Bread has been a staple food in many cultures for thousands of years. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, most bread would have been sourdough or made with brewer’s yeast, as commercial yeast did not pop onto the scene until the world wars. In previous centuries, the whiter and fluffier a bread, the more expensive and high class it would have been considered.
Now we’ve done a full 180 flip, with grainy artisanal sourdough making a very strong comeback.
Not only is it a tasty addition to your café avocado and eggs on toast, but it is often a much healthier and nutritious option compared to regular bread. Most health-conscious people are quick to remove bread from their diet. Highly processed white breads are not great, however, when you remove good quality wholegrain bread, you also remove a significant amount of fibre and nutrients from your diet, which you would struggle to make up for with bread “alternatives”.
Rather than throwing out bread all together in the diet, consider making the switch to a good wholegrain sourdough loaf.
Sourdough vs regular bread
The bread we are most familiar with is made using commercial baker’s yeast, also known as Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which has been specifically cultivated to produce a quick and consistent rising agent for fluffy breads. This yeast over several hours will convert natural sugars from the dough into carbon dioxide, providing that spongy lift.
Bakers yeast is not used in sourdough. Instead, a starter of various yeasts and microbes that have been carefully cultivated will be added to the dough to give it rise and flavour. Depending on the artisanal bakery, most will cultivate their own wild yeast strains naturally found on the grains used to make bread. In these cases, organic grains are used to ensure the natural yeasts have not been killed off in the process from farm to bakery. Some bakeries in Europe have prised starters that they have kept alive for more than 100 years!
Traditional sourdough takes approximately 24 to 36 hours to make. The majority of this time the bread dough is left to sit in the fridge to “proof”, which is bakers’ jargon for ferment. The long slow proof is where the simple sugars in the grain are digested by the wild yeast, converting it into lactic acid and other compounds which provide the bread with the characteristic sour flavour.
Some commercial sourdough breads are still leavened with baker’s yeast, and will then add a starter culture or lactic acid to provide the sour flavour. This is not true sourdough and will not provide you with the same nutrition benefits of traditional sourdough. To decipher if the sourdough you’re buying is true sourdough, the ingredients should list “starter culture” or “leaven” instead of yeast.
Traditional sourdough is easier to digest as it has already been "pre-digested" by wild yeast. Regular bread is also fermented, but only for a very short time. The longer ferment times used in sourdough bread making results in a reduction of the harder to digest sugars, which can cause bloating and discomfort, in the final product. For those of us who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) the best bread to choose is soughdough spelt bread as the sugars responsible for IBS symptoms are so low the bread is considered low FODMAP (FYI - low FODMAP foods are used to decrease symptom severity in IBS).
Most sourdough breads have a Low Glycaemic Index (low GI), which means when you digest the bread it keeps your blood sugar nice and steady, preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. This will also make you feel fuller for longer, so a meal containing sourdough bread can help prevent pesky snacking that can often lead to unwanted weight gain.
The long fermentation of sourdough creates many more biproducts compared to regular bread, resulting in a more nutritious loaf. More B vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals are present in higher concentrations, and fermentation can also increase the amounts of insoluble fibre and short-chain fatty acids within the bread, which are known to nourish our gut microbiome. In addition to this, phytates, compounds in grain foods that can block the absorption of nutrients, are a lot lower in sourdough breads compared to conventional breads.
So go out and find yourself a good loaf of sourdough bread. Sourdough is becoming increasingly popular which means it is becoming easier to find. Now most large supermarkets will stock good sourdough brands like Sonoma and Artisan Sourdough Bakers, or swing by your local artisanal bakery If you’re lucky enough to live near one.
If you’re adventurous enough you can even create your own sourdough starter and bread at home!
Source: Gobbetti, M., De Angelis, M., Di Cagno, R., Calasso, M., Archetti, G. and Rizzello, C.G., 2019. Novel insights on the functional/nutritional features of the sourdough fermentation. International journal of food microbiology, 302, pp.103-113.