added to basically brewing preparations but then when says add yeast gives no description of how and where to get it or how to prepare it for "pitching" into the fodder.


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 10

Thanks for your post...It used to be the role of the master baker to make sourdough cultures reliable and vibrant. This was an oral tradition often but not always imparted to the "journeyman". In this way, the craft which it must be remembered was THE most important guild in Europe, was perpetuated. This system was destroyed by industrialisation. A well experienced baker can maintain the starter within the parameters you describe., and its obvious from the forum on this site and others, that maintenance of starter and consistency is very difficult for many "amateurs"...which is why the sourdough system is so fascinating because it takes a lot of intention and effort to be able to maintain the starter and bake consistent bread...which is also why it was killed off by industrialisation, because it was artisan-dependant, human-dependant and not easily replicable within industrial criteia and by unskilled "operatives".

The back ferments are a way around this for sure, helping to enable more people to bake good wholesome bread. My experiments with them however, and of others ive spoken with, are disappointing IF one maintains an excellent starter...they just dont compare to a live vibrant starter/leaven/levain. I think Andy is correct in that Sourdough is intimately tied to "terroir"..its a local phenomena, dependant on water/wheat/baker, and so the parameters cant be pinned down as easily as with yeast baking. Again this is an aspect of sourdough which makes it appealing, it is the archetype of "local and in-season" which are the gold standards of good food today. Unfortunately, not only does the science/tech community largely ignore this, but so do the Gastronomic community who are focused on more overtly groovy foods such as wine and cheese and meat....bread is usually too lowly for their focus, so it misses out the type of celebration accorded to a fab cheese or sausage, but is actually the template for all artisan foods.

I agree that hydration is a major key, and it seems the alien enzymes of which i wrote are deeply hydrating the starch matrix to previously unreachable limits...which is what makes them suspicious to me...and your "pudding breads" probably replicate traditional bread more than modern types, but people have been shunted away from this texture by the alluring industrial textures....all this hydration but with bendy softness and non-engaging mouthfeel...ie you can just swallow it, eventhough its largely artiindigestible. Some clever sans are getting the best of both worlds, hydration and texture, giving keeping quality, but I think "keeping quality" is a furphy...why not just keep baking good bread regularly, enabling craft and commerce by the baker and numerous (rather than centralised) bakeries ?...it doesnt have to "keep" endlessly...thats a cosmetic consideration rather than an intrinsically beneficial one.

CaperAsh 2011 May 11

I very much agree with you about the keeping but it is an isue on two fronts for me.


First, personally speaking, I find the bread really is most delicious in both taste, texture and aroma - but especially the latter - when it is soft, moist and springy, and still with translucent starches etc. So if I could find a natural way to extend this condition, I am interested, both as eater and baker!


Second, as someone who sells at a local farmer's market in a very small and somewhat overly conventional town, I have two main hurdles amongst several. Apart from a general prejudice against bread - often for good reason given that most 'bread' is terrible stuff - which I won't count since that means there is no interaction, for those interested enough to have a taste or consider a purchase:

a) most people these days simply don't know what sourdough is and/or have rarely if ever had a 'real' sourdough (like mine!) or if they have had, they weren't aware of the difference. Many things are called sourdough these days, from techniques using genetically modified yeast (i.e. commercial yeasts 99% of bakers used) to make a biga or poolish, or bakers using a sourdough premix which is mainly a flavouring or souring agent and so forth. So alot of people aren't aware that my sourdough might be different from the one they tried a while back at the supermarket labelled 'San Francisco Sourdough White' or somesuch. Also, few people are aware of the significant difference nutrition/digestion wise. But this one is just a question of getting people to taste it and, if they like it, they buy a loaf and either they become regular customers or they don't. Fine.

b) is more difficult to deal with. I find that those brought up in North America and after the war (i.e. under 65 basically) are very much used to supermarket sandwich bread as their dominant referent. That is what they think of when you say 'bread'. My bread - using organic, stoneground flours and comprising white, spelt, rye hearthloaves and my vollkorn pan loaf 'pudding breads' mentioned above - are much denser than what they are used to and, more importantly perhaps, not shaped right. Also, they have to cut them themselves. And if all the first things are hurdles enough, they don't stay soft and squishy for weeks on end in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. In fact, if I tell people NOT to keep it in the fridge, unless they are experienced 'health food' or 'gourmet' types, they immediately tend to assume there is something wrong with my bread if it won't stay soft and squishy forever. And that soft squishy test is the main one.


