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Death of a sourdough

How a neglected sourdough starter can go from a bubbling yeast factory to a smelly, moldy mess

January 28, 2021
A sourdough starter. Photo: Jill Wellington/CC 0
A healthy sourdough starter can smell floral, yeasty or even like alcohol sometimes — but not rotten. [Credit: Jill Wellington | Pixabay]

Last year, plenty of people took up the new hobby of baking sourdough. What better to do when you can’t leave the house? And, since sourdoughs are based on cultivating a microbial community of yeast and bacteria in what’s called a “starter,” these bakers had to learn how to care for the billions of microbes with which they now shared a kitchen.

But as with many other hobbies, some of those new sourdough bakers probably gave up at some point. So what happened to their new microbe friends? What happens to a neglected sourdough starter?

On this episode of the Scienceline podcast, we find out.

Music by Jahzzar and Chopin, by Frank Levy and Jeannette Fang (1, 2).

You can also listen to this episode of the Scienceline podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.

About the Author

Ethan Freedman

Ethan Freedman studied biology and environmental studies at Tufts University and the School for Field Studies. This took him to field work in the grasslands of Tanzania, rainforests of Costa Rica, swamps of Massachusetts and islands of California, mainly studying birds. But it also reminded him how much he likes telling stories, so that’s what he does now. Other than that, he likes cross-country skiing, live music and cooking with friends.

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