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Sourdough for Science: Part 6: Taste Test

February 25, 2019

After I took the starters to Boulted Bread on Sunday, Joshua Bellamy (co-owner of the bakery) fed them extra flour to grow them up overnight. Early Monday morning he built the doughs, mixing each starter with the same blend of flours so that the only differences in flavor would “arise” (haha) from the microbes unique to each starter.

Bread dough in containers

Joshua combined each starter with the same blend of flours, water and salt to bake bread for the middle school students to taste. Photo: Joshua Bellamy, Boulted Bread.

Joshua let the doughs rise at room temperature for four hours, then wheeled them into the walk-in cooler to continue to rise overnight.

The “bulk ferment” at a warmer room temperature helps the microbes to grow quickly and especially favors the bacteria that create acid, giving sourdough its characteristic tangy flavor. The cooler temperature of the “overnight proof” in the walk-in cooler favors yeast, which produce more complex aromas and flavors.


Joshua came back on Tuesday at 4am to bake the bread and give the loaves time to cool. I got to Boulted Bread at 6:45am, and we started slicing. I immediately noticed that the all-purpose and millet starters produced loaves that were flatter than the others. The others showed a more normal rise, though the Red Turkey wheat had a soft, spongy crust. The other breads were sturdy and tough to cut through; but, by comparison, the Red Turkey wheat crust felt almost fragile … I was careful not to crush the loaf while I sliced.

Erin and Joshua slicing bread.

Erin McKenney (left) and Joshua Bellamy (right) slice each loaf of bread into 26 pieces so that middle school students can compare the flavors created by the microbes in six different sourdough starters. Photo: Kevin Jefferies.

At 7:30am I started deliveries while Joshua continued to slice bread. Between drop-offs to middle schools, I came back and wielded a knife once more. We finished slicing at 9am, and by 10am I had finished the final delivery and returned all the transport bins to Boulted Bread.

All that work, and I hadn’t actually saved any bread for myself! Luckily for me, April Shoemaker had leftovers at Ligon middle school, and she shared a few slices of each with me so that I could indulge in my own taste test that night.

For each bread, I first unzipped the plastic bag and inhaled deeply through my nose a few times. After I identified the aromas specific to each bread, I reached in and took a slice. I inspected the air bubbles and felt the texture of the crumb. Finally, I took a few bites — of the crust and the inner part of the loaf — and chewed slowly, exhaling through my nose after each swallow to savor every scent and flavor.

All purpose

  • smells roasty
  • flat loaf, medium-hard crust
  • medium bubbles, close crumb, moist and tacky
  • tastes very mild, faint tang


  • smells tangy, a little like beans
  • flat loaf
  • tastes… creamy, like the flavor of grits


  • toasty, a little like spent grain
  • medium bubbles, some large
  • mild grain flavor, tiny tang at the end, almost a roast-coffee flavor in the crust


  • sour and funky, like a farmhouse ale
  • small bubbles, close crumb, tacky
  • bright, almost effervescent, lemony acid


  • grass, grain, and a hint of peanut
  • medium and large bubbles, spongey inside with a hard crust
  • grainy and grassy flavor

Red Turkey wheat

  • roasty, with a hint of hops
  • small/medium bubbles, a little tacky
  • spongey loaf, with a soft/flexible crust
  • coffee, a little sour like yogurt

These are just one person’s opinions, of course. I’m really excited to see what the students thought — of the bread, and the entire starter experience.

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