Written by Stacey Taggart, Contributing Writer

My love for sourdough began on our honeymoon when my husband and I explored San Francisco.  I have bought it as often as I could since then, enjoying it every single time.

Not too long ago, I learned I could make my own sourdough at home!  At first, I was both fascinated and intimidated.  Thankfully, my curiosity won over and our sourdough adventure began!

I still find sourdough to be completely fascinating and I shouldn’t have felt intimidated – I have found it to be more forgiving and much simpler than I imagined.  And although I still have so much to learn, it’s been a fun and tasty adventure!

What is sourdough?

“Sourdough is nothing more than flour and water with wild yeasts to make it rise and special bacteria to provide the flavor.”  – Ed Wood, World Sourdoughs From Antiquity

Sourdough might be considered one of the oldest traditional foods.  Ancient bakers discovered long ago that their breads and cakes could be leavened using wild yeasts and friendly bacteria.

Many people don’t know that the typical bakers yeast we purchase at the grocery store today is relatively new.  Commercial bakers yeast wasn’t contrived until the late 1800s, yet our ancestors have been leavening bread naturally for more than fifty centuries.

As a result of its tangy and distinctive flavor, naturally leavened bread in America became known as “Sourdough” during the days of California Gold Rush, also coincidentally during the late 1800s.  From then on, naturally leavened bread has been known as sourdough.

How does it work?

If your child needs a science fair project, consider sourdough!  It’s actually a very cool process…

Without going into too much science and detail, here’s how it works:

  • In a healthy sourdough starter, the yeasts and bacteria live harmoniously in a mutually beneficial relationship. Interestingly, the yeasts help feed the bacteria which, in turn, create an acidic environment in which the yeasts thrive.
  • The wild yeast creates enzymes which eat up, or predigest, the starches and sugars in the grain.  As they do this, the enzymes release carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in tiny air pockets within the dough and causes the dough to rise.
  • The bacteria also help the bread to rise by a similar process, but in addition, the bacteria produce acids which give the dough its complex flavor and beloved tanginess.

The Health Benefits of Sourdough

When I fell in love with sourdough several years ago, I had no idea of the health benefits.  Now I know that it’s not only good, it’s good for you, much better in fact that typical yeast-risen bread.

  • Digestibility

The enzymes created by the yeasts predigest starches and sugars and break down gluten which makes it more digestible and easier on the gut. Given the long fermenting and rising times necessary for sourdough, many who have food sensitivities to grains and gluten are able to tolerate sourdough much more easily.  In addition, the fermentation process increases the amount of beneficial bacteria which aid in digestion and elimination.

  • Nutritional Advantages

Beneficial bacteria are able to take advantage of the longer leavening time in order to break down phytic acid.  Phytic acid, found in all grains, seeds and beans, is known as an anti-nutrient because it actually strips the body of necessary minerals.  When the phytic acid is disabled, our bodies are able to take full advantage of the nutrition we are consuming.

  • Lower glycaemic index

As the bacteria eat at the starches and sugars in the grain, it lowers the carbohydrate content of the bread. Sourdough bread is rated 68 on the glycaemic index whereas other types of breads rate around 100.  This helps control blood sugar levels, preventing troublesome spikes and dips.

  • Essential Minerals and Trace Elements

Sourdough which is made from whole grain flour provides essential minerals and trace elements such as iron, zinc, copper, manganese, calcium and phosphorous.  Unlike bread made with bakers yeast the unique fermentation process of sourdough makes these minerals and elements much more readily available for the body to absorb and assimilate.

Using Sourdough

The possibilities are endless when incorporating sourdough into your real food diet!  Practically any bread or dough recipe can be altered using sourdough methods rather than using commercial yeasts.

Give some of these recipes a try:

Sourdough Pancakes
Whole Grain Sourdough Bread
Simple, Affordable (Sourdough) Bread
Sourdough Pizza Crust
4 No-Wait Sourdough Recipes (Impossible Pie, Pancakes, Waffles and Crepes)
Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls with Buttermilk Cream Cheese Icing
Sourdough Deep Dish Pizza
Sourdough Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping
Erin’s Sourdough English Muffins
Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies
Sourdough Biscuits
Sourdough Chocolate Cake with Natural Powdered Sugar Frosting

Getting Started:

Getting, maintaining and using a sourdough starter isn’t difficult, but it is a process that takes some time to become familiar with.  Like most traditional and real foods, it’s different than what we’re accustomed to and so, while it may seem foreign at first, you’ll soon fall into a routine and become comfortable with sourdough and how it works and reacts.

I could share what I have done and what I do with my sourdough, but being so new at it myself, I think it would be best to learn from the experts. :)

Wardeh from GNOWFGLINS (God’s Natural, Organic, Whole Food, Grown Locally, In Season) and her friends definitely know their sourdough and that’s how I learned and got started.

She offers a Sourdough eCourse that teaches everything from obtaining and maintaining a sourdough starter, to using that starter to create a wide variety of delicious and wonderful dishes.  The course teaches you to make much more than just great sourdough bread, although she’ll definitely teach you how to do that too!  (Stephanie reviewed and recommended the eCourse last fall).

In addition, Wardeh recently released a new ebook Sourdough From A to Z with simple lessons and tasty recipes as a companion to the eCourse.  If you missed the giveaway earlier in the week, don’t worry, you can still get a copy of the ebook as recommended by Stephanie.

Good luck as you embark on your own sourdough adventure!  I think you’ll really enjoy it, as will your family when they get to taste all your creations which are not only yummy, but good for them too!

Thinking of getting started with sourdough?  What intrigues you the most?

For those already on a sourdough adventure, what do you find most rewarding about working with sourdough?