Belgium Is Home to the World’s Only Sourdough Library

iStock.com/muratkoc
iStock.com/muratkoc

Though we usually think of libraries as a place that shelters books, some of humanity's most valuable items are a little more ephemeral. Consider the Svalbard global seed vault, which protects the world's crops against disasters, or the Ice Memory project in Antarctica, which is preserving ice cores from endangered glaciers in the face of climate catastrophe. Consider, too, the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library in St. Vith, Belgium, which is safeguarding more than 100 bubbling bread starters, as Atlas Obscura reported.

Sourdough may be the world's original leavened loaf. Though today most bakers use commercial yeasts, for thousands of years people relied on starters nourished by wild yeasts and local bacteria, which fermented over a period of days to produce a living, breathing blob. Bakers would spoon out a little at a time to add to new mixtures of flour and water before shaping their loaves; mothers would pass on the blobs to daughters beginning new families; immigrants and travelers would pack the starters to bake bread in new lands. Today, the sourdough starters in kitchens around the world represent a legacy of baking history, microbial diversity, and mouthwatering flavor.

The Belgian bakery supply company Puratos has been collecting sourdough starters since 1989, when they began with a venerable San Francisco sample. Part of the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the Sourdough Library—which opened in 2013—currently houses 108 starters from Italy, China, Hungary, Greece, Canada, and elsewhere, some of which date back hundreds of years. The collection is overseen by a genial man named Karl De Smedt, a "sourdough librarian" who travels the world to find new samples. De Smedt also makes sure the starters are "fed" every two months with flour provided by the original donors. "It's alive, it's like a pet," De Smedt told Atlas Obscura of the painstaking care they require.

De Smedt travels the world to find areas with robust sourdough traditions, like Canada's Yukon, where commercial yeast often hasn't survived in rugged conditions. After he airmails the starters in special kits back to Belgium, scientists analyze them to document their unique combinations of microorganisms. So far, more than 800 strains of yeast and bacteria have been found in the goo. The microorganism samples themselves are stored in a freezer at -112°F to preserve them, while the sourdough starters are kept in glass jars in the library at a more comfortable 39°F.

These days, sourdough is having a bit of a resurgence. Alongside the interest in all things handcrafted and artisanal, some have found that sourdough's long fermentation process produces a more digestible product for those with gluten sensitivity. The library's samples serve as backups for organizations and home cooks who might damage their own supply, as well as a fertile breeding ground (pun intended) for research and commercialization opportunities. Puratos also hosts an online sourdough database, where anyone can enter their recipe.

The library isn't open to the public, but Atlas Obscura notes that De Smedt is happy to show visitors around if they contact him via social media. And for those who can't make the trip to Belgium, an online version of the database provides detailed notes on the colors, textures, and flavors of more than 1400 starters. The library itself can also be explored via a series of videos here. You might just be inspired to rise to the occasion and bake your own loaf.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

UK Burger King Restaurants Will Stop Giving Plastic Toys With Kids' Meals

Leon Neal/Getty Images
Leon Neal/Getty Images

Fast food companies don't have a reputation for being eco-friendly, but through small changes made in recent years, some of the biggest names in the industry are working to reduce their environmental impact. Just a few weeks after introducing the meat-free Impossible Whopper, Burger King announced a new policy for its United Kingdom locations. As CNN reports, UK restaurants will no long include plastic toys with kids' meals.

The change comes after two sisters from the UK started a petition on Change.org calling on McDonald's and Burger King to stop distributing plastic toys with kids' meals. Ella and and Caitlin McEwan, who were 9 and 7 respectively when the petition launched this summer, wrote, “children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea." They went on to say: "It’s not enough to make recyclable plastic toys—big, rich companies shouldn’t be making toys out of plastic at all." Their online petition has received more than 530,000 signatures.

By cutting plastic from kids' meals, Burger King estimates it will avoid wasting 350 tons of single-use plastic a year. The chain has also installed containers in its UK stores for collecting old plastic toys from customers, so the material can be recycled to make playgrounds. The UK represents just a fraction of Burger King's market, but according to the company, non-biodegradable plastic toys will be phased out of all locations by 2025.

McDonald's has had a different response to the McEwan sister's petition. Instead of doing away with plastic toys completely, UK restaurants will give customers the option to swap toys for fruit with their Happy Meals later this year, and then allow them to opt for books instead for a period in early 2020. Meanwhile, in Canada and Germany, some McDonald's restaurants are experimenting with going totally plastic-free. The more sustainable restaurants feature paper straws, waffle cone condiment cups, and burger wrappers made from grass.

[h/t CNN]

How to Make 3 Delicious Fall Cocktails

Mental Floss Video
Mental Floss Video

As the leaves start to change color, it’s time to put away the White Claw and the rosé …OK, sure, you can drink whatever you like whenever you like. But if you live in a temperate climate, part of the fun of changing seasons is falling in love with new beverages and meals that complement the weather. That’s why we asked Eamon Rockey, the Director of Beverage Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, to craft three cocktails that are perfect for fall. 

Pumpkin Spice Flip Recipe

Ingredients:

Blended Scotch
Maple Syrup
Pumpkin Puree
One Whole Egg
Cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Add 2 ounces of blended scotch to a cocktail shaker
  2. Add 3/4 of an ounce of good maple syrup
  3. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of pumpkin puree
  4. Crack 1 egg and add to mixture
  5. Add one piece of ice and shake vigorously, to emulsify the ingredients
  6. Add ice to the top of your shaker and shake again, to chill and dilute the drink
  7. Double-strain into a cocktail glass. You want all of the volume and richness of the egg, without any solid matter or shards of ice. 
  8. Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon and serve

Four Apples a Day Recipe

Ingredients:

Calvados
Rockey’s Milk Punch
Hard Apple Cider
One Granny Smith Apple

Instructions:

  1. Add 1.5 ounces of calvados to a mixing glass
  2. Add 2 ounces of Rockey’s Milk Punch
  3. Stir with ice to chill
  4. Strain into a wine glass
  5. Top with 3 ounces of hard apple cider
  6. Garnish with fresh apple in any style you like

Old Fashioned Recipe

Ingredients:

Bourbon
Angostura Bitters
Simple Syrup

Instructions:

  1. Add 2.5 ounces of bourbon to a mixing glass
  2. Add 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  3. Add 1/2 an ounce of simple syrup (50% sugar, 50% water)
  4. Add ice and stir, to chill and dilute the drink
  5. Strain into a rocks glass containing a large cube of ice
  6. Finish with a freshly cut twist of orange peel

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