World heritage sourdough library opens
ST. VITH, BELGIUM — A celebration of bread flavor marked the launch of the world’s first sourdough library. Puratos Group, headquartered on the outskirts of Brussels, established the new facility — the first of its kind — to house a unique collection of traditional sourdough cultures at its Center for Bread Flavor in St. Vith.
Company chairman Eddy Van Belle described the new library as a historic move not only for Puratos but also the whole bakery world.
“Consumers are increasingly looking for traditional recipes and authentic flavors,” he said. “Sourdough has been used for thousands of years as an active agent in the baking process but also as a key ingredient to give flavor. It is important to preserve this heritage.
“This unique library will have a significant place in the development of sourdough and bread flavor. It looks to the future.”
The company views its library as a noncommercial project to support biodiversity in sourdough cultures, which differ widely around the globe. So far, the library includes samples from China, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain and the United States. A San Francisco sourdough was one of the first cultures collected, while the most recent addition arrived during the opening event. Erik Kayser, master artisan baker and chairman of Maison Kayser, Paris, presented the library with a sample of the levain used throughout his worldwide chain of bakery locations, all with on-site production.
“We collaborate with various research institutions and visit traditional bakeries to bring their knowledge and sourdough cultures to this library,” explained Stefan Cappelle, director of bakery flavors and yeast for Puratos.
Many of the library’s sourdoughs were collected by Marco Gobbetti, Ph.D., professor of microbiology, Department of Soil, Plant and Food Sciences, University of Bari, Italy. Dr. Gobbetti is a world authority on sourdough biotechnology.
“The goal is to protect the biodiversity of sourdoughs,” said Daniel Malcorps, chief executive officer of Puratos. “As the world becomes more uniform, this library is to protect the diversity of sourdough.”
Bakers have used sourdough to natural leaven bread since the time of the ancient Egyptians. It is a blend of flour and water fermented by lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, naturally present in the air and flour as well as other ingredients such as fruit juices and yogurt.
Scientists working with sourdough microbiology have identified more than 700 different yeasts in their samples and in excess of 1,500 lactic acid bacteria.
The library stores fresh sourdough samples in glass jars at 4ºC (29ºF) and refreshes them periodically, according to the protocols established by the bakery source. It also makes up frozen samples to be kept at -80ºC (-112ºF) in four different locations.
To observe the opening of the new library, the company held “Taste beyond Imagination,” a two-day symposium exploring bread flavors. More than 200 people from 27 countries assembled in St. Vith to hear leading thinkers explain innovation, especially concerning flavor.
The vertically integrated company got its start making bread improvers. In 1984, it added fermentation-based ingredients in the form of active and inactive sourdoughs, and today manufactures them in Andenne and St. Vith; Sils, Spain; and Pennsauken, N.J. It makes chocolate, bakery and pastry ingredients in 55 production locations around the world, supported by 40 innovation centers. St. Vith is home to its Center for Bread Flavor, established in 2007 to “bring together artists with food scientists,” Mr. Malcorps noted.
Privately held, Puratos expects to reach €1.4 billion in revenue by year end, Mr. Malcorps said. Earlier this year, the company announced a $50 million expansion at its Pennsauken facility.