Year in a word: Sourdough


(noun) a bread made with a naturally-fermented rising agent

As the world moved into lockdown in 2020, there was a collective shift to home comforts to get through the darker times of the pandemic.

Some people acquired a dog. Others launched do-it-yourself home projects. Gardening and craft provided solace for many. But home baking had a moment in 2020 and, in particular, sourdough.

In hipster cafés from Brooklyn in New York to Hackney in London and Brunswick in Melbourne, it is the ubiquitous bread of choice. It has been a tangy figurehead for broader evolution in bread in many countries where blander crusts once dominated. 

But in 2020, many people started making it at home. Search interest in sourdough and bread tripled as the western world went into lockdown. Flour, normally a prosaic commodity, flew off the shelves, causing shortages.

Videos on how to make sourdough soon started to see traffic more in line with hit music acts. Irish baker Patrick Ryan has drawn 11m views on YouTube; and a Binging with Babish video has had more than 5m views. So-called crumbshots started filling Instagram feeds with 4m posts for the hashtag sourdough alone.

Boredom helped drive this trend. People who can’t go out have to do something in between binge-watching Netflix and doomscrolling Twitter. Sourdough is tricky enough to require application and learning but a satisfying loaf is not out of reach of the average home cook.

Produced with a live starter, it also taps into a desire to make things and reduce the consumption of processed food. Sourdough has a more craft-like feel than making a delicate mille-feuille layered pastry. And for those with a geek bent, there are hydration ratios, the precise mix for making a starter and proving times to delve into.

By the end of the year, home cooking was starting to pall. The New York Times food columnist and cookbook author Melissa Clark was recently quoted as saying she was “just sick of cooking in general”. 

But once begun, breadmaking is not hard to continue and the uplifting smell of baking bread reminds us that not all of our lockdown year has been wasted.


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