Upper crusts: Eight sourdough breads tested

Roz Crowley taste tests some slices of sourdough

SOURDOUGH September. Whoever would have thought a type of bread would have its own month? Since we did our last sourdough survey three years ago, it has become more mainstream with some good, some not, available. The fermentation in sourdough occurs when natural, wild yeasts in the air are absorbed by flour and water and left to develop slowly. The resulting bubbly ‘mother starter’ is added to the bulk of flour and water to rise slowly.

Deep flavoured sourdough takes up to two days to prepare and so costs more. The taste should intensify over days in finished loaves which keep longer than regular yeast bread. The starter dough is used or if not, fed every day with flour and water and can be months- even years-old with a piece kept back for the next day’s baking. There is no legal definition of sourdough, but bread experts agree it should have just three ingredients: flour, salt and water. A slightly damp texture is normal.

Good sourdough can be recognised by its aeration (holes can vary in size, but not all the way through), feeling quite moist, with little blisters on the outside of a chewy crust. The sourdough flavour is savoury rather than bitter, with San Francisco style more bitter. Some don’t taste sour at all.

Arbutus 800g €3.90

From a wide range of sourdoughs, this strong sourdough version has tons of flavour from longer proving. The moist crumb is well aerated, keeping it light and interesting. The chewy, blistered crust makes for good contrast. Liked by all tasters, including children. Also available in a sliced version in markets. Until the end of the month, Arbutus is giving away starter dough at their market stalls to give customers a chance to make their own. Score: 10

Tesco Sourdough bloomer 540g €3

A tangy back taste is more flavoursome than a regular bloomer but did not quite hit the favourites list. Light in colour, the crumb was a little moist with some aeration, and the crust was tough without being chewy. Score: 6.5

Hassetts Bakery 840g €4.50

Good aeration here provided a nice light texture with the expected moistness. The flavour was more salty than sour, and the crust was appetisingly dark and chewy. All tasters liked it and were even more impressed by the seeded sourdough baguette (€2). Score: 9

Marks & Spencer Anglesey oak smoked water sourdough 400g €3

The title of his bread intrigued us. Flavoured with oak smoked water, the sourdough had quite a strong, interesting smoky smell and taste. When we spread it with butter, the fat dulled the flavour, making it pleasant, but less memorable. An even crumb had a few holes, but not enough to vary the texture and some tasters thought it cake-like. As a regular bread it worked, but as a sourdough, not so much. Score: 6.75

ABC 920g €3.90

This strong version from a varied selection has a dark, quite chewy, bubbly crust. Inside the typically damp texture highlights quite a deep taste with no sharp edges. The crumb has good aeration with a mix of hole sizes. All tasters enjoyed it. The regular sourdough is a euro cheaper — we pay for their extra time developing the flavour. Score: 9

Baking Emporium 550g €3.50

Not much sourdough taste here, but still delicious. With an even texture with typically small holes and just a few larger ones, on the outside the light coloured crust has a little chew to it. Tasters liked it more as a good bread rather than a sourdough. Score: 8

Aldi Specially Selected sourdough loaf 600g 89c

More a regular sliced pan than a sourdough with additional yeast, soy flour and rapeseed oil. This sliced wrapped bread had no sourdough taste, with a more yeasty flavour than regular sliced pans. Score was based on expectations of a sourdough, which were not realised, but parents thought they would try this for children’s sandwiches instead of lesser quality sliced pans, especially at this price. Score: 5

SuperValu 600g €2

A crumb that tasters did not recognise as sourdough, it was dark and smelled more like yeast than of sourdough. The crust had a little chewiness. Overall, the bread lacked character and had more of a ciabatta texture. Not top of the list for tasters. Score: 6.5


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