Even if your starter failed, it's not completely worthless.

As the coronavirus pandemic plagues nations across the world, many people are isolating at home and taking up new hobbies, such as baking sourdough bread. While you can purchase pre-made sourdough starters from bakeries, it can be an even more rewarding experience to make your own from scratch. Sourdough starter is made using just warm water and flour; live, wild yeast in the flour grows over time with gradual feedings, creating the starter.

sourdough starter in jar
Credit: Greg Lofts

If you've already tried your hand at making a sourdough starter, then you know that they can be temperamental. Humidity, temperature, and the activity of your starter can affect how well—and how much—it rises. If your sourdough failed, fear not—scientists could use it! According to NPR, researchers at The Public Science Lab at North Carolina State University are studying the microbes in sourdough starter in hopes of understanding how they work—and are looking for samples, both successful and not.

"I'm really hoping that some people can give us information about the starters that do fail because we don't hear about that enough, and we definitely don't hear about failures enough in science in general," says Lauren Nichols, who is managing the lab's Wild Sourdough Project.

Researchers are hoping to collect hundreds of unique sourdough starters made from different types of flour, grown indoors or outdoors, and in different climates and locations. The project asks the question, "How does the type of flour you use and where you live affect the success of failure of a wild sourdough starter?"

"Just because a habitat is nearest to us doesn't mean that it's filled with less mysteries than those on the other side of the globe," says scientist Anne Madden. "And the sort of magic of this process is that it doesn't necessarily take more than flour, water and a little bit of time." To participate in the sourdough project, click here.


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