Early bird gets the sourdough

Suspicious of the so-called tourist traps, albeit I am myself a tourist, I was never a fan of Boudin Bakery. For one, the 165-year-old bakery’s flagship store sits right on Fisherman’s Wharf. Touristy, checked. Animal shaped bread, including koala, turtle, and alligator, checked.

Very cliche. Plus, (nose upturned) the soup bowl was a-okay.

But I was wrong. Boudin’s sourdough is quite solid. If I were to judge the bread based on the following criteria: crust (crispiness, flavor), interior body (stretchiness, chewiness), aroma and taste, I would give my chowder bread bowl a 9. It was crispy, but not hard. Soft, but chewy, and carrying a hint of tangy aftertaste typical of sourdough. But I suspect my favorable review has to do with the fact I was at the bakery when it opened at 8 a.m. Guess early birds do get the worms, including good sourdoughs.

Clam chowder in a bread bowl, Boudin Bakery (image credit: gold belly.com)

The San Francisco sourdough, which is basically a French bread made with a sourdough culture, dates back to the Gold Rush days. San Francisco-ans believe there are no place like the city that gives the bread its sourness. Supposedly it has to do with the makeup of the wild yeast strains native to San Francisco as well as the city’s air, temperature. But turned out that was what the natives would like to have believed. 

The San Francisco Chronicle editors ran a best San Francisco sourdough bread blind taste. The contest winner was The La Brea Bakery of Los Angeles. Upset, the editors repeated the test and got the same result. Talk about reality check.

So where does the sour flavor of sourdough come from? Serious Eats attributes it to technique. The article explains that starter-based breads — “breads in which the leavening comes from a batch of yeast and microbe-infested dough, rather than from dried or blocked commercial yeast” — contains millions and billions of yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria. When mixed with fresh flour, these micro-organisms start eating and producing alcohol, carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gives the sourdough the unique flavor.

According to an article in Discover Magazine,

Sourdough is teeming with bugs—some 50 million yeasts and 5 billion lactobacilli bacteria in every teaspoon of starter dough.

Next time when you bite into the sourdough, remember to thank the little buggers.



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