Scientists want to study your sourdough starters
If you’ve got flour, water and time on your hands, take part in this global science project
Google searches for sourdough bread have shot through the roof in the last month, as people bake the naturally-leavened bread while they’re socially isolating at home. There have even been shortages of flour in some places.
One research team is taking advantage of this sourdough mania for the purposes of science. They’re asking bakers for their ‘sourdough data’ (yes, apparently that’s a thing).
Researchers from North Carolina State University’s Public Science Lab are gathering data on sourdough starters from across the world.
The lab has launched Wild Sourdough: A Science of Sourdough Project and is asking all you home-bound bakers out there with lots of free time on your hands to help out with a huge crowdsourced science project.
The website explains the project’s goal: “The microbial communities in sourdough are comparatively easy to grow and study, so understanding sourdough can help us untangle some of the mysteries of the microbial world.”
A couple years ago we launched the Global Sourdough Project, and studies hundreds of existing starters from all of over the world. While we learned a lot from these starters, there were still lingering questions that we couldn’t decipher from the data: How does the type of flour you use and where you live affect the success of failure of a wild sourdough starter? Together we can reveal how these communities form over time and understand how factors such as flour type or geography impact these communities.”
It adds: “To make your own sourdough starter, all you need is flour, water, and a little bit of time. Whether you are here because your favorite bakery is currently closed and you need your bread fix, or because you are eager to help make even the smallest progress in our understanding of the microbial world, we are glad you are here!”
The website then explains what keen bakers need to do in order to contribute to the project: “We will guide you through creating a “wild” sourdough starter using only water and flour following a ten-day protocol. If you are curious (and a little ambitious), we are hoping to recruit some folks who want to make more than one starter using different flour types or using the same flour type but setting one outside and one inside your home.
Once you have made your starter we will ask you to observe it and record some observations about its aroma and how fast it rises. You will submit these data through a short online questionnaire.
We are going to let you — folks reading this —take the lead. If there is enough interest, we will likely create a new iteration in which we move on to asking questions about the bread making process itself!”
So if you take part, you get a delicious sandwich, the scientists get data: it’s a win-win.