You’ve probably walked the bread aisle at the grocery store and seen loaves of “sourdough” bread. Maybe you’ve even had a friend or relative give you some homemade sourdough bread. But have you ever wondered what really is sourdough bread? Is it healthy? What are the benefits of sourdough? And are there really any benefits?
What is Sourdough Bread?
First let’s take a look at what exactly is sourdough bread. True sourdough bread is made using natural, wild yeast captured from the air to make the dough rise and the bread fluffy. This process is done using a “starter” which is a mixture of flour and water that has sat in a warm spot in an open container allowing the natural, healthy bacteria in the air to feed on the mixture. Most people will make their own “starter” but you can also purchase one. There is a process of feeding the starter (adding more flour and water every 12-24 hours) and allowing the good bacteria and yeast to multiply. This process takes about a week of continuous “feeding” before the starter is ready to use. You can watch as I created my starter and shared on Instagram. Once the starter is continuously growing and ready to use, it basically takes the place of packaged yeast that many bread recipes call for.
Although you cannot just swap out some starter in place of packaged yeast, many recipes can be tweaked to use sourdough starter instead of yeast. But the biggest difference is the wait time when making sourdough bread. Because the yeast in the starter is a natural yeast and not an instant yeast, the rising time for the dough will be anywhere between 12 and 24 hours. Whereas using a package of instant yeast would be an hour or two.
For this reason, it is not economical for mass produced bread to be true sourdough. And most sourdough bread that you find on grocery store aisles are regular bread with tons of preservatives and vinegar added to give it a “sour” taste. Nothing like the healthy, real sourdough our ancesters lived off of for generations.
Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread
Since it takes so long to actually make sourdough bread, you may be asking, “why would I want to make sourdough bread?” And there are many reasons! In the souring process (which is what also causes the rise) the good bacteria multiply causing sourdough to be full of probiotics. The healthy bacteria and yeast also feed on the gluten in the dough causing sourdough to be low in gluten or gluten free. (Note- if someone is truly Celiac, I would not recommend them eating sourdough as there is no way in knowing if any gluten remains.) The souring process also multiplies many of the vitamins found in the wheat. There is typically an increase in iron, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc in sourdough or at least the bioavailability (how easily they are digested and used by the body) of those and other nutrients. 1
Not only is sourdough lower in gluten and has an increase in the availability of many nutrients, it is easier to digest. The souring process also reduces the amount of phytate in the bread making it easier to digest and again making more nutrients available. The reason for this is because phytate prevents our digestive system from absorbing some nutrients like iron and magnesium. The phytate bonds to many minerals and carries them out of our system. So even if we eat something full of minerals, our body cannot access them. But sourdough, because of the souring process and reduction of phytate, allows our body to be able to access and use all the minerals and nutrients in the bread.
Benefits of Sourdough Bread throughout History
Ever wondered why when you read anything about history, bread was a mainstay and staple for cultures around the globe for generations? They did not spray their wheat with chemicals or add preservatives to their bread. And, you may have heard that their wheat was better, but the biggest factor was their bread was all sourdough. Active dry yeast was not invented until the 1940’s . And the instant yeast packages we are familiar with today was not invented until 30 years later in the 1970’s. So active, dry yeast is a relatively new thing. Before that, if the bread was fluffy or had risen, it was due to the souring process!
What Can You Make With Sourdough Bread?
When talking about sourdough, most people tend to just think of a loaf of bread. And while that is the basic and most common way to enjoy sourdough, there are so many more recipes! Some of our favorite sourdough recipes include, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, various bread loafs, biscuits, pizza crusts, and muffins. The possibilities are really endless. My daughter’s favorite recipe is cinnamon rolls- something she has actually been asking me to make for probably a year. So that is the first thing I made with my new sourdough starter and they turned out amazing!
Sourdough can seem scary because of the length of time it takes to get a starter going. But don’t let that deter you. It’s really quite simple. You can even purchase starters that are active and ready if you really want to avoid that part. If you enjoy baking, I highly recommend to give it a try!
- Hawkins, Jesse. The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread, Thistle Publications 2014 ↩︎