What is Sourdough?
Sourdough is a process in which a “starter” of combined flour and water is fermented over several days with regular additions of flour and water by the wild yeasts and lactobacilli naturally present in ground grain: this starter is then added to the baker’s dough, which is left to rise for several hours (sometimes days) and produces delicious bread full of holes, with a firm springy crust. The secret of this transformation? Gluten, a protein found in all forms of wheat, rye and barley.
So why is sourdough different from your supermarket bought loaf?
In 1961, scientists at the Chorleywood Flour Milling and Bakery Research Association Laboratories in Hertfordshire developed a new industrial process for the speedy mass production of bread. In the huge factories using it, bread could now be churned out in just three and a half hours flat, from flour to wrapped loaf, the long fermentation process cut to the bare minimum, to produce soft pappy bread with almost indefinite shelf-life. In order to produce an acceptable loaf in the minimum of time, a whole arsenal of additives is necessary: among them extra yeast, extra gluten, fat to improve crumb softness, reducing agents to help create stretchier dough, soya flour to add volume and softness, emulsifiers to produce bigger, softer loaves and retard staling, preservatives – to extend shelf-life, and any of a wide variety of enzymes, legally defined as “processing aids” which do not have to be declared on the label!
What is the impact on our health of bread produced in this way?
As an epidemic of diabetes sweeps the west, gluten sensitivity also appears to be on the rise. Moreover, the incidence of coeliac disease – the most extreme form of reaction to gluten – has been surging over the last few decades.
Sourdough is better for you
However, what’s beyond doubt is that when people switch from supermarket to sourdough bread, they’re often delighted to find they can eat it without bloated belly discomfort. In the long slow fermentation that produces sourdough bread, important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb. Diabetics should note that sourdough produces a lower surge in blood sugar than any other type of bread available on the market.
Sourdough bread is never cheap – it takes too long, demands specialised skills to make – but once you try it, you will get hooked!
“It looks, smells & tastes completely different” Aliona, Khleb Bakery