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Kneading to relax: exploring lockdown baking trends

February 2021 | 4 min read

Well, 2020 was a challenging year, that’s for sure. For many, the pandemic meant struggling with health problems, finances or even loss of loved ones. But there was also (re)discovery. With millions confined to their homes, people had to find different ways to fight ‘lockdown boredom’. Old hobbies were revived and new ones picked up, of which among the top trends has been bread making. In spring 2020, homemade bread started trending on social media as supermarkets recorded yeast and flour shortages, and bread making was even declared a meditative and empowering act.

As a sourdough lover and baker myself, I decided to explore lockdown baking in more detail. I wanted to get an idea of how many more people had been baking with sourdough and whether their engagement had changed during the first lockdown period. So I collected all posts in the Reddit sourdough community for 2020 and found some interesting trends.

Engagement on r/Sourdough peaked during the first lockdowns

In 2020, more than 16,800 Reddit users posted a total of 40,525 submissions on r/Sourdough. Both, the number of users and posts increased during March and peaked in April and May. This trend matches with other countries introducing tighter restrictions during spring to control the spread of Covid-19. Well over 100 countries had imposed either a full or partial lockdown by the end of March.

Mid-March to end of May were the busiest days in terms of number of posts uploaded to r/Sourdough. Throughout those months, people were particularly active on Sundays.

Most users are one timers

More than 9,600 users posted only one submission in 2020 – more than half (57%) of all users in the sourdough community last year. On the other end, 11 users made more than 50 submissions each, including one “user” combining 576 submissions from all deleted users.

Weekly discussion posts have highest level of interactions

On average, each submission received two comments. However, about a third of all submissions (30%) did not receive any comments at all. Questions posted by moderators every week top the list of submissions with high interactions, the post in May gathered a total of 955 comments. The top submission not posted by a moderator received 356 comments. The post asked users to share the names of their starters – a very common thing to do among sourdough bakers. Some of my favourite responses include

  • Doug
  • Doughbiwan Kenobi
  • Vincent Van Dough
  • Pludough
  • Voldoughmort
  • Vladimir Gluten
  • Yeastie Boys
  • Doughvid-19.

Submissions tend to be more positive than negative

Unsurprisingly, words such as ‘sourdough’, ‘starter’ and ‘loaf’ are the most common words used in submissions. But there are some small differences between positive and negative submissions. Using sentiment analysis, submissions of the sourdough community can be grouped by negative or positive sentiment. In total, 42% of submissions are categorised as positive while only 10% are negative. Posts with negative sentiment seemed to struggle with their starter and were more likely to discard their bread attempts. Posts with positive sentiment seemed to be more happy with their loaves and particularly commented on the crumb.

Reddit trends are in line with other data

The trends in engagement on r/Sourdough are in line with other data sources such as Google Trends. For 2020, bread dominated the top trending recipes on Google and worldwide searches on ‘sourdough’ peaked during April and May. Most search queries were related to sourdough starters. According to a poll in the UK, a third of adults said they had started baking their own bread in 2020, with almost half of them aged 25 to 34. On average, each amateur baker made two loaves a week, but 15% said they made four or more.

The geeky part

For accessing and retrieving data from Reddit, I used Praw and Pushshift. The official Pushshift Reddit API documentation and articles by the data science community helped me with this task, in particular Using Pushshift’s API to extract Reddit submissions and How to Scrap Reddit using via Python. These general tips for webscraping were useful to combat issues around server overload.

More documentation and code can be found on my Github.