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Sweden Has a Hotel for Sourdough Starters

Boarding bread is the new doggy day care.

(Marnie Burkhart/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Getting a good sourdough started is a ton of work, and if you leave it unloved for too long all that work can go to waste. Now, Sweden’s sourdough hotels will care for travelers’ bread dough while they go traveling.

Sourdough bread has been around since ancient Egypt, but in recent years the tangy, crusty bread has had a bit of a comeback in bakeries and home kitchens around the world. What makes sourdough different from other varieties is the starter: essentially a mix of water, flour and wild yeast that ferments away in between batches of bread. But while sourdough starter is easy to make, bakers have to work to keep it alive by “feeding” it a little water and flour every day. The older the starter, the tangier the bread. That might not be so hard if you’re a professional baker, but if you’re going on vacation and don’t want to whip up a new starter, a “sourdough hotel” might be your best bet.

“...the thing with a sourdough is that you can’t leave it alone if you decide to travel,” Charlotta Söör, the owner of Stockholm bakery RC Chocolat tells Camila-Catalina Fernandez for Vice Munchies. Earlier this summer, Söör opened a 24/7 sourdough hotel at one of her storefronts in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

“Without anyone taking care of [the sourdough starter], it will die, Söör tells Fernandez. “It needs to be fed and taken care of on a regular basis. So we’re the perfect solution if you want to keep your sourdough alive and travel at the same time!”

Sourdough bread might be iconic in cities like San Francisco, and in recent years baking tangy loafs at home has become a bit of a craze throughout the United States and Europe. Some Swedes in particular are obsessed with their sourdough, Nathalie Rothschild wrote for The Guardian in 2012.

"It's huge among stay-at-home-dads,” bakery owner Jesper Konstantinov told Rothschild at the time. His Urban Deli was one of the first businesses in Stockholm to start boarding travelers’ sourdough starters. “They have really been a driving force in the Swedish sourdough craze. They are the same dads who come to us for tips on how to make their own sausages because they don't want to give their kids the commercially produced stuff. They don't trust it."

Along with their love of the bread, the Swedes have at least five weeks of vacation time a year, which is a lot of time for a lonely sourdough starter to be left all by its own. But for 100 – 300 Swedish krona a week ($12 – $36 in U.S. dollars) travelers can relax knowing that expert sourdough caretakers will feed, water and maintain their precious starters.

“And one has to remember that a sourdough can live for generations as long as you take good care of it, which is pretty amazing,” Söör tells Fernandez.

Hopefully the sourdough comes back from its own vacation rested and ready to bake.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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