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A mother's enduring gift.

The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated. -Washington Irving

No symbol more powerfully evokes comfort than that of a mother. For most of us, a mother conjures our first memories of being nurtured and loved. A mother is the point from which we all began, the origin of everything. Yet it is not just human beings that owe their existence to mothers. Bread, dairy products, and alcoholic beverages need their mothers, too.


Fermentation results in the modified flavor and appearance of a food or beverage as a result of a chemical alteration due to the production of enzymes by yeast, bacteria or other microorganisms. A mother, or "starter J culture," is used to inoculate or begin fermentation. A mother influences flavor and aroma and inhibits the growth of undesirable contaminants. This results in a more stable and controlled environment, which leads to a more 9 consistent and predictable outcome. A mother is self-renewing, and with proper care can be recycled, or re-cultured, indefinitely.


The mother used to inoculate dairy products is called "lactic acid." It produces a flavor profile similar to sourdough bread. Solid dairy products, such as yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream, are created when curd proteins, or "caseins," are introduced to an acidic environment which causes them to clump together. The normal pH level of milk is 6.5, but if reduced to 5.5 or below, the casein's negative charge is neutralized and the proteins lose their ability to repel each other. Instead, the caseins clump together and form a solid mass. This process occurs through the natural souring of milk, but another way to initiate it is through the introduction of a mother, which, in the case of dairy, is an acidic bacteria.

There are also several benefits derived from the use of a mother in the production of items such as wine, beer and other spirits. Mothers used in association with alcoholic beverages are a blend of sugars and other nutrients. A mother ensures a more successful and stable fermentation. It also speeds up the process and more thoroughly completes it by permitting the liquid to produce yeast more effectively and efficiently.


Perhaps the most famous of all mothers is sourdough, which is a combination of wild yeast and bacteria. Sourdough mothers were probably first used in ancient Egypt 6,000 years ago. Before the invention of baker's yeast, all leavened bread was created by first introducing a mother. The advantage of using baker's yeast is that it reduces bread's fermentation period and results in a faster rise. The troubling disadvantage is that baker's yeast also strips bread of much of its. unique flavor since, it is not infused, as a mother is, by the nuances present in the environment at its inception.

Sourdough mothers exist worldwide, and each has a distinct flavor profile as a result of unique regional characteristics. The job of a sourdough mother, whose two main bacterial components are lactic and acetic acids, is to leaven the bread. The mother produced from the union of wild yeast and bacteria tastes of the organisms that were present on the grain and in the air when flour and water were first brought together

The symbiotic union between a sourdough mother's yeast and bacterial components is impressively stable and virtually impossible to break. A sourdough mother is therefore not influenced or affected by external environmental factors. This is why San Francisco sourdough bread will taste the same regardless of whether it is prepared in Nairobi or San Francisco, as long as the San Francisco mother is used to start it.

One of the only elements- that can destroy the yeast and bacterial band of a sourdough mother is baker's yeast. If avoided, a sourdough mother will survive indefinitely as it is perpetually recultured from one batch of dough to the next. In some families, sourdough mothers are treasured heirlooms, passed down for decodes from one generation to the next.

During difficult economic periods, we long for a return to simpler times. No other symbol more powerfully conjures security than that of the mother. In the food world, the mother's role is to give perpetually its unique characteristics to the next generation. Just as she does in our world, the mother of dairy, bread and alcoholic products provides security, strength, and the promise that no matter how dire times may be, life and flavor will endure.

The celebrated San Francisco sourdough mother has been in existence for nearly 150 years.
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Title Annotation:Back to Basics; cooking; food basic
Publication:Art Culinaire
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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