On the surface, the bread appears hard and uninviting. One wonders if it would go well only as an accompaniment to winter soups or when lathered with butter. Artisan baker Shipra Chenji says bluntly, “The sourdough bread is an acquired taste. The slight sourness and chewy texture takes getting used to. And it’s like a piece of chalk, you can travel with it in your backpack and it will stay good for days.” Now, who’d want to eat a piece of chalk?
Jokes aside, sourdough bread has a story. It’s one of the most ancient methods of baking where flour and water were combined and left to ferment over time, with wild yeast and lactobacillus. The sourdough method was forgotten when newer and quicker methods took over. Now, with the trend of going back to traditional methods of cooking and rediscovering their health benefits, the sourdough bread has witnessed a revival globally. Food bloggers and nutritionists sing paeans to sourdough, underlining why it’s healthy — the long fermentation and baking makes it easily digestible, negates the pitfalls of gluten (for those with gluten sensitivity) and has none of the additives associated with commercial baking.
The revival is also attributed to artisan bakers who don’t mass produce breads and hence do not reach out to additives to give their breads a glossy texture and extra softness.
In Hyderabad, sourdough is one of the breads a few artisan bakers are making on order, apart from other whole grain breads with herbs. “I began baking sourdough breads after enquiries from a few well-travelled customers. The bread reminded me of the Kashmiri khamera which I grew up eating with aloo curry,” says Shipra of Light Green Oven, who also bakes whole wheat breads with spinach, herbs like oregano and rosemary, foccacia with pumpkin and zilicainy with cheese and herbs, among other varieties.
Elsewhere, the organic store Kikaboni and the bread store Griffin stock sourdough with other wholegrain breads. “One has to read the label of commercial breads to know that even breads labelled to be whole grain have maida in it along with other adulterants,” says Ranjeeth Yadav, founder, Kikaboni, on his decision to bake and sell wholegrain breads. He admits that he has to make an extra effort to explain to many buyers why these breads have a coarse texture.
Artisan bakers use organic whole wheat flour, sea salt and unrefined sugar and are open to customised orders for those who want gluten-free or vegan products.
Dhanesh and Sharayu of Poets and Oats took to baking after realising the flipside of mass produced bread. They use organic whole wheat, sea salt and jaggery syrup for their breads. The texture and the taste took getting used to initially and now they have a steady clientele.
Lakshmi Shankar of Chakki health bakes took to healthy baking out of a personal need. A diabetic, she knew that the cookies and muffins sold at regular bakers would do her health no good. “My daughter loved what I baked and she egged me on to start Chakki,” she says. Lakshmi bakes muffins, cakes, brownies, cookies and crackers in regular and unusual flavours — red velvet cakes/cupcakes rub shoulders with lime and ginger, and coffee and cinnamon muffins.
For these bakers, organic markets organised in different parts of the city each weekend come as a boon. “The clientele that comes here wants to eat healthy, is willing to lend an ear to understand what goes into these handmade breads and why a loaf may cost Rs. 100 or 120,” says Dhanesh.
Once the buyers warm up to these bakes, orders are placed on Facebook or phone for the next lot. It’s a niche clientele and the bakers hope it will grow.