All About Sourdough
After reading over some of my posts on the subject of sourdough, I realize that I get going talking about the sourdough, and the actual recipe kind of gets lost in there. So I have pulled out much of the verbiage out of my recipe posts to make the recipe more straightforward and easier to read, and have put that verbiage here. I am a bit of a scientist at heart, and I want to know how things work. So I did my research, and on this page is a summary of what I found. There’s lots of good information about sourdough, so go ahead and read on.
According to Wikipedia: “Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Sourdough bread has a mildly sour taste not present in most breads made with baker’s yeast and better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli. Bread made from 100% rye flour, popular in the northern half of Europe, is usually leavened with sourdough. Baker’s yeast is not useful as a leavening agent for rye bread, as rye does not contain enough gluten.” So sourdough is a good way to provide leavening all kinds of gluten-free bread, for those who are sensitive to gluten. But the most common sourdough you will find in stores is made with regular bread flour (containing gluten), and since I am not gluten sensitive, I will not focus on gluten free recipes here.
“Obtaining a satisfactory rise from sourdough takes longer than a dough leavened with baker’s yeast because the yeast in a sourdough is less vigorous. In the presence of lactic acid bacteria, however, some sourdough yeasts have been observed to produce twice the gas of baker’s yeast. The acidic conditions in sourdough, along with the bacteria also producing enzymes that break down proteins, result in weaker gluten and may produce a denser finished product.“
More from Wikipedia: “Sourdough has become less common in recent times; it has been replaced by the faster-growing baker’s yeast, sometimes supplemented with longer fermentation rests to allow for some bacterial activity to build flavor. Manufacturers of non-sourdough breads make up for the lack of yeast and bacterial culture by introducing into their dough an artificially-made mix known as bread improver or flour improver.” I even read one recipe that called for malt powder (malted milk powder or Ovaltine – not the chocolate variety), to add flavour to the bread. I may have to try that one of these days. I like the flavour of malt, although my experience is limited to chocolate malts. I think that might go good with rye flour, so I will put that on my -“things to try” list.
The subtle tangy flavour of sourdough is the reason that I like it. And of course, home-made bread is always better than commercial bread, in my opinion. I love the whole process of bread making – it’s almost an art. You get to know what the initial batter should look like, after beating it long enough to develop the gluten in it (assuming you are using wheat flour). I love the feel of the dough as I knead it to take up the last of the flour. Kneading bread dough is a great way to work out tension and frustration. It’s meditative. You can’t rush it. I love the silky, elastic feel of the dough when you are done kneading it. In fact, that is the best way to know if you have kneaded it enough; from the feel of it. It’s soft but elastic, and springs back when lightly touched with a fingertip. Once you have made your own bread, whether sourdough or not, you will never be satisfied with the store-bought bread. It just can’t compare. And once you start with sourdough, you will be baking bread regularly, so as they say, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
King Arthur Flour has a good explanation of what sourdough is and how it works. The following excerpts are from their sourdough baking guide:
“Friendly bacteria (lactobacilli), present in our natural environment; and the wild yeast attracted to and living on flour begin to work with one another when flour is mixed with warm water. The result: sourdough starter. These tiny living creatures (lactobacilli and yeast, collectively called the sourdough’s microflora) generate byproducts that cause bread to rise and give it complex, rich flavor. …
How does it all work to make dough rise? Lactobacilli (and other yeasts – remember, they’re all around us; you don’t need to “add” them) break down flour’s complex carbohydrates into simple sugars—exactly what yeast needs for food. The yeast, feeding on these simple sugars, produces carbon dioxide bubbles. The elastic wheat gluten in bread dough traps these carbon dioxide bubbles, causing the dough to expand as if it contained a million tiny balloons. …
When you put a risen loaf into the oven, the yeast quickly dies; but the CO2 it generated remains trapped beneath its flour/water matrix, producing a golden loaf of beautifully risen bread.”
I don’t know if it’s really true or not, but I have read that plain, simple sourdough that uses only your sourdough starter to produce the rise, is supposed to be better for you. The argument is that sourdough is easier to digest, since the natural yeasts have already started to break down the flour in the dough, almost like a “pre-digestion action”. This is supposed to make it easier for our stomachs and digestive system to handle the bread. Plus, the naturally growing yeasts in the sourdough starter also go into our digestive system, and contribute to the “good bacteria” in our systems. I have a sensitive digestive system anyway (with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux). Because of this, I try to eat in a way that doesn’t exacerbate my GI symptoms, which is mostly being careful not to eat high fat or very spicy foods. I also have taken various types of probiotics on and off, but I haven’t really noticed any difference when I do take them.
However, I still believe in the science behind the idea of taking probiotics, so I have been making a few of my own fermented foods, trying to get the good bacteria into my system in a more natural way. (Besides Sourdough, I make my own yogurt, and my own Kombucha, which is a fermented sweet tea.) I have been tested and know that I am not sensitive to gluten (in fact, dry toast is one of the few things I CAN eat when I get an upset tummy). I like sourdough bread, and I enjoy baking bread, so I figured that I would take the plunge and go for the more risky (in my opinion) method of making sourdough that doesn’t rely on additional commercial yeast to give it the rise. I looked carefully at many sourdough recipes, and decided that one is as good as the next. Since I liked the way my own sourdough tasted when I use my own recipes, I decided to try using the same recipe but just without the commercial yeast. And guess what? It’s been a resounding success! It does take longer, and I sometimes despair that the bread will never rise. But, I just give it more time and quit worrying about it, and it always rises.
Sourdough Bread is Healthy. Going along with the whole notion of sourdough being easier on your tummy, as the natural yeasts begin to digest the wheat proteins and gluten while working to produce the carbon dioxide that causes the bread to rise [Why Sourdough Bread is Good for You]; well, it just makes sense to keep it as natural as possible and not introduce any additional yeast. I’m not sure if that health claim has been scientifically proven, but I choose to believe it, based on my own personal experience. Some say that sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index than regular bread [Is Sourdough Bread a Healthier Option]. I find that, even with IBS, I can eat my own sourdough bread without any adverse symptoms. And I am not the only one to have noticed that [The Sourdough School]. Sourdough bread is fermented, just like yogurt or kefir, and has probiotic organisms that promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. These good bacteria help you to digest the gluten that remains in the bread without causing tummy troubles [Top 10 Reasons to Eat Sourdough]. Having said that, I am NOT sensitive to wheat gluten, so please don’t just take my word for it. However, if you already have sourdough starter in your house, you are already a convert, and like to make sourdough bread, so I am preaching to the choir here. If you are just thinking of trying sourdough, go for it! As long as you do not have celiac disease, which is a medical condition where your body cannot digest gluten. Otherwise, throw out that Wheat Belly book, and give sourdough a try. You may also find that you can digest it easier than commercial bread [Why Can I Digest Sourdough but not Commercial Bread]. Plus, it tastes so much better! And it gives you the satisfaction of making your own bread, putting in that effort for the sake of your health. ‘Nuff said!
Hope this feeds the brains of you scientists out there, and that you are now ready to give sourdough a try. Once you taste your first sourdough loaf, you will be hooked. Good luck, and Happy Baking!