Why I love sourdough and you should too
I never grew up eating sourdough bread.
Chances are, you didn’t either. Especially if you grew up in a first-world Western country and you didn’t have a parent that’s a baker.
In fact, I didn’t even understand what sourdough was until Rob researched it.
When I was younger I enjoyed sourdough bought from the grocery store. The density and tangy flavor appealed to me. Though until recently, I didn’t know anything about the composition or how it’s made.
Since discovering sourdough bread and caring for our own sourdough starter, Rob and I have both become obsessed with sourdough. At first, Rob was the only one obsessed with sourdough. It annoyed me because he wanted to change all my recipes that I was content with! At that point he was the one caring for and using the starter.
Once I started to experiment baking with natural yeast in the sourdough starter, the infatuation took hold of me too. I was no longer annoyed at attempts to alter recipes. In fact, I welcome the challenge to switch everything and everything into a sourdough product.
We now make everything sourdough. Sourdough bread? Of course. Sourdough pancakes? Yep. Pizza crust? Check. Tortillas, gnocchi, muffins, porridge, cornbread, caramel rolls, strudels, empanadas. All yes. You name it — if we haven’t tried to make it yet, we’ll dare to experiment.
Why are we head over heels for sourdough?
- It’s fun.
- Better flavor.
1. Making sourdough bread is fun
It’s become a hobby of ours. It compliments our other hobbies of cooking, baking, gardening and maintaining other cultures such as a kombucha SCOBY and kefir grains.
We enjoy spending time in the kitchen and nurturing all our cultures as if they’re real babies. We love learning more about our culture and the different ways that we can utilize it besides simply making bread.
Baking bread doesn’t always turn into a hobby because commercial yeast can lie dormant for long periods of time. You can open a packet of yeast in your cabinet or run to the store whenever you desire homemade buns or bread.
Sourdough as a hobby is an interest that fuels itself because cultures need to be tended. If you wish to maintain this new hobby you need to keep at it. Cultures must be fed at least once per week. If not, they’ll become alcoholic and die from starvation.
2. Sourdough is more flavorful
The next reason I prefer sourdough bread is for of the flavor.
The tang of sourdough bread creates interest in the grain products you bake and adds flavor dynamic. Comparatively, breads made with processed yeast taste bland and flavorless.
3. Sourdough is cheaper
Thirdly, making your own bread is easier and cheaper with sourdough.
It’s cheaper because there’s no need to buy yeast, sugar or anything else non-sourdough breads require in order to bake.
Our sourdough only needs water and flour. Really. That’s it.
You’ll never waste money on expired yeast again if you begin baking sourdough bread.
Sourdough is easier because you don’t have to mess around with proper water temperatures and proofing the yeast to ensure it’s active. Sourdough only requires a starter, flour and water.
- Make starter
- Feed starter
- Wait for starter to become active
- Make dough
- Wait for it to rise, then bake
Sometimes we knead our dough, but it’s not necessary. Easy peasy.
4. Sourdough is healthier
Lastly, sourdough bread is healthier than non-sourdough breads.
Making sourdough utilizes soaking and fermentation. One benefit of soaking and fermenting foods is a decrease in phytic acid. Phytates/phytic acid binds to essential nutrients such as zinc, calcium and iron. Breaking the bond between the phytates and nutrients makes the nutrients more bioavailable. Thus increasing the amount of nutrition you can obtain.
The fermentation process of sourdough predigests the starch in the flour. This results in easier digestion of the grain product. Many people note that, unlike commercial breads, sourdough doesn’t cause bloating or indigestion.
Sourdough can be a superior choice for diabetics as it’s shown to cause a lower rise in blood sugar and insulin response compared to other breads.
Because sourdough bread relies on yeast naturally incorporated into flour products, most sourdough products are made from whole grains. Whole grains are exponentially healthier than refined grains. They contain more nutrition and fiber, which help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and digestive issues.
Without even striving to, sourdough can encourage you to eat more wholesome food. You can stop purchasing baked goods from the grocery store that rely on yeast and make your own instead. You’ll not only receive the benefits listed above, you’ll also stop consuming added salt, sugar and other preservatives that commercial breads contain.
With all of these reasons to love sourdough bread, how could you not?
How do I begin?
Beginning is straightforward.
Mix wholegrain flour (wheat is the simplest) with water. Make sure you have plenty of water at this stage. You’re encouraging the dormant bacteria and yeast to become active. Bacteria and yeast thrive in wet environments, so don’t skimp on the water.
That isn’t to say to make a watery wheat soup. You’re looking for a gooey mixture of medium consistency. Not thin, but not thick — at least not now. Once you’ve established your starter, you can modify the ratio of water to flour according to your needs/desires.
Here’s a ratio to begin your adorable baby sourdough starter:
- 75g (2/3 cup) of whole meal flour
- 200mL (3/4 cup + 2 tbsp) of water
Mix these two ingredients together and allow them to sit at room temperature in a dark place. Until it starts to bubble.
The time it takes can vary for a variety of reasons. Lower quality flour, water contaminants and cooler temperatures can result in a slower start time. Bubbles can appear in as little as one day. Or it can take longer than a week.
To speed up the process you can use probiotic water to begin your starter, i.e. kefir water or brewed kombucha. Another option is to use filtered water or water that has sat out uncovered for a few days. Both of these types of water should have fewer chemicals that slow down or inhibit yeast and bacteria growth.
