What is Sourdough?

Sourdough is the original baked bread. Traditional sourdough recipes usually consist of only 3 ingredients- flour, water and salt, with the starter culture being a mix of flour and water. When combined, these ingredients slowly ferment for a period of time (up to 36 hours) and produce a bread that is delicious, easily digested, and a pleasure to make.

The starter / leaven / culture

This is the mixture of wild yeast (found in the air around us) and lactobacillus bacteria harmoniously living in a mixture of water and flour.

Wild yeast strains love the acidic environment and are slow-acting, so they require a long fermentation.  During this process, other bacteria, specifically lactobacillus and acetobacillus create lactic acid and acetic acids which feed on the sugars (carbohydrates) released by the enzymes in the dough.  This process creates a sour flavour.  It’s during this fermentation process where carbon dioxide is produced and becomes trapped in the dough, making the bread rise when baked.

The challenge in sourdough bread making is to control the balance between the butter flavour of the lactic acid, and the sour flavour of the acetic acid.  As a general rule, the warmer the temperatures, the more the acetic bacteria and sour flavour.  Cooler temperatures between 18-25°c are ideal for lactic acid, allowing for a slower rise and a better tasting bread.

Why is sourdough bread healthier than ordinary yeasted bread?

People often ask, “What’s the difference between sourdough bread and ordinary yeast bread?”  Well, there are many differences, but the main one is that sourdough bread is easier to digest because of the long slow process in which it is made.  During the long fermentation process, wild yeast and bacteria in the leaven/starter culture pre-digest the flour and neutralise the phytic acids (which are present in all grains and seeds) as the bread proves. This allows the release of enzymes that are needed for the breakdown of proteins and starches in the flour before it reaches the stomach.   In commercially produced yeasted bread it’s the lack of enzymes that result in digestive difficulties because our bodies have to work extra hard to break down the starches and proteins.

Ironically, commercially produced wholegrain bread, generally perceived as ‘healthy’, is often the worst food a person with a wheat intolerance should eat.

This long fermentation also allows for the natural sugars in the flour to be released, giving your loaf a unique taste and texture.

Sourdough is also low GI as it takes longer to digest.  Thus, good for blood sugar levels, and reducing hunger.

The History of Sourdough

It was the Egyptians that were accredited with making sourdough 5000 years ago after discovering that by mixing any crushed or whole grain with water it will begin to ferment.  They became masters of natural grain fermentation.

Up until around 200 years ago, all bread was made using sourdough.  Since modern yeast was discovered in 1680 by French scientist Louis Pasteur, traditional artisan bread making techniques became a side craft rather than the main form of bread making.

 

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