How Sourdough Works
Bread has been called the staff of life, but much like every other food product on the market today, bread is not what it once was, or still has the potential to be.
Real bread is made not from commercial yeast found in packets, but from a natural leavening called sourdough. Real bread is also easier on the tummy and the pocket book than today’s yeasted breads, making it not only nourishing but affordable.
Sourdough can be made with two simple ingredients (plus the proper techniques) and will improve the flavor, nutrition, and digestibility of your bread.
How It Works
Sourdough bread all starts with a sourdough starter, which is a simple combination of water and flour. This mixture takes on yeasts, acids, and bacteria when in the presence of a consistent food supply, air, and warmth. For optimum rise in baking a higher amount of yeasts than bacteria in the starter is beneficial.
Sourdough breads are produced when a sourdough starter is combined with flour and water to make dough. This sourdough starter contains lactobacilli bacteria that feeds on the flour, producing gases that get trapped in the flour-water mixture and cause the bread to rise.
As the gases are produced so are acids. These acids produce the sour tang we all recognize in sourdough breads.
Sourdough bread was the yeasted bread made for thousands of years before commercial yeast came on the market.
Many historians speculate that the Egyptians were the first to discover that flour and water, if given enough time, oxygen and warmth, could “come alive” to rise what might be a very dense simple dough.
It was then discovered that by keeping a bit of the dough for the next batch of bread, one could have a continuous supply of the bacteria and yeasts producing these lovely, risen loaves.
What is wonderful about sourdough starters is that each region of the world will have one containing very specific yeasts and bacteria (native to that area), which would in turn create various flavors and textures of bread only available in that region. The famous “San Francisco Sourdough” is just one example.
What Makes Sourdough Superior?
Breaks Down Gluten
The longer rising/soaking time necessary to raise sourdough breads allows for the breakdown of the proteins (gluten in wheat) into amino acids, making it easier to digest. This is why some who have a gluten sensitivity can tolerate sourdough wheat breads.
Because sourdough breads go through a fermentation process, many of the simple sugars present in the grain are eaten up in the process. This makes the bread easier on blood sugar levels.
The fermentation process also makes the bread higher in nutrients, especially B vitamins.
Naturally Preserves the Bread
The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process creates a lovely tang in the bread and predigests the grain for you. The acetic acid (vinegar), on the other hand, helps the bread to store longer by inhibiting the growth of molds.
Neutralizes the Anti-Nutrients
Finally, the bacteria present in the sourdough help to activate phytase, an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid, an anti-nutrient found in all grains and seeds. This allows your body to better hold onto minerals, as phytic acid can bind with them and take them out of your body.
One of the best features of the sourdough process is that it allows you to make bread with the simplest of ingredients, ones that you can produce yourself even. Instead of having to buy a yeast packet for every loaf of bread, you can just add a plop of your homemade starter - made from flour, water, and the bacteria and yeasts that surround you - and kiss the yeast packets good-bye.