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Invented in California: San Francisco Sourdough Bread

Invented in California: San Francisco Sourdough Bread

The iconic San Francisco sourdough bread is one-of-a-kind. Here's why.


5 min read

February 23, 2022

Picture this: You grab a perfectly golden brown loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread, tear the crackly crispy crust apart, and get a whiff of its tangy goodness as a freshly fluffed interior reveals itself—yum indeed. Before you pick up your phone to order a loaf from your nearest bakery, let’s take a few minutes to get to know the origins of our favorite bread. The San Francisco sourdough has a story, and here’s everything you need to know about it.

With roots dating back to the Gold Rush, San Francisco's iconic sourdough bread has a signature tangy, chewy attribute that people love.

Where was sourdough bread invented?

Though sourdough bread is believed to have existed in Egypt for more than 5,000 years before being brought to America, the prevalence of the California sourdough we know and love today slowly rose to familiarity in 19th-century San Francisco during the Gold Rush. So, while the origins of these tangy loaves of bread are somewhat murky, the version you’re familiar with is unmistakably the San Francisco sourdough bread. 

In fact, the San Francisco sourdough has such an active and loyal baking community that many devotees share starters, tips, and content of their loaves on the regular. There are sourdough cultures around the world and they consist of a multitude of communities with a history unique to each individual starter. Therefore, the bakers feeling an obligation to maintain them is no surprise.

Thanks to a certain strain of bacteria now known as lactobacillus sanfranciscenisis, the San Francisco sourdough bread stands out from others.

What Makes San Francisco’s sourdough bread different from others?

Many miners brought their homemade sourdough bread starters with them when they relocated to the Bay Area during the Gold Rush, while others crafted their own or received it as a gift once they arrived. In order to protect their bread supply, miners would cuddle their bread starters when it got cold to prevent the yeast and bacteria from dying. And while baking homemade bread was incredibly common during this time, the bread created in San Francisco tasted different than it did back home—it was slightly sourer. 

This phenomenon occurred thanks to a specific strain of bacteria that made the bread tangy and chewy, though many—including the famed baker Isidore Boudin—claimed it was the region’s distinctly foggy climate that allowed the bread to take on these unique attributes. The bacteria is now known as lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, named after the city that started it all. 

The famous Boudin Bakery was founded in 1849 by baker Isidore Boudin, who helped to popularize sourdough bread in San Francisco and beyond.

The Best Bakeries in San Francisco To Purchase Sourdough Bread

Now that you know everything about the San Francisco sourdough bread, you’re likely drooling about the thought of having a slice slathered with organic butter. Want to know where to get the best sourdough bread in the Bay Area? These are the top places you need to check out.

Boudin Bakery 

The official start of San Francisco sourdough is marked by the opening of Boudin Bakery in 1849—just one year after the Gold Rush began—and its popularity only grew from there. Numerous bakeries and restaurants have followed suit, as have individual bakers who specialize in everything from traditional homemade sourdough bread to gluten-free versions.

Today, this landmark has grown to be a full-blown San Francisco tourist attraction, with museums, tours, and several locations around the city. Get a loaf of fresh San Francisco sourdough from any one of Boudin’s locations, and you’ll never look back.

Tartine Bakery

While many have tried to surpass Boudin, the most notable competitor is Tartine Bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District. With rich, crunchy outsides and fluffy, delicate insides—crafted by co-owners Chad Robertson and James Beard award-winning pastry chef Elisabeth Prueitt—Tartine’s famous sourdough bread has become a favorite for tourists and locals alike. But don’t take our word for it; it’s definitely worth trying yourself. 

A loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread from Tartine is enormous. With a dark-colored crust and an inside that’s flecked with airy holes, this famous loaf definitely deserves its reputation as one of the best sourdough breads around.

Fresh and delicious bread could be an amazing start for your morning.

Jane the Bakery

While Jane first started as a coffee shop in San Francisco, it was always destined to rise to sourdough fame. The spinoff of the cafe, Jane the Bakery, opened in 2016 and started getting recognition for its delectable San Francisco sourdough bread almost immediately. 

The crusty loaves at this lovely bakery are made from 100-percent California whole wheat, ancient grains, and, of course, a whole lot of love. Take your delicious sourdough in sandwich form, pair it with a salad and a smoothie to follow, and you have yourself a perfect setup for an alfresco picnic in one of San Francisco’s most beautiful gardens.

Manresa Bread

Manresa is a well-known, three Michelin-starred restaurant in the Bay Area, and you best believe that the same fine-dining level of attention to detail is also present at the restaurant’s sister bakery: Manresa Bread. Partnering with local farmers, head baker Avery Ruzicka mills her own grains to make the crunchy loaves, and boy, are they delicious! There are currently three locations of Manresa Bread in the Bay Area—there’s one in Los Gatos, Los Altos, and Campbell, and the fourth one in Palo Alto is coming soon with its well-known variety of the best sourdough breads.

Acme Bread Company

Acme Bread Company is a beloved San Francisco staple that has our bread-loving hearts forever attached. Operating primarily as a wholesale business, Acme supplies the best sourdough breads to your favorite restaurants like Chez Panisse, as well as select retailers and grocery stores. However, if you want to buy one loaf at a time, you can do that by visiting one of the two retail stores in either Berkeley or S.F. Acme’s sourdough loaves come in many forms—baguettes, batards, as well as rounds—and they’re perfect for dunking in a garlicky bowl of cioppino.

Freshly baked bread with all-natural ingredients for your breakfast toasts.

WildFlour Breads

Over in Freestone, a little bakery by the name of WildFlour Breads looks out on a field of cows, while the wood-fired brick oven on the premises puts out a stream of fragrant breads and scones. Made with skilled hands using old-fashioned methods and all-natural ingredients, the sourdough at WildFlour Breads captures the essence of old-world baking perfectly. 

Join the cyclists and day-trippers hitting up their favorite roadside bakery in Freestone and add a loaf or two of freshly baked sourdough bread to your picnic ensemble before you head over to the nearby Russian River.

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