We kind of stumbled into sourdough bread baking 10 years ago. Growing up in Germany a good bread is cheap and is found in bakeries throughout the country. Artisan-style sourdough bread is the standard loaf and forms the basis of at least one meal per day. The perfect bread is dark, has a wonderful crust and an airy crumb and tasts slightly sour. Upon arriving in New Zealand it didn’t take long until we missed the bread big time. And every German on holiday in New Zealand can relate to this. Good bread is part of our culture!
We were inexperienced with baking bread and started with yeast loaves, which were good but not quite what we were craving for. So we grew our own sourdough starter culture and were experimenting for about one year to get the bread just perfect. Our German visitors and homestays love the taste of our “real” bread especially when they have already spent a few months in New Zealand.
Over the last couple of years we have completely ditched commercial yeast and are using our sourdough starter
for all types of bread including pizza dough and baguette style loaves. You can of course grow your own starter at home, but from our experience it takes a lot of time, dedication and flour until you have an active starter to bake bread. 3-4 weeks with everyday feeding the mixture and then not knowing if you are successful is not an easy task. We are selling our starter with full directions on how to look after it and a recipe for a basic artisan-style loaf. More info here.
Below I have compiled a few facts about sourdough, the difference to commercial yeast and the health benefits of true sourdough bread.
Enjoy reading and learning
The biggest difference between traditional and artisan sourdough breads and the modern breads you find in the grocery store or might bake at home centers around its yeast. Yeast makes bread rise. And in traditional sourdough baking those yeasts are wild, and they come from the surrounding environment.
In modern bread baking, those yeasts are domesticated and typically come as dried granules in a packet you buy from a commercial yeast maker. The yeast in sourdough bread often contains more than one variety while the yeast in modern breads only contains one variety – saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also used in beer brewing.
In addition, sourdoughs have a complex sour flavor that can range from very light to very strong. This sour flavor comes from lactobacillus bacteria in the starter culture. These bacteria metabolize the complex carbohydrates in flour and produce lactic acid, which gives the bread a distinct tartness.
Commercial breads and modern breads risen with packaged yeast lack this characteristic, and have a sweeter and less complex flavor. They also lack the rich and complex microbial diversity that gives true sourdough its flavor and many of its nutritional benefits as well.
When purchasing sourdough bread, you have to take care to make sure you're getting authentic sourdough (which is why it's so awesome to just make it yourself!). Sometimes commercial bread manufacturers will skip the long, slow-rise required in true sourdough bread and use regular commercial yeast and lactic acid for flavoring - they're not even keeping a starter culture! They're just doing their best to replicate a sour flavor with additives, so they can speedily produce bread and get it on the truck and into a grocery store.
The clear benefit of sourdough bread is that it is delicious, with a richer flavor and more complexity than modern breads. It can be easily and affordably made at home, and it is a fun hobby to undertake.
Traditional, slow-rise sourdough bread is generally a more nutrient-rich choice and easier on blood sugar regulation than modern bread. Its benefits rest in the symbiotic action of the bacteria and yeast that comprise a sourdough starter culture. The work of these microbes helps to make sourdough bread more nutritious with a lower glycemic load.
The mixed culture of wild bacteria and yeast that leaven sourdough bread make sourdough more nutritious. During the period in which sourdough rises, the lactobacillus bacteria in the culture metabolize the naturally occurring carbohydrates in the flour and release lactic acid. This lowers the overall glycemic load of the bread, while also improving its flavor and giving sourdough its characteristic sourness.
Further, the acidic nature of the dough helps to deactivate food phytate, a naturally-occurring substance in whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, that makes the minerals they contain difficult to absorb. When food phytate is deactivated or mitigated through sourdough leavening, the minerals in the flour become more readily absorbed by your body. So while sourdough baking doesn’t increase the minerals in bread, it certainly increases your bodies ability to take advantage of them.
More Sourdough Facts (if you haven’t had enough!):
- Sourdough improves the texture and palatability of whole-grain and fiber-rich products. Each starter imparts its own unique flavor to the bread, based on the wild yeast and bacteria that inhabit the starter.
- Sourdough bread contains the bacteria Lactobacillus in a higher proportion to yeast than do other breads. More Lactobacillus means higher production of lactic acid, which means less of the potentially dangerous phytic acid. And what does that mean? More mineral availability (particularly k, p, Mg, Zn) and easier digestion!
- Easier digestion is made even more possible by the bacteria-yeast combo working to predigest the starches in the grains. Predigestion by sourdough = less digestion for you.
- Sourdough preparation is more lengthy (soaking, rinsing, etc.), and this longer prep time results in the protein gluten being broken down into amino acids. Again, this translates to easier digestion, sometimes even for those who are sensitive to gluten.
- Acetic acid–which inhibits the growth of mold, is produced in the making of sourdough. So, sourdough naturally preserves itself. Pretty neat considering the toxic preservatives thrown into the food supply today.
- Bread is often avoided by those affected by weight-gain and metabolic syndrome – rightly, perhaps, in the case of industrial white loaves with a high glycemic index (GI). But sourdough LAB produce acetic, propionic and lactic acid (organic acids) that, under the heat of baking, cause interactions that reduce starch availability, lowering postprandial glycemic responses.
- Lactic acid bacteria (LAB – including those commonly found in sourdough bread) produce beneficial compounds: antioxidants, the cancer-preventive peptide lunasin, and anti-allergenic substances, some of which may help in the treatment of auto-immune diseases.
- The integrity of sourdough is so complex that it contains a host of goodness in terms of nutrients. In sourdough, you can find vitamins B1-B6, B12, folate, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin E, selenium, iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and potassium (okay – some of these in fairly tiny amounts)–in addition to uniquely balanced proteins and fatty acids. Whoa! This is in contrast to most commercially produced breads, which maintain only a fraction of their original nutrient content after all the processing they undergo.
- Sourdough bread made with wild yeast, bacteria, and whole grain flour is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread. It truly is an ancient art that is crafted in harmony with nature. It’s only natural that we eat it as opposed to other breads.
- Sourdough bread is typically made from wheat. The inulin and oligosaccharides contained in human milk, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, burdock root, asparagus, garlic, onion, leek, banana, wheat, barley and rye (gluten containing grains) are excellent sources of fuel for good bacteria in the gut (aka prebiotics).
- Another good reason is the FLAVOR. Tangy and distinctive, it will undoubtedly leave you wanting another bite.
What’s your favorite reason to eat sourdough?