Baking and maintaining sourdough is an inexpensive hobby to begin.
All you require is your starter, ingredients, a method to cook the product and a surface upon which to bake the bread.
In fact, you don’t even need an oven! But I’ll come back to this point.
It’s obvious you need flour
We used generic wholegrain wheat flour from the supermarket in the past.
Now we use Pillsbury’s Gold Atta Sharbati whole wheat flour.
Of course you don’t need to buy special wholegrain flour to begin with, but the quality of our products has noticeably improved since switching to the higher quality flour.
We obtained our Gold Atta flour from a local Indian shop near our house in East Brisbane. The higher quality is more expensive than the generic supermarket’s if bought in 1-kilogram bags but cheaper when bought in 5+ kilogram bags.
Even if you don’t want to prepare sourdough bread, I highly recommend switching to higher quality flour similar to ours. It’ll improve the texture and flavor of your baked goods.
If you buy in bulk, it’ll save you money in the long term and could increase the nutrition of your food.
Water is another evident requirement.
Rob and I keep two 1.5-liter bottles of water around that are left unsealed, covered with stockings and secured with rubber bands. This allows many chemicals that tap water is treated with to evaporate from the water. The result is less contaminated water.
We do this to encourage the yeast and bacteria living in our culture to thrive. Common chemicals in treated water like fluoride and chlorine can inhibit bacteria and yeast growth. Allow your culture to flourish by reducing or eliminating these chemicals.
Another option is to buy spring water, but that’s more expensive. I find that our method suffices without increasing the cost of the bread.
Whether you’re storing your starter, feeding your starter or proofing your bread, it’s best to not work with metal containers. Plastic is better than metal, but not ideal.
I refrain from using both metal and plastic as much as possible when dealing with fermenting foods. Fermenting foods are acidic. The acid in the starter can break down plastic and metal. The material that has been eroded away from the container ends up in your food. It won’t kill you to eat something that’s been fermented in metal or plastic, but it certainly isn’t advisable.
Rather, choose glass, ceramic or stone. I use mason jars to feed our starter, and ceramic bowls to house the starter.
What to cook on?
The best material to cook bread on/in is stone.
Most sourdough bakers use a baking stone and not a loaf pan. But you can bake in whatever you wish. A baking stone is often the sourdough bakers’ preferred method because it can be heated along with the oven. The hot surface provides a drastic difference between the dough and everything else. This discourages the bread from sticking to the pan and encourages rapid yeast growth, causing a greater rise of the bread while baking in the oven.
(See also my video: How To Caramelize Onions Without Oil.)
I’ve heard that instead of buying a stone specifically made for the kitchen, you can simply buy a large stone at a home improvement store. It’s supposed to be cheaper than name brand baking equipment. I plan on testing this soon.
One exception to the no-metal suggestion is baking. Baking on metal is acceptable if you don’t have something else. We bake on metal because we don’t own a baking stone… at least not yet. Rob and I cook our bread on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil. There are a couple of benefits to this method:
- Painless cleaning. Simply separate bread from foil. Recycle the foil and devour the bread.
- You can still create a large difference in temperature between the bread and surrounding area with aluminum foil. Preheat the pan you intend to set the aluminum foil on. Quickly transfer the aluminum foil with the bread on top the baking tray inside.
An oven is the traditional method to make bread and other baked goods. It’s also the easiest. But it’s not the only means to cook sourdough.
If you don’t have access to an oven, you can use the stove top instead.
You’d have a difficult time baking a loaf of bread on the stove (though we have made bread in the pressure cooker before), but other sourdough products can be made without an oven. Rob and I like to make sourdough pizza on the stove top. Other ideas include sourdough tortillas, pancakes and porridge.
But I’m not an expert
I’ve been making sourdough bread for less than 9 months.
You don’t need to be an expert in baking or chemistry in order to start making sourdough bread. All you require is a desire to start.
You do need to know some information on how sourdough functions in order to make it. But the required knowledge isn’t extensive.
Making sourdough is a combination of art and technique. That’s one of the aspects of sourdough that makes it interesting and intriguing… and frustrating sometimes.
Variations of different kinds can change the result of your bread. While every loaf you bake will still be bread, each one will be slightly different in its own way. Fermented foods are always unique.
Using sourdough requires cooperating with the environment in order to create your desired product. Adjustments in altitude, humidity, temperature and location will yield different results. These natural variations in your environment can pose challenges. On the other hand, they also serve to teach you more about your sourdough culture and how it interacts with outside influences.
The best ways to learn about sourdough are:
- Bake, bake and bake some more! The more you bake, the more you learn. You may not know the names of different acids, bacteria and yeasts in your culture, but you’ll come to have a greater understanding of them the more you experiment.
- Read. Read about your sourdough culture. Read about the chemistry, others’ experiences and techniques. There’s a ton of information in books, articles and videos readily available for you to read and view. A good start is The Art of Fermentation.
For more sourdough recipes, check out my latest cookbook, Cooking CROWs. It’s a book about cooking and baking healthfully with corn, rice, oats and wheat. Many of the recipes are sourdough.
Do you have questions or tips for me about sourdough? Let me know! I love to learn and teach.
1. Because grains are plant foods, they contain antioxidants. Antioxidants decrease when exposed to oxygen, even more so when exposed for longer periods of time. As our flour is bagged in plastic, not paper, the flour is airtight whilst bagged and won’t oxidize as much during shipping or sitting on the shelf, thus increasing nutrition.↩