During COVID19, I decided to write a list of things I have been wanting to do for a long time, and sourdough was on the list. I began making a starter using only two ingredients: flour and water.
Sourdough is naturally leavened bread that is thought to originate in Ancient Egypt, evidenced by bread makers depicted in the Egyptian pictograms (their ancient art) and flakes of desiccated sourdough starter found in old vessels at the archeological sites. Sourdough starter is a concentrate of wild yeast and bacteria that are naturally found in the air. Gluten in flour, especially in a high-protein content flour (usually 11-12% of protein to gluten), becomes a very stretchy protein when wild yeast in the air feeds on the sugars. Only acid-resistant yeast is able to stay and produces carbon dioxide. The wild, lactic acid bacteria is impart the sour flavour in sourdough and creates acid to prevent other microbes from growing. The end result is a smooth and lovely ball of dough, called "boule" (orig. French meaning ball). Sourdough bread is different from commercial bread because building the dough goes through a fermentation process of wild yeast and bacteria, similar to kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc..
In San Francisco, sourdough making saw a boom and the tech people in Silicon Valley fell in love with bread making. Engineers, technologists and other Silicon Valley-centric people made terms like "crumb," "crust," "crackling," "crusty," "airy," "moisture" and "hydration" sexy through their Instagram and Facebook glam shots of bread (1). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told us about moisture during COVID.
Why is that? Sourdough bread making became recognized as a science as much as an art, calling attention of geeks with an analytical and technical mind, who then became entrepreneurs. My favourite blog belongs to Maurizio Leo of the "The Perfect Loaf," who taught me how to make my very own starter and the weekend bread loaves, and he was a software engineer by trade (2).
Budding (pun intended) research projects and science labs, like Rob Dunn's famous Sourdough Project, made available through research grants have been dedicated to understand and discover the different bacterial and fungal profiles of sourdough (3). For instance, one of the bacteria found in a starter from San Francisco is from the Lactobacillus genus, and aptly named Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.
The commercial bread market saw a drop in production from 1939 to 1981 for many reasons (4). There have been many fad diets, e.g. the Atkins and the Paleolithic diets, that associate eating any type of grain to higher calories in the diet and weight gain.
"Bread is the staff of death" (Densmore)
Gluten was also placed in the dark because of the growing concern over its negative impact on digestion. However, sourdough tends to be easier to digest. Baker's yeast, or cultured yeast, are granules that you can buy to make leavened bread, and the yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. On the other hand, the sourdough starter contains a plethora of wild bacteria and yeast.
Maybe, the diversity of wild bacteria and yeast versus a single yeast in commercial breads is what makes eating sourdough helpful for digestion. I haven't found a study yet to show that sourdough breads have higher protein content than commercial breads but I suspect it because of the fermentation process. Also, I know I can eat more sourdough bread without feeling bloated, heartburn, heavy and constipated. The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used in beer making, and beer causes people to burp, feel bloated and full. Gluten may not be the only culprit, unless there is a diagnosis of Celiac disease. There may be other underlying issues that can affect digestion.
The second important lesson I learnt in making sourdough bread at home is that provided with the right substrate, in this case, filtered water and unbleached, organic all-purpose white flour, you can get a healthy starter in just 8 days. In the same way, if we treat our mind and body with care, for instance, eating and sleeping well, we would feel better. Farmers have said you reap what you sow.
The third and the last lesson I learnt in making sourdough is that time is important to achieve something beautiful, like a home-made, freshly baked, artisanal sourdough bread made with my own hands. Sourdough is living and, like all living things, should be treated with respect, kindness and appreciation.
If you are interested in making sourdough and/or a starter from scratch, see the YouTube links and references I've shared below. And, don't forget to keep trying - please, don't give up!
Photos of what I have been making with my sourdough:
(1)https://www.eater.com/2018/11/19/18099127/bread-silicon-valley-sourdough-tech-bros-tartine-chad-robertson (accessed May 08/2020)
(2)https://www.theperfectloaf.com/best-sourdough-recipe/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6fuOj4Gl6QIVkobACh2MaAAwEAAYASAAEgKVJfD_BwE (accessed May 08/2020)
(3)http://robdunnlab.com/projects/sourdough/ (accessed May 08/2020)
What I found helpful in making my sourdough (YouTube):
Other reading material (Amazon):
"Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson
"Flour, water, salt, yeast" by Ken Forkish