Understanding Taste Beyond ImaginationSome people collect everything from coins, stamps and jewelry to baseball cards and pieces of art. Others have gathered displays of magic props, bakery equipment, shoes and weapons. Across the world, there are even strange collections of hemp, hash and other illegal plants in Amsterdam, Ramen Noodles in Japan and even toilets in New Delhi. The goal is to preserve these things, no matter how odd, for posterity.
So is there anything unusual by collecting and preserving sourdough strains for bread production around the world? Actually, at Puratos’ newly opened Center for Bread Flavor in St. Vith, Belgium, research scientists working in conjunction with universities in Europe have gathered and documented these sourdough strains and put them in safe keeping so that they may be preserved for future generations of consumers to enjoy.
At the center, which is actually a former field house for an adjacent golf course, there are dozens of different types of sourdough strains from across the globe, including San Francisco, Germany, Spain, France, Lithuania and even South Africa, just to name a few. Each of them is significantly more or less acidic, sweet and even pungent based on their fermentation time, pH, the amount of titratable acids and the amount of lactic acid and acetic acid in the sponge.
Yes, I was at the ultimate center for Grateful Breadheads, and even a duffus like me picked up a shipload of fascinating information from a day of seminars, lectures and eating, smelling, seeing, feeling and even hearing the crunch of breads and rolls on this side trip from the iba 2009 show in Germany in October.
I was accompanied by a group of about 40 bakers from as far away as the Philippines and Chile on this tour into the world of bread baking and innovation. We first heard about the history of sourdough and how the first microorganisms go back 5,000 years to 3,000 B.C. when floodwaters in Egypt accidentally created the first batch. Then we discovered how baker’s yeast, which was first used commercially about 150 years ago to speed up the baking process, practically forced many of these strains into extinction as bakers turned their back on Old World processes.
Okay, maybe there was a slight bias toward sourdough products.
After a hearty lunch that included a dozen varieties of sandwiches made on Old World breads, Marco Gobetti, professor of food microbiology at the University of Bari, Italy, explained sourdough’s benefits over baker’s yeast, including how the long fermentation times make sourdough products more tolerant to people with Celiac disease because the sour breaks down many of the acids that cause allergies. In fact, he says, sourdough breads and rolls have a much lower glycemic index rating than their commercial yeast counterparts because it takes longer for the body to break down the starches of a sourdough product than one made with baker’s yeast.
During the breakout sessions, we took a tour of the Puratos Sensobus, or Mobile Sensory Analysis Lab, which is about as big as a trailer on your standard 18-wheeler and is used as a neutral testing environment to receive consumer feedback on product development, product preferences, packaging design and more.
Typically, the Sensobus will park next to a local supermarket in a specific section of town and get real life impressions and analysis from up to 300 real life consumers on a given day. It allows companies to figure out how consumers react to various flavors and how bread preferences vary by location.
In a breakout session on the secrets of bread aroma, we learned how and why various flavors are compatible with one another, followed by a lecture on multisensory sampling of specialty breads made with green tea and other hip and trendy ingredients. The goal was to demonstrate how creative new products can be developed from product conception to final tasting.
Finally, we took a tour of the sourdough manufacturing facility, which makes powder and liquid sourdough flavors sold under the Sapore name and active bakery ingredients based on sourdough sold under the O-tentic brand, but enough for this commercial break. The operation also houses a test bakery for developing a new generation of prototype breads and rolls by using sourdoughs from throughout the ages.
In the end, the trip to St. Vith (pronounced “Veet” not “Vith” Dan. German has no “ttthhhh”) shows how bakers and their ingredient suppliers are relying on the same tools that the biggest consumer product goods producers use to create innovative products by combining scientific and consumer research with old-fashioned innovation and product know-how.
It also helps palookas like me understand why we enjoy what we eat instead of just knowing that some bakery product tastes so good.
My next adventure? Find out more about Ramen Noodles!
Dan Malovany, editor