The Story of San Francisco Sourdough Bread: How It was Invented

July 1, 2016

Here’s the history and story of San Francisco Sourdough Bread…

In the early years of mining mayhem, San Franciscan bakers were perplexed. After biting into their newly baked bread, recipes they had been making in the France had turned sour. Yet, somehow they realized that they liked how the bread tasted – they struck culinary gold of sorts. Thus the name of the bread became sour dough.

Bread was so important to the miners that on cold nights they would cuddle with their yeast starter to keep it warm – so it wouldn’t die. These intelligent miners became known as “sourdoughs”.

Initially it was thought that San Francisco was the only place where San Francisco Sourdough Bread could be made because our foggy climate cultivated this specific type of yeast. Local bakers, including Boudin founded in 1849, swore that no one could reproduce it outside a 50-mile radius of the city – thus adding to its allure.

Now we know that is not true – since some scientists were able to identify the particular strain of bacteria responsible for the San Francisco bread’s sour flavor. It has now been discovered all over the world, but the good news is that at least we still lay claim to the name of the bacteria- L. sanfranciscensis.

San Francisco is widely regarded as the mecca of sour-style bread and in the 1980s the San Francisco artisan bread movement reinvigorated our bread-making image with an emphasis on great technique.  The likes of Acme bread (located at the Ferry Building) and Semmifreddi came on the scene.  And more recently in the past 10 years artisan baking has exploded in the trendy San Francisco culinary scene with the likes of Tartine BakeryJosey Baker at The Mill and Della Fattoria. San Francisco Sourdough Bread is here to stay!

While you might head to Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf for the historical sourdough bread, I would also urge you to try some of San Francisco’s more technically improved sourdough and head over to Tartine Bakery in the Mission District! Mark Bittman from the New York Times called it one of the best bakeries in the country – and Chad Robertson and Liz Preuitt, the owners, won the James Beard Award for best pastry chefs. That’s like the Oscar’s in the culinary world, you don’t get much better than that. The bread comes out at 4:30pm everyday and is available until its sold out. Other San Francisco Sourdough favorites are from Josey Baker at The Mill and Backhaus on the Peninsula. Get in line asap!