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]

Henri, an Adorable Bulldog from North Carolina, Is Named Cadbury's Newest Easter 'Bunny'

iStock.com/freddiesfabdesign
iStock.com/freddiesfabdesign

Bunnies are cute and all, but they've got nothing on Henri: an 18-month-old English bulldog with lots of rolls and lots of love to give. As WDSU News in New Orleans reports, Henri has won the honor of starring in Cadbury's new "Clucking Bunny" commercial in the lead-up to Easter, right as the chocolate creme eggs start to make their annual reappearance.

A bulldog in bunny ears
The Hershey Company

He was selected from a pool of more than 4000 pets that sported bunny ears and posed for pictures as part of Cadbury's first-ever "Bunny Tryouts." His owners, Kathie and Tim Santillo, of Wilmington, North Carolina, dressed him in an adorable Easter bunny costume that included an oversized pink bow and fluffy white tail. In addition to the fame and Instagram follower boost that Henri is likely to get out of this contest, his owners will also receive $5000—and some of that money will presumably go towards toys for this very good boy.

"When people see the iconic Cadbury Clucking Bunny commercial, they know Easter season is here," Katrina Vatter, a member of the Cadbury U.S. marketing team, said in a statement. "For the first time in over 35 years, we are honored to expand our tradition and welcome Henri as a new character to the commercial."

Cadbury also announced the names of the 19 pets who qualified as semi-finalists. They were mostly cats and dogs, but there was also a goat, a horse, a bearded dragon, and a llama named Conswala, who donned rainbow-colored bunny ears. Naturally, an actual bunny also made it to the final round. Check out some of the semi-finalists' photos below.

Perhaps it's for the best that a dog—and not a cat—was chosen. In the film industry at least, cats are a little more challenging to have on set because they're sensitive to the noises around them. "I think of cats as walking and living satellites," Dawn Barkan, who has trained animals for movies like Meet the Parents and Inside Llewyn Davis, told Mental Floss in 2014.

"Their ears are picking up every sound, and their bodies are picking up all the vibrations around them, so they're constantly tuning in to everything that's going on around them, and they're sensitive. So if there are loud noises or a lot of commotion, and the cat hasn't been desensitized to that, they're going not going to be comfortable, whereas dogs are a little bit more easygoing."

[h/t WDSU News]

McDonald’s Is Testing Out Vegan McNuggets in Norway

McDonald's has never been an especially welcoming place for vegans (until 1990, even the fries contained meat). But now, the chain's Norwegian locations are working to change that. As Today reports, McDonald's restaurants in Norway have launched a vegan nugget alternative to the classic chicken McNugget.

The new vegan McNuggets are prepared to look like the menu item customers are familiar with. They're coated with a layer of breadcrumbs and fried until they're golden-brown and crispy. Instead of chicken meat, the nugget is filled with plant-based ingredients, including mashed potatoes, chickpeas, onions, corn, and carrots.

The vegan McNuggets are only available to customers in Norway for now, but if they're popular, they may spread to McDonald's in other parts of the world. Norway's McDonald's locations also include a Vegetarian McFeast burger on its menu.

McDonald's is famous for tailoring its menus to international markets, and vegetarian options are much easier to find in restaurants some parts of the world compared to others. In India, where one fifth of the population is vegetarian, customers can order the McAloo Tikki Burger, made from potatoes and peas, or a McVeggie sandwich.

[h/t Today]

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