Of course this latter is ironic because indeed with a fresh sourdough loaf you can tell alot from the touch test. Even a 100% WW loaf should indeed be giving to the touch and bounce back. But there again is the problem: at least with my loaves, this is only the case for the first 1-2 days after baking, thereafter the crusts harden up considerably. I personally don't have a problem and am used to figuring that I should eat a loaf within a week. But for those not used to the natural staling of bread, again they feel that something is wrong and that I am offering something essentially inferior to the modern stuff.


So again, any natural way of extending that soft squishy business, I'm interested!!

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2011 May 11
there was one senior researcher in the CSIRO in Australia,who had observed what i had suggested to him, that diabetics virtually "recover" by eating sourdough bread as a large part of their diet. Instead of just glibly attributing it to low GI, he realised there was a lot more to it, particularly in the production of hormones, yet he couldnt do any research on it because it wasnt industry-oriented and linked to making money


 This is a very interesting comment.  Wouldn't it be nice if someone could follow up on that and study it?  John thanks for your comments as I just spent part of my day learning about enzymes to be used in winemaking.

RealBreadCampaign 2011 May 11

Hi LeadDog - do you have the researcher's name?  Would be interested to know how much he has on this so that we can flag it up as another interesting observation that is crying out to be followed up with funded research.





CaperAsh 2011 May 11

As I stumble around reading up on such things in an admittedly haphazard fashion I collect links. In this section on my links page are collected quite a few articles, including some scientific papers, about bread fermentation. There have been some studies demonstrating the benefits - though none that I am aware of that get into the details of the processes involved, especially enzymatic ones, called for in this thread. That said, perhaps someone here might feel inspired to contact the Italian researchers, for example (Italians are less shy about treating dietary issues seriously and their culture and science industry slightly less beholden to the mass industrial approach I suspect) to see if they would like to undertake a study that examines the whole thing in more detail. If well written, they could probably make a little money back publishing it.



JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 11

Chris, its from my post.....and i cant really give you his name without contacting him......but it was from my obsevartions and experience with a diabetic, and many customers over the years that led me to actually inform him of a reality I had been part of, in a clinical situation as well....however, experiences like this are "anecdotal" even though very much one of the modes of "knowing"...problem is, unless its from an academic under academic criteria, such knowledge in todays climate is ignored and inadmissable.....hence my comments re the conference we both attended where the speaker suggested going to a "health professional" rather than talking to the baker. This is a change in the mode of the correspondence of information. Where once the adage was "dont get me a doctor, I need a cook(NOT chef!)", todays mode of knowing excludes all but the "professional". If one is a professional, the correspondance of information between the medical and culinary is laughable, wheras once it was fundamental. My point is that its a rare professional who knows anything at all about the therapeutic nature of food, and in fact the connection is often scoffed at, yet within the community, as "pop-science" it is often corresponded and often with great results...ive helped numerous people with health problems particularly with reference to diet, with a lot of great results for the people involved. But im not a dietary/health "professional" so what i do is viewed as witchdoctoring, yet I can get better results with helping overcome some simple diet -related health problems, than can most "professional" ones, especially better than most nutritionists who are trapped in the web of scientific convention which is on very shaky ground with regard to the connection of diet and therapeutics. I understand the need for "professionals" its just that today, they are divorced from the old modes of knowing and weaned on cold science which doesnt unfortunately relate to consenual reality. This is a distinct shift from the tradtional to todays almost paranoid reaction to anyone who speaks without a scientific imprimatur.

whats worse is that the scientific papers out there which document diet-related therapeutic affects, eg from sourdough bread, are buried in the gigantic mounds of scientific research being done...none of which is corresponded. You have to wade through ridiculous mounds of the stuff to unearth the studies...and these are often not peer-reviewed or may occasionally be reported in a side column of a newspaper then forgotten. Doctors or professionals who observe non conventional therapeutic responses rarely integrate them, and (in my bitter experiene with this) simply forget them or put them in the "too hard" basket or attribute them to faith healing/placebo or some such. These professionals cannot integrate this information with their conventional training which actually teaches them to ignore such events...its the nature of the academy today.

