More Than Bread: Sourdough As a Window Into The Microbiome

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Benjamin Wolfe sticks his nose into a Ziploc bag and takes a whiff. "Ooh! That's actually kind of nice," he says. Inside the bag is a pungent, beige goop. It's a sourdough starter — a slurry of water, flour, yeasts and bacteria — from which loaves of delicious bread are born. And it's those microbes that have the attention of Wolfe, a microbiologist at Tufts University. As the microbes munch on the sugars in the flour, they produce carbon dioxide, ethanol, acids and a smorgasbord of other compounds that give sourdough its bouquet of flavors and aromas. It's got "a little bit of buttery and barnyard," he says. He hands me the bag to sniff, and surprisingly, it does smell like butter. But barnyard? "It's like fermented hay and manure," he explains. "But in...

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