Sourdough has always seemed like a specialty bread to me. We didn’t have it at home (and if we did, my teenage self wasn’t paying any attention), but I noticed it as an option when ordering sandwiches at deli’s.
Many years ago I asked someone what kind of bread it was and they said it was slightly sour and something… else… too… but quite honestly, I don’t remember what that something else was because I stopped listening at “slightly sour.”
The idea of bread being sour totally grossed me out and I purposely stayed away from it for nearly all my life. It wasn’t until I ordered a sandwich on sourdough a few years ago that I experienced the amazingly light and delicious tang of sourdough. Grilled with butter, topped with ham and melted swiss…
Oh.My.Goodness. It was heaven in my mouth. I’ve been converted ever since.
What is Sourdough
Sourdough is a bread made from the natural occurring yeast and bacteria in flour. In traditional sourdough recipes, you’ll find three ingredients: sourdough starter (which consists of flour and water), salt and flour. There is no yeast, no milk, no oils and no sweeteners. It’s about as natural as you get when it comes to bread.
What Makes Sourdough Special
Ask anyone who’s eaten sourdough and they’ll tell you that the tang is what makes it special. I agree, and in fact the signature tartness of sourdough bread comes from the same bacteria that gives yogurt and sour cream their pucker too. It’s found naturally in wheat flour, along with yeast, and comes to life so to say when the flour is mixed with water. Here’s a very simple explanation of the process:
wheat flour + water –> natural enzymes break down starches into glucose (sugar)
natural bacteria (tang) + glucose = food for natural yeast
natural yeast + food = carbon dioxide –> natural leaven
natural leaven + more flour + more water –> more natural leaven
So basically you start with flour and water. Nature takes its course and over time, you have a mixture that contain enough leaven (yeast) to make bread rise. Pretty cool, right? Who knew doing so little could yield such an amazing result!
The Benefits of Sourdough
Ok, so it’s not exactly like that, but it’s close!!
Lactobacillus – the good bacteria in yogurt, kefir, sour cream, buttermilk, etc. – ferments the flour/water mixture and creates lactic acid, a catalyst that greatly increases the micronutrient profile. In simple terms – all those nutrients found in whole wheat flour are bigger and badder, and now your body is better able to USE them too.
I’m hesitant to open this can of worms, but the long soaking required of sourdough (the natural way takes a bit longer than using modern day yeast) breaks down much of the phytates that bind the awesome minerals in grains. With the phytates gone, our bodies can grab those nutrients and actually use them!
Note: Phytates, phytase and phytic acid are something we WILL talk about, I promise. Just not today.
With those nutrients readily available, digestion of the starch is MUCH easier on your body. In fact, the natural bacteria working with the natural yeast predigests the starch a little bit for you. Kinda like pre-chewing food when you’re feeding rabbits… but without the ick factor.
The fermentation process alone is great for your digestive system. The Lactobacillus helps feed the good bacteria found in your digestive system so they can continue to fight off the bad guys. And remember that a healthy gut means healthy body (because most of your immune system is found in your digestive system).
Remember how the natural yeast feeds on the glucose? With a large portion of the glucose devoured in the fermentation process, sourdough doesn’t cause a spike in your blood sugars like processed white and wheat breads often do. The long process also breaks down many of the gluten proteins into amino acids, possibly making sourdough bread tolerable for those who are sensitive to gluten!
One last neat tid-bit: sourdough bread is less likely to stale, retains much of its moisture as it ages and its acidity helps prevent the growth of mold! Now this doesn’t mean your sourdough won’t EVER go stale and will NEVER grow mold, but it’s nice to know that the artisan loaf you treated yourself to at the farmer’s market won’t go bad because it was in a plain plastic bag with a zip tie instead of a factory-sealed and glued bag.
Why Bother Making It Yourself?
Besides the fact that most “whole wheat” breads are just really made with plain ‘ol white flour, making sourdough is probably the absolute easiest homemade bread I’ve ever made. In fact, it nearly ties kefir for the easiest fermentation ever.
Mix flour and water.
Add flour and water.
Add more flour and water.
Seriously? In seven minutes – one minute each day for seven days (which included me taking pictures of the process) – I had natural leaven ready for homemade bread. It’s the match made in bread heaven for those with busy schedules (and bloggers testing out various types of flour in an assortment of baking recipes).
The only downside of sourdough bread is that it does take time. The work itself isn’t hard, but you must plan ahead if you’re wanting to make sourdough 100% from scratch. It takes a full seven days if you’re using only flour and water, but there are kits you can buy that will produce sourdough starters ready for bread in as little as three days. Cultures for Health (<– affiliate link) offers several to choose from, including rye, Italian, French, whole wheat and even brown rice for those who can’t take any chances with gluten. I tested out the San Francisco variety and it was almost TOO easy to ferment. I’ve already made two batches of pancakes and biscuits with the extras!
Which leads me to the goods news – once you get in the routine of feeding your starter, you’re more likely to find yourself needing to use up extra starter. And once you have a starter, you can feed it more or less depending on how soon or not soon you need a certain amount.
If you haven’t guess already, I’ve documented the entire sourdough process with my nose and camera. Expect a tutorial on making your own sourdough early next week. And I in turn expect you all to start making your own bread gosh darn it!
Do Something: Skip the regular sandwich bread and consider buying sourdough bread the next time you’re at the market. Try it if you haven’t before and if you have, rekindle the love for the tang. You’ll be doing lots of good to your body, and by default, there’s less ingredients to read on the label.