An Experiment in Baking, Sentience, and the Power of Words
In the seemingly ordinary world of your kitchen lies a wonder of science and nature, a microcosm of life in a glass jar – your sourdough starter. This thriving community of flour, water, and microbes gifts us the unique tangy delight of sourdough bread, a staple in home kitchens worldwide. Yet, an unexplored facet of this bubbly mixture may hide in plain sight: does it respond to our actions, emotions, and even our words? Could this microbial mixture be more sentient than we think? This curiosity fueled an experiment undertaken by a bread enthusiast named Ted from the ever-growing ‘Baking Great Bread at Home’ community.
A Flourishing Community
This extraordinary community blossomed in the COVID-19 crisis under the stewardship of Henry Hunter, a home baker and passionate educator. Henry’s love for science and bread-baking is well-known. He often articulates that while cooking might accommodate ‘a pinch of this and a dash of that,’ baking, especially sourdough, is a precise science. The community, now an impressive assembly of 30,000 members, found solace in exploring this science as they journeyed together into the art of baking during uncertain times.
The Science of Sourdough
Ted took on a captivating month-long study with two sourdough starters: Seymour and Swearmore. Named affectionately, these starters were treated identically in terms of feeding and care. The difference, however, lay in the spoken word: Seymour heard encouraging words, while Swearmore was subjected to coarse language. Inspired by controversial research on water memory, the goal was to explore if external stimuli could possibly influence our starters’ microbial behaviour.
Parallel to Ted’s experiment, the group admin, Henry, embarked on a similar journey with two new offspring of his mature, seven-year-old starter, Vitale. Eve and Lilith, as he named them, were treated identically, with the sole difference in the words spoken to them – Eve was showered with kindness while Lilith received strong, coarse words. Henry observed the impact of these verbal stimuli on the starters and, unexpectedly, on himself. He found the exercise of negative interaction, even with a seemingly inanimate object, taxing. It was a personal revelation that amplified the experiment’s depth, straddling the realms of both science and sentiment.
Observations and Revelations
Ted’s and Henry’s starters exhibited differing behaviour throughout the month, opening a fascinating dialogue on the sentience of our sourdough starters. Seymour and Eve were a tad wetter, demanding gentle handling, while Swearmore and Lilith boasted a thicker consistency and larger air bubbles, marking a striking distinction in the two pairs.
While it’s crucial to remember that these explorations don’t provide definitive scientific evidence, the observed differences invite us to consider a more mindful approach to baking. Seeing our starters as living organisms with unique personalities, rhythms, and possibly subtle reactions to our emotions and words might well be the secret ingredient to baking that heart-warming loaf of sourdough bread.I As the ‘Baking Great Bread at Home’ community continues to inspire, this exploration nudges us to redefine our relationship with our starters and our food. It’s a reminder that baking is not just about following a recipe. It’s a complex dance of science, art, and a sprinkle of love. So, the next time you’re in your kitchen nurturing your starter, remember Seymour, Swearmore, Eve, and Lilith’s tale and ask yourself: how will your words shape your next loaf?
Addendum: Resilience and Passion – Ted’s Inspiring Journey
But beyond the fascinating interplay of starters lies a tale of human strength. Ted, a steadfast member of the bread squad, navigated this experiment while battling the debilitating symptoms of long Covid and recovering from knee replacement surgery. His unwavering dedication echoes through the community, inspiring us all in our collective journey of baking bread.
We thank Ted and all members of our community for their passion, commitment, and constant quest for knowledge. Remember, every loaf we bake is not just bread, but a shared story of resilience, dedication, and the magic of sourdough.