More sinister is the interconnection of the academy and the food industry. Even though it is known that diabetes is a dietary disease, there will be no traction with the food industry because they are busy promoting the "foods" which are actually causing diabetes, which are in turn formulated by the food science professionals. If we could somehow ban the foods which many know are causing diabetes, the industrial food industry would collapse and frankly, the supermarket shelves would be very empty....cue Chorleywood bread which is responsible for all manner of clinical conditions, none of which will be documented by the academy, yet are well known by the community, who actually talk about such things. Simply removing Chorleywood bread from your food choices is an extrordinarily curative exercise....which WE all know but THEY wont admit.

So you probably wont find a professional to elucidate on the theme you mentioned, however I will find some of the research and forward it to you when I can. The "discovery" of the low GI nature of sourdough is an example, but this is rarely known by any health professionals, who rarely even know what soudough bread is, and have all "bread" in the same basket!

Truth is, "pop-science" is often streets ahead of mainstream science.

CaperAsh 2011 May 11

that's a fantastic post. And your well-tempered rant about the dysfunction viz. scientific/professional/conventional/common sense wisdom etc. is right on the money.


Indeed, it's so good that it makes me forget about even trying to learn much more because as you point out for each small nugget of potential insight you have to pan through veritable mountains of scientific and academic persiflage and we all have better things to do with our time!


Personally, I have not the slightest doubt that baking with natural sourdough cultures is light years ahead of using genetically modified single strain yeast cultures. It looks, smells, tastes and feels better. What else do you need to know? Personally, that's enough for me (always has been) but I have been trying to collect more information to sort of help persuade people who might not have the confidence to trust their instincts. In so doing I am buying into the pseudo-scientific hoo-ha endemic to our pseudo-scientific age.


I will take pride in the fact that my sourdoughs age gracefully. I just cut two slices of a sourdough all-white I baked last Friday (first all-white with no whole grain except spelt in starter, so about 5% of total recipe) which is still moist and soft and springy. There's really no problem there. Now to be fair the whole grain loaves dry out faster, no doubt due to the structure of the flour particles, but again it is still somewhat springy and when toasted is delicious, whether 100% WW or a basic 35% Rye or my 35% whole grain Miche loaf (mainly Spelt but a little rye and WW in there too to bring more subtle flavours to the palate.)


Put another way: I will take pride and even start boasting about how these 'real' breads age properly rather than being on artificial life support with artificial franken formulas.


So thanks again for this thread!

Journeyman 2011 May 13

I was also at said conference when reference was made to Health Professionals and how it may be more appropriate to have them offer treatment advice to people than a Baker. .I could see the speakers point but it sadden me that Bakers these days were not expected to have any knowledge which they could apply to a person's health. Crazily although Bakers provide people with a basic food and staple no knowledge of it's value and worth healthwise is expected of the Baker.

  Unfortunately the way in which many Bakers have wed themselves over the last 50 years to the Chorleywood process and it's many high speed spin-offs has reduced them in the eyes of many  from craftspeople to button pushing machine operators.(  The latest example being the pre-mix flours that many small bakeries buy now where they only need add water.They don't often even know what nice little additives may have been added at the mill to help them make the 'Perfect Loaf ' )

Sadly 'The Baker' is often the last person someone would think of going to for dietry advice,after all what does a 'machine operator ' know about up set guts and wind problems that compete with cows !!

Interestingly though people will venture in the door of a Healthfood shop and make an appointment with a 'Naturalpath or such, someone who has 'trained' to give advice,a Health professional .

Sometime back whilst delivering some of my sourdough bread to a health shop I met the local Naturalpath and we had an interesting 'chat'. I had heard that she was regularly telling people to give up wheat. I suggested that my sourdough bread could probably be eaten by quite a range of people with a variety of conditions, and asked why was there a downer on wheat.Her answer was that she was told on her training course that one of the first things you do when treating people is get them to stop eating wheat.!!

Since then ,unbeknown to her I have been 'treating' one of her patients for a 'wheat allergy ' problem . They regulerly buy my sourdough wheat/rye bread !!

John,Andy, I really value the science you guys are laying out here.It takes me time to understand some of it, but you are right Andy, Bakers should get themselves more aquainted with the science of their craft.,



Rick in Wales









JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 13

Thanks Journeyman,yes i can see the point of view and understand it. Essentially its the right thing to do to consult a health care professional, I would never suggest that people dont do that...my ravings are just to create some context to the issue of "wheat allergies". They rarely are that, its  an appropriate bodily reaction to modern bread really.... correctly , its a Chorleywood bread allergy!

