Does San Francisco Really Have The Best Sourdough Bread?

If you've ever visited the West Coast city and you find yourself down near Fisherman's Wharf you might find yourself breathing in a sigh of contentment as the smell of freshly baked sourdough bread emanates from the confines of the famous Boudin's Bakery. Of course, it's not the only bakery selling sourdough bread in the area, but it's probably best known to most tourists.

The history of San Franciscan sourdough dates back around 170 years when gold prospectors started coming into the area to find their fortune. They brought all sorts of provisions with them, including the sourdough starter. According to Webstaurant Store, a starter is, "composed of fermented flour and water, a sourdough starter is a leavening agent that uses naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria to make baked goods rise." A French immigrant, Isidore Boudin — the son of a baker — obtained the original wild yeast starter from a gold miner at the time and the starter has come from the same source ever since. In fact, it almost didn't make it during the earthquake and subsequent fires of 1906 but Isiodre's wife, Louise, managed to save it and maintained the legacy of one of the longest-existing mother doughs still being used today. 

It has been suggested that the unique taste of sourdough in San Francisco comes from the wild bacteria it was originally cultivated from only being available in the region. However, this doesn't necessarily make it the best sourdough available. 

Is there something unique in San Franciscan sourdough?

Sourdough baking became a major movement for home bakers during the pandemic (via HuffPost). Even people who had never baked in their lives were including part rustic pastime of bread making into their repertoire. The process is one of the oldest in history, dating back at least 4,500 years to ancient Egypt. However, it's true that sourdough and San Francisco seem to have become "synonymous" with one another. While many people suggest a variety of places that have great sourdough, such as France which also has a reputation for amazing baked goods, more people will tell you it's the Californian city that trumps everywhere else. 

Many sourdoughs lack that slightly sour taste that San Francisco seems to provide. Researchers in the '70s wanted to discover just what the lactic acid microbe was in San Franciscan sourdough (via BBC). They discovered an "uncatalogued bacterium," which they called "lactobacillus sanfranciscensis." While they thought this was their eureka moment and they had discovered the unique taste of the city's bread, it turned out the same bacteria was available in 90 other countries.

So while we can't answer a definitive 'yes' as to whether San Francisco has the best sourdough in the world or answer what it is that gives it its unique taste, we do know the Bay Area has perfected the process to the point of locals and visitors alike lining up just to get a taste.