As a nation, we seem to have been getting our bake on during lockdown and – along with banana bread – baking sourdough is regularly top of the list. In fact, making a sourdough starter is pretty much a compulsory isolation activity.
But aside from being a slow, mindful practice, what health benefits does sourdough bread offer, and why is it touted as ‘the healthiest bread’? Here's everything you need to know.
What is sourdough bread?
Rather than using commercial yeast, like regular bread, sourdough is naturally leavened. This means it relies on the naturally occurring ‘wild yeast’ created during the process of fermenting flour and water – the sourdough starter. This starter then combines with just two other ingredients – flour and salt – to form the sourdough bread.
"Sourdough uses bacteria and yeast to develop the gluten and provide the rise," explains consultant dietitian Sophie Medlin. "It has a slightly sour taste, due to the lactic acid produced by the bacteria. This also helps it to stay fresher for longer."
Sourdough nutrition content
The exact nutrition profile of sourdough bread depends on the type of flour used to make it.
However, on average, one medium slice of sourdough bread (56 g) contains:
- Calories: 162 calories
- Carbs: 32 grams
- Fibre: 2-4 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 2 grams
- Selenium: 22 per cent of the RDI
- Folate: 20 per cent of the RDI
- Thiamin: 16 per cent of the RDI
- Sodium: 16 per cent of the RDI
- Manganese: 14 per cent of the RDI
- Niacin: 14 per cent of the RDI
- Iron: 12 per cent of the RDI
Sourdough health benefits
With so few ingredients, sourdough is pretty much as natural as bread can get. But what are the health benefits?
It’s easier to digest than regular bread
Good news for those who struggle with digestive issues or IBS.
"Some of the gluten is fermented in the process of making sourdough, which means it can be easier to digest for people with IBS and other digestive issues, where gluten is normally fermented in the colon leading to bloating and sometimes diarrhoea," says Medlin. "As always, everyone is very different, so if you normally avoid bread due to digestive problems, please introduce a small amount at a time and monitor your symptoms."
It’s highly nutritious
If it contains only three ingredients – flour, sourdough starter and salt – how can sourdough bread possibly be more nutritious than the regular stuff?
It all comes down to that clever fermenting process again.
Sourdough – as with all wholegrain breads – contains minerals including potassium, magnesium and zinc, all essential to our health. The difference is that regular wholegrain bread also contains a high level of phytate. Phytates bind to the minerals in our foods, reducing our ability to absorb them properly.
However, the long fermentation process required to make a sourdough starter breaks most of these phytates down, meaning the minerals in the bread are more easily absorbed by our bodies.
It contains less glucose
Many breads are high in glucose, which can cause your blood-sugar levels to rise sharply after eating them. Sourdough, however, contains far less glucose, as much of it is used up in the process to create wild yeast.
Is sourdough good for gut health?
"Lactobacilli, the bacteria found in sourdough, is a probiotic, which means it has health benefits when it’s ingested in the right form and dose," reveals Medlin.
This is the same bacteria that’s found in other fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir, and it helps to promote the good, friendly bacteria found within our digestive systems.
"While it’s unlikely that these bacteria get down to our colon, where we mainly focus our probiotic efforts, and as each batch of sourdough will be different, it’s unlikely you could prove any health benefits, but our mouth and throat all have microbiomes that will benefit from the addition of a few more friendly bacteria," says Medlin.
How to make sourdough bread at home
Before you begin making your bread, you’ll first have to make your sourdough starter.
Then follow this delicious recipe from Medlin, for a tasty seeded sourdough bread:
Seeded Sourdough Bread
With chia, poppy and toasted sesame seeds, this bread smells delicious and is full of flavour. The crust is crackly, while the crumb is soft and chewy.
Prep Time: 50 minutes (does not include time needed for fermenting and proofing)
Cook Time: 40 minutes
- 500g bread flour
- 375g water for autolyse
- 80g sourdough starter
- 100g water for soaking seeds, do not drain when adding to dough
- 30g poppy seeds
- 30g chia seeds
- 25g toasted sesame seeds
- 9g salt
- 10g each of additional poppy, chia, and sesame seeds to decorate the top of the bread
- Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet on medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.
- Combine all three kinds of seeds in a small bowl and add the 100g of water, allowing the seeds to soak up the water (especially the chia seeds) during the dough’s autolyse stage.
- Mix the flour, water and sourdough starter, and cover the dough to autolyse for about 1 hour.
- Knead and pinch the salt and leaven into the dough. Mark the time, cover and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.
- Begin a series of 4-6 stretch and folds 20-30 minutes apart, covering between each stretch and fold, and adding in the watery seed mixture at the second stretch and fold.
- Let ferment until the dough is puffy and bubbly. From the marked time the leaven was added, this bulk ferment can be as little as 3-4 hours if your room temperature is over 26C, or as long as 10-11 hours if your room temperature is under 21C. My dough fermented in 5.5 hours at 25C.
- Scrape your fermented dough out onto a floured countertop. Press out the gases while you creating a rectangular shape with the dough, then fold the dough in thirds on the long side, and then in half to make a tall square shape.
- Cover with plastic and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Prep your counter with extra chia, sesame, and poppy seeds in a circle if you’re making a boule and an oval if you’re making a batard. Also, prep your banneton with flour as well.
- If you’re using a tea towel to line a bowl or basket, you have the option of laying it flat on your counter, flouring it and then coating it in seeds. Shape your dough into a boule or batard by knitting the sides together, and then rolling and pressing the top into the middle several times until the dough is completely flipped over. OR Flip your dough over, and tuck in the sides while rotating it in a circle.
- Let the dough rest a few minutes to close the seams on the underside, then dampen the top of the loaf with a wet hand or by spraying it. Use your dough scraper to lift your boule/batard off the counter and flip it onto the layer of prepped seeds, rolling it a bit to capture as many as possible.
- Transfer the dough to your floured basket. Cover and proof until it has expanded and does not rebound as readily when poked. This could be as little as 45 minutes at room temperatures and as long as 10 hours in the refrigerator. My dough proofed for 2.75 hours in the refrigerator.
- 30 minutes before your proofing stage is over, preheat your oven to 500F (or the recommended temp for your baking vessel) with the baking vessel inside.
- Bake at 260C for 30 minutes, lid on, then bake at 230C for 10 minutes, lid off (or until the internal temperature of the bread is about 95C).
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