Its so interesting to hear your experience and ive been saying the same in private since the 80`s...all the people who used to come to me as a baker...desperate really because their allopathic doctor had been no help...and with their numbers increasing daily, I started to ask if they`d had a biopsy or blood test for antigens...none had....in exactly the same way, they had all been told this by a naturopath, and just like you I found out that it was a basic treatment modality of some types of naturopathy....and just like you I argued that it was simplistic in the extreme to equate a loaf of wholesome digestible sourdough with the rubbish thats made with wheat today from pastries to "breads". These are the ones I always gave a loaf to and asked them just to try...in 30 yrs of baking not one ever had any reactions to my breads....and they were all thrilled! It alarmed me that even the naturopaths didnt know about sourdough, being the one set of health professionals I would have thought would be tuned in....im sure not all naturopaths are like this, and the more consensualy correct and scientific information about sourdough is starting to emerge....there was always the odd tuned in doctor as well who also sent patients to get my bread, them being proper physicians who did their homework.

This is  not groovy  and a bit earnest to some , nevertheless it displays the actual deep "meaning" of sourdough and its many faceted relevance to todays world. Its an important signifier.

CaperAsh 2011 May 13

It's been around 80% humidity this week. And my loaves (what's left of them!) baked last Friday are still soft and moist. So clearly humidity is a factor. I suspect having a proper wooden bread bin and wrapping the breads in a cotton dish cloth is all that's really necessary. I made one high hydration all-white in a loaf pan and it's really soft enough still today to sell tomorrow (except for the fact not much is left!).


I was blocked out of the local Farmer's Market since opening my little bakery. But last week they finally let me in having replaced the old Board which had problems. So tonight I mixed up my largest bake to date and just hope I can handle all the logistics and timing tomorrow - along with the challenges of doing this with a wood-fired brick oven of course - to have an excellent 'opening run' at the FM.


And now I can confidently say that my breads stay soft for at least a week as long as it isn't too dry.


Question: I read (here I think) that when you put sourdough in the fridge the gluten chrystallizes which is a fancy way of saying that it seems to dry out and harden. But then we all know that putting drier breads in the toaster seems to bring them back somehow. Would I be right in saying/guessing that the heat from the toaster is de-chrystallizing the gluten again which is why the bread is softer generally (except for where it gets overly browned or burned) after toasting? That is something I have always wondered about, that dry bread gets moister when you toast it.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 13

You too...i got blocked from a farmers market in Adelaide for asking too many questions about the big commercial bakery who were allowed to sell loaves! petty politics.

I dont think "regular" bread can be toasted back to life, its sourdough which has this magic through retained moisture. Thats why the GM enzyme tech to prevent staling is such a travesty, because as you document and as we know, proper bread doesnt stale like chorleywood bread does...so its just ridiculous...if they made real bread in the first place, there would be no need for the enzyme tech because sourdough is rich in enzymes and quite probably the sourdough process does the same as the GM enzymes in acting upon residual starch...its just that then the corporates would have nothing to sell..its fake business and simply about new ways to make money rather than properly feed the population.

 "crystallization" is i think different to what happens when "stale" bread comes back to life through toasting.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 13

Hi John

I would agree with you that Sourdough process allows much more time for enzymes naturally present in the grain to get activated and take part in the fermentation, and as we have discussed adding of diastatic malt extract is another way to add natural grain enzyme activity as will be the feeding of starter on flour from sprouted grains (sun dried) which I am about to attempt.

But I would like to come back to my previous point that at least in the UK I believe farmers have grain they have grown as milling (bread making - NABIM GROUP 1 - see here) wheat rejected as such by the milling industry for low falling numbers (i.e. to them unacceptably high enzyme activity) at a level which basically is designed for the enzyme level to need to be topped up by their non-grain origin enzyme "flour improvers".

Of course there is such a thing as too much enzyme activity in a crop but even then this can often be compensated for by blending with a crop that is low in enzyme activity (the same applies for protein levels). Unless most small millers can get direct from farmer (which most small millers don't do at least for the entirety of their supply) or the few suppliers/re-distributors of organic grain such as Gleadhalls organics dept. break away from major millers norms not sure how to fix this situation.



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