Why long-fermented sourdough bread is actively good for you
We’ve been asking friends and customers why they like eating sourdough. For many the answer is flavor – which is great. But did you know about the ways sourdough acts as a health food and promotes digestive health? Well that’s the reason Modern Baker was born in the first place.
Sorry to be playing the health card again, but it seems not that many people know why sourdough trumps all other baked goods in the wellbeing poker ring – as well as being an ace in the flavour pack. All this is pretty important to us, since we are a healthy bakery, and the science of sourdough baking is pretty key to all this.
What’s more, the lack of common understanding about what makes sourdough good for us has led to widespread sales of “sourfaux” i.e. really-not-that-great bread masquerading as sourdough in supermarkets and bakeries. What is it and why should you avoid it? In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know.
Here’s a brief ancient history lesson
Sourdough is bread made from the simplest ingredients – just flour, water and salt – which when left to ferment naturally produce cultures to make bread rise. Before the introduction of commercial yeasts in the 19th century all leavened bread was sourdough, dating all the way back to at least 10,000 years ago, with evidence of more like 30,000. But in the past few decades the slow art of sourdough baking has made a fast come-back as new food science reveals its enormous nutritional benefits, as well as exposing some of the detrimental health effects that may result from making quick-rising baker’s yeast bread part of our everyday diets.
Here’s a brief science lesson
Sourdough is so-called because it has a distinctly sour flavour that comes from the little wonders that are lactobacilli, well known today as “friendly bacteria”. Produced by the fermentation process, these bacteria are very creative, helpful and dynamic, performing all sorts of magic on the dough, just as long as they are left for 12 hours or more (we leave our dough for 48 hours for maximum effect) to do their work:
- – While the dough ferments in its bowl, lactobacilli break down the sugar maltose contained in the flour. As a result it produces lactic and acetic acids, which slow the rate at which sugars are metabolised in our tummies. This means that sourdough does not “spike” the blood sugar like most bread. In fact recent studies show the steady, moderate glycaemic impact of sourdough equates to that of beans and whole grains, though not all breads are equal. White bakers yeast breads, by contrast, metabolise even more quickly than sugar. Alright once in a while, but a potential horror show when consumed regularly and long term – and one of the big contributors towards our culture’s diabetes rate
- – Sparking chemical reactions to enrich the natural flavours of whole grains
- – Synthesising vitamins in whole grains to create new nutrients, especially all-important B12
- – Boosting amino acid lysine, which is great for vegans because it makes sourdough a nearly complete protein
- – Diffusing the phytic acid contained in grains, which helps make minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc markedly more bioavailable i.e. easy for our intestines to send into our blood streams and on to the organs, hair, skin etc… for great wellness!
- – Lactic acid, also produced during fermentation, helps promote the growth of healthy flora in the intestines
Here’s a lesson in navigating the modern jargon jungle
Many people with gluten-intolerances find they can tolerate sourdough because the long fermentation process allows water molecules into the gluten strands, thus reducing and de-intensifying the gluten content of wheat. However! It’s always wise to read the label; sadly most commercial sourdough breads sold in the UK today are flavoured to taste authentic, but don’t have the health benefits of the slow-made stuff. Seriously, these days “sourfaux” is everywhere; one major supermarket is currently selling a “sourdough bread mix” containing over 20 ingredients and artificial additives. As you now know, this has nothing to do with the real McCoy.
So to sum up…
What are the main reasons that people are turning to sourdough? Because it contains the same friendly cultures as homemade yoghurt and these work chemically on the whole grains during the fermentation process to make the most of flavours and nutrients, and make it much easier for the body to digest. Thus sourdough promotes gut and metabolic health, keeps you fuller for longer, and lasts longer in the bread bin too. A win-win-win situation.