Though we Jews can confirm that challah is the king of bread in our book, another kind of loaf is rising in the ranks. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown and social media’s permeation throughout every home, the layman has become a learned baker, honing in on their skills of all things flour and water. The world not only knows of sourdough bread, but they also can’t stop eating it. Maybe it’s the innate nurturing the process entails and necessitates, or possibly the beautiful specimen it produces; regardless, the world can’t get enough of the humble sourdough loaf.
Natural fermentation from lactic acid bacteria and naturally occurring wild yeast produce the bread’s unique sour taste. Lactic acid bacteria can also be found in products like yogurt, kefir and pickles, just to name a few. Sourdough bread also has varying levels of acetic acid bacteria which is slower to ferment and rise, imparting the bread’s exclusive vinegar taste and chewy texture.
The process in which sourdough is created is one that requires time, patience and care. There are two parts to the process that are needed: starter and levain (aka leaven). Each starter mixture needs to be maintained, like a plant, with regular feedings of bread flour and water 2-3 times per week to keep it alive and active. If it’s properly maintained, it can thrive and live on indefinitely. The levain is an offshoot of the sourdough starter, which is made up of a mixture of fresh flour, water and starter. The starter is a mixture of beneficial bacteria and wild/naturally occurring yeast. Each starter is special in the fact that no two starters are the same, just like our gut microflora! Researchers have found over 50 species of lactic acid bacteria and over 20 species of yeast. Unfortunately, these creatures usually don’t survive the baking trip, getting burnt off in the process. However, the bread does contain prebiotics, food to help our gut bacteria flourish and thrive.
Sourdough bread not only is distinct in its outward appearance and taste, but also in its health benefits as well. The bacteria decreases phytic acid, aka phytate, found in grains, which can prevent nutrient absorption by lowering the pH and deactivating phytate in the gut.
The bread is also easier to digest, especially for those with irritable bowel syndrome/irritable bowel disease due to its low gluten and FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) content.
Though not considered a health food, sourdough bread is a product of labor and love. The process produces a bread that is aesthetically pleasing, engaging in the tactile realm and yummy in taste. Though it may be an acquired taste, it’s definitely worth a try! Your body will thank you, taking in the benefits sourdough bread has to offer its consumer.
By Melissa Papir, MS, RD