Are you a fan of sourdough bread? Some people love the tangy flavor, while others find it a bit strong for their taste. While the taste of sourdough bread is up to individual preference, the health benefits are well established. You also can't deny that a great sourdough loaf is aromatic, crusty and full of complex flavors. The secret is in the sourdough start and the slow chemical process that occurs when making bread with a natural yeast start. Simply put, the entire process relies on fermentation and a healthy sourdough start.
Using a “levain” or natural yeast start as the leavening agent has been used to make bread for centuries until commercial yeast came on the scene relatively recently in the past 100 to 150 years. With this introduction, the bread-making process was shortened, producing a much more efficiently made, but quite different bread loaf.
So what is a sourdough start? Comprised of three simple ingredients: flour, water, and a wild yeast/bacteria that kickstarts the fermentation process. A sourdough start is its own little community of microbes. As the simple ingredients sit together, fermentation occurs. This is the process of converting sugars into products like ethanol and carbon dioxide. For a bread start, we see lactic and acetic acid. The real magic happens when the enzymes begin breaking the more complex starches down into smaller units, which are more accessible to yeast and bacteria. Once the microbes digest these sugars, carbon dioxide is created. This gas provides the leavening agent to help the bread rise.
The lactic acid produced in the fermentation process is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it helps neutralize phytates. (Phytate or phytic acid is the principal storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially bran and seeds.) It helps to make more minerals and vitamins (such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc) better available. It's also a principal actor in helping to make gluten more digestible which can, in turn, make it a friendlier option for those who have sensitivities to commercial yeast, sugar or other additives. Sourdough bread also allows for a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream, which helps minimize insulin spikes.
If you haven't yet jumped on the sourdough bread bandwagon, you can see why there are many redeeming reasons to consider doing so! The great news? If you aren't someone who finds joy in learning to produce a great sourdough loaf, it's widely available in many restaurants and stores. Your opportunity to experience this delicious, flaky, chewy powerhouse of taste and health benefits is just a short distance away!