Rye sourdough bread. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

By Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News

Traditional foods are those that have been eaten for generations by those who have eschewed modern industrialized foods. They have stood the test of time, producing generations of vibrant parents and vigorous children who have lived without the modern degenerative diseases so prevalent in our western world.

And so, when we seek out a traditional foods diet for both health and the sustainability of our food system, we must ask ourselves where certain foods fit into this picture. How were they prepared before industrialization? Do they have a place in history?

Over the past decade, bread has taken a beating in the health food arena, and for good reason. Most bread made today is devoid of many of the characteristics of traditional bread.

Modern bread is:

  • Made with commercial yeast which, while convenient, is stripped of its natural matrix of organic acids, bacteria, and other microorganisms.
  • Risen quickly. The nature of modern yeast allows bread to rise in a matter of a couple of hours. This bypasses the natural fermentation process that goes along with a longer rise time of natural leavening.
  • Lacking in flavor as well as microorganisms.

Alternatively, sourdough bread is:

  • Made with a natural leavening derived from flour and water and containing a host of microorganisms that not only act as leavening, but also break down the fibers of whole grain bread while neutralizing anti-nutrients inherent in both grains and seeds. Both of these acts make sourdough bread easier to digest.
  • Higher in vitamins. All fermentation processes enhance the natural vitamin content inherent in the food, especially B vitamins. Sourdough bread is no exception.
  • Given a long fermentation time. This is critical. It is not only the acidic and living nature of the sourdough starter that performs the fermentation, but the time given to the process for the microorganisms to go to work on the grains.
  • Easier on blood sugar. One study found that sourdough bread made with white flour had a much more even effect on blood sugar than whole grain bread made with commercial yeast. This has huge ramifications for anyone struggling with blood sugar or metabolic issues. It is the fermentation process that creates this phenomenon.

More Benefits of Sourdough

Sourdough bread is slow bread, traditional bread, and bread with a depth of flavor that cannot be imitated. Besides the aforementioned benefits, sourdough bread boasts a host of other advantages.

Sustainable and Inexpensive – One of the most exciting things about sourdough is that, when made at home, it frees you from the need to purchase commercial yeast. A sourdough starter can be created from flour and water. Further flour and water are needed to create the bread, along with quality salt, but that is all. For the do-it-yourselfer and those wishing to cut back their dependence on an industrialized food system, this is a huge boon.

Easier on Gluten-Sensitive Individuals – Gluten sensitivity, intolerance, and celiac disease are more prevalent than we’ve ever seen. While those with full-blown celiac disease should not consume wheat in any form, some of those with less severe gluten sensitivity have found that the fermentation breaks the gluten proteins down enough to make sourdough bread digestible. The caveat here is that the bread be fermented for as long as possible, at least 12 hours, preferably more.

Diverse and Flexible – Sourdough isn’t just for a hearty loaf of bread, nor is it relegated to a single grain. Traditional cultures have fermented their grains for generations in the form of flatbreads, pancakes, porridges, and various yeast breads. They have also utilized a variety of grains from wheat to rye to millet to amaranth to rice to buckwheat and more. Literally any grain and any type of baked good can be fermented using sourdough techniques.

Sourcing a Sourdough Starter

To create sourdough bread at home one needs a starter. This is a mixture of flour and water that has captured ambient yeasts and microorganisms and, through time, given life to the ones existent in the grain itself.

This can be done at home by combining flour and water, placing in a warm spot covered with a porous lid. After a few days of regular feedings bubbles begin to form and the sourdough starter comes alive. After a while longer it becomes a viable starter that will raise breads, ferment pancakes, and become a living member of your kitchen.

Alternatively, starter cultures can be purchased. These are made from dried sourdough starter that comes from various regions and produce varying results. These are simply rehydrated with water and flour and tend to become be viable more quickly than the one made from just flour and water. They can also be purchased in numerous varieties, all imparting their own unique flavor, leavening time, and fermentation qualities.

Finding Real Sourdough Bread

Real sourdough can be hard to find commercially. While you can walk the bread aisle in any local supermarket and find label upon label touting “sourdough”, many of these are just flavored to be a cheap imitation of the real thing.

The easiest way to tell if something is truly sourdough is to make sure that there is no added yeast on the ingredients list. Flour, water, salt, and possibly fats or sugars are the only ingredients necessary to make true sourdough; the flour and water also referring to the ingredients in the starter.

Also, look for terms like “long fermentation” “traditional” or “lactic acid starter”. These all indicate a real sourdough starter was used, in the absence of yeast, and that the bread has been fully fermented.

If purchasing from a local baker or at a local farmer’s market, ask if they used yeast in their recipe and how long their fermentation or rise time for the bread is. If they’re baking real sourdough they will know exactly what you mean and why you’re asking.

About the Author:

Shannon is a popular blogger and freelance author in homesteading communities. Shannon grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage.

Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life.

They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their four young children.