Sourdough bread has a lot of benefits over traditional yeast breads, but there is also a lot of noise and misinformation. Let’s cut through all that and get to the facts. What are the actual benefits of sourdough?
1. Fermented foods are beneficial for gut health, right?
Sourdough bread is simply any baked good made with a sourdough starter, which is combination of flour and water the yeast-like organisms growing in it (mainly lactic acid bacteria). It is is fermented, like beer, and that fermentation is what makes the bread rise.
So this concept of fermentation is often touted as a benefit of sourdough bread. But why? Well, fermented foods produce probiotics. The best known example of this is yogurt. Fermented milk has probiotics, or good bacteria, that help your gut health. This is true.
But sourdough bread is baked, my friends. It goes in the oven. The probiotics are gone.
2. Fermentation reduces carbohydrates and gluten.
Yes! Fermentation is a chemical reaction, at its heart. The inoculant, or “the thing with the living creatures”, is mixed with other stuff and eventually those living creatures take over the other ingredients and they all become alive. (I know, I should be a scientist.)
Think of making yogurt. You mix a packet of little yogurt creatures with milk. They sit for a long time, and all the milk turns into yogurt. The milk is no longer milk. It is yogurt.
With sourdough bread, something similar happens. If you let it sit long enough, the flour is no longer flour, it is something else. It is fermented flour. The gluten is way reduced as are the carbohydrates. Many gluten-intolerant people state that they can eat sourdough bread. It is still not gluten free, but the gluten content is significantly reduced.
So is sourdough bread low carb? Can you eat it on a keto diet? No. It’s still bread (sorry!). It just might be have less of an affect on your blood sugar.
This only happens with long fermentation sourdough recipes, at least 12 hours.
3. The nutrient count MAY be higher
This one is debatable. Flour in general (especially whole wheat) is actually pretty high in many nutrients, like folate, magnesium and zinc. However, phytic acid is also present in commercial bread and stops the human body from absorbing these nutrients. In sourdough bread, the lactic acid produced during the fermentation process lowers the phytate and increases the amount of magnesium and zinc available for the body to use.
Is this boring? Yep. Significant to your health? Who knows.
4. Sourdough bread is tasty
Okay enough of the boring stuff. Sourdough bread is tasty and has a whole different flavor from regular yeast breads. It can be very sour, or just a little bit. And all of that is totally customizable to your tastes! In general, a longer, cooler rise willl be more sour, and a faster rise, or adding a little commercial yeast, will make for a more mild sourdough taste. It’s up to you and you can tweak it however you would like.
If you like crusty, artisan style breads, you will probably love sourdough baking. And yes, that counts as a benefit!
5. The baking process for sourdough bread is flexible
If you are used to baking with yeast breads, you understand that you are tied to the house for three hours or so while the bread is rising, getting shaped, and being baked. If a yeast bread proofs for an hour too long, it’s ruined. It’s over.
But with sourdough, the timelines are much more flexible. Rising times are in hours, not minutes. You can mix up a dough and then go to bed. You can shape a loaf and let it sit on the counter for four hours while you go out for the morning. It takes much much longer than yeast breads, of course, but there is no strict timeline.
6. You can bake without yeast
A lot of people like this idea and see it as a benefit of sourdough baking. But to be honest I’m not entirely sure why. Any “living” aspect of the yeast is killed by the baking process, so it should not really affect the human body in any way.
Also, if you buy yeast in bulk it is convenient and affordable.
But if you get comfortable with sourdough baking, you can absolutely live a yeast-free bread life. Wild yeast will allow you to bake whatever bread you would like without ever having to spend money on yeast or worrying about running out.
So I hope you’ll find that sourdough is one of the best types of bread for taste and fun with the baking process. The health benefits will vary depending on whether you are doing wheat bread, white bread, or whole grain bread, but overall sourdough bread can definitely be part of a balanced diet.
So how can I start baking with sourdough and enjoy all these benefits?
I’m glad you asked. First, you need a starter. You can make your own, borrow from a friend, or buy one.
Then, you get started with some easy recipes like these:
Sourdough is fun and delicious. And if you are mildly sensitive to gluten, you may be able to enjoy it if you can’t eat yeast breads. And I hope that’s reason enough for you to give it a try.
If you’re interested in learning more vintage skills to care for your home, there are many other that are useful to try.