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What's so cool about sourdough? Part 1

The backstory

My husband discovered he had a gluten sensitivity soon after we got married, which was a huge bummer, as my newlywed stage was defined by lots of baking. He avoided bread for the next eight years, minus the occasional gluten-free loaf and occasional cheat which, we would always discover, were not worth the side effects.

Then, a couple years ago, my sister-in-law sent us an article about why sourdough bread can be safe for non-celiac gluten-free folks. I knew nothing about sourdough and only skimmed the article (it was a bit too science-y for me), but figured we’d give it a try.

Two years in, my husband eats sourdough bread whenever we have it in the house (which is almost all the time), and he has pretty much zero negative effects.


What makes something sourdough?

Sourdough is simply the natural fermentation of flour and water. It is believed to have been discovered by accident by the ancient Egyptians, after their unleavened bread sat out and mixed with wild yeast in the air. Yeast and bacteria naturally occur in flour, and when flour and water mix, 1) yeast produces carbon dioxide gas, which creates air bubbles in the dough and allows it to rise, and 2) lactic acid bacteria produce lactic acid, giving sourdough its distinctive flavor.

With the rise in popularity of sourdough, you’ll see grocery stores carrying mass-produced bread labeled “sourdough”: Beware! These are likely not the real thing. Let’s look at this ingredient list from a major brand’s “sourdough” loaf:

Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Yeast, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Rye Flour, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Potato Flour, Lactic Acid, Calcium Propionate And Sorbic Acid To Extend Freshness, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Monoglycerides, Malted Barley Flour, Citric Acid, Whey, Soy Lecithin.

Now, aside from all the fake stuff in this loaf, what should we be concerned about? Number 1, there’s yeast in the dough, which automatically means it’s not a true sourdough; sourdough starter (flour and water which have been allowed to ferment) should be the leavening agent, not commercial yeast. Number 2, pay attention to ingredients like citric acid—this has been added to mimic the natural sour flavor of a true sourdough loaf! (Side note: Enriched wheat flour sounds good, but “enriched” means the flour is sprayed with vitamins and other nutrients to replace the nutritional value lost when the bran and germ were removed.)

I'm not opposed to commercial yeast in all cases, but just remember--the health benefits of a sourdough bread will not be there with the addition of commercial yeast. So... stay tuned for why sourdough bread is so much better for you! I promise it won't be too science-y.

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