September 15, 2014

why sourdough?

Our journey into discovering sourdough has been an interesting one, and our decision to form a business around it involves more than just baking and selling a delicious, crusty loaf of bread. For us, it's all about health. 

I'll let Nate continue in his own words...

My entre’ into bread baking started with a bread machine and a desire to make good bread for my family. A little over 6 years ago, Kristen, and I were just getting started with our adventures in sustainable farming. We wanted to live more self-sufficiently and bread became one of those things I thought we should make ourselves. I've had more than my fair share of failures along the way, but I always tried again, no matter how discouraged I felt.

I learned from a farmer friend that sourdough was the healthiest bread we could eat and was excited to find that our local grocery store baked it fresh daily. I didn't understand then that it wasn't real sourdough. Did you know that there are no actual cultures in most store-bought sourdough bread, and that they add ingredients like Fumaric Acid and Tartaric Acid to give the bread that “sour” flavor?
A few months later, another farmer friend gave me a sample of his sourdough starter. I had heard that the whole process of making sourdough was slow and tedious and that it can take days to properly ferment the dough. I wasn’t sure how I would fit that into our already busy farming days, but I took it on as a challenge and dove right in.

In the beginning, I made all the usual mistakes. I even killed my starter a couple of times (at least I thought I did) and eventually I learned how to start a new culture by myself. By re-starting my starter, I began to have a greater respect for the microbes that grew in my flour and water mixture. After a while, that starter became like another farm animal that I would instinctively feed and take care of. That’s the thing about baking with a sourdough culture; it really is like having another pet. 

The only ingredients I was using were flour, water, salt and maybe some seeds. It was amazing to me that such simple ingredients could make a loaf of bread with such flavor. Why was it necessary for the grocery store bakery to put all those ingredients into their so-called “sourdough?” It became clear to me that like any industrialized food product, mass-production comes at the expense of nutrition and integrity.   

When I started fermenting the dough for longer periods of time, I started to notice that an annoying scalp/skin condition wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been my entire life. I always understood that condition to be your everyday, embarrassing case of dandruff and something that was just my lot in life. I had never really put it together that perhaps it was something I was eating that caused it.

I began researching the science of sourdough and how it might be possible that a certain type of bread could be the remedy for my lifelong skin issues. What I learned about those microbes really excited me. Just like the kind of farming we were interested in, sourdough was this beautiful symbiotic mix of life. It was all so miraculous! All I had to do was (in the spirit of Joel Salatin) be the choreographer for these microbes and allow them to express their bacteria-ness or yeast-ness.

Indeed, those sourdough cultures were making all the difference in the dough. Given enough time and the right conditions to do their work, those microbes transform the dough from something somewhat indigestible, high glycemic and even allergenic, to something nutritious, easily assimilated and even healing. Suddenly, taking all that time to make a loaf of sourdough was worth every minute, hour and day it took. From then on, I could never bake another loaf of conventional baker’s yeast bread again. 

I bake sourdough bread because it’s really the only bread I can eat without having a negative reaction. I have learned that instead of having a 'wheat sensitivity', I am sensitive to improperly prepared  wheat. The difference between commercial bread and properly fermented sourdough is like night and day for me, and for many others.

Here are five health benefits of sourdough you may not know:

1.    Sourdough cultures literally “pre-digest” the constituents of gluten proteins found in wheat and convert them into amino acids available for our body’s immediate use. The result is bread that can even be tolerated by some (not all) people with a gluten intolerance. An Italian study from 2010 entitled, “Safety for Patients With Celiac Disease of Baked Goods Made of Wheat Flour Hydrolyzed During Food Processing” found that subjects with celiac disease could eat sourdough products without any of the usual digestive problems associated with celiac sprue. While this was not a large study, it does show a lot of promise for the reintroduction of wheat into the diets of some people who felt they had no choice but to be “gluten-free.”

2.    Because of the lactic and acetic acid production by the bacteria and wild yeast and their corresponding enzymes, sourdough bread has a much longer shelf life than conventional bread that does not use preservatives. These organic acids act as natural mold inhibitors.

3.    Sourdough bread has B vitamins produced by the wild yeast and lactobacillus. Even B12, normally associated with meat and dairy products, is produced by the wild yeast.

4.    Unlike conventional bread and gluten-free bread, properly fermented sourdough is considered a low-glycemic food. The enzymes created by the activity of wild yeast and lactobacillus consume excess glucose in the flour as well as convert starches into complex sugars and then to simple sugars for these microbes to feed on. This is important for diabetics and for the majority of the world’s population who suffer from “candida overgrowth” and other secondary candida issues such as dandruff, athlete’s foot, yeast infections, thrush, poor digestion and even cancer. All of these issues can be linked to candida overgrowth in the gut and throughout the body.

5.    Phytic acid present in grains and legumes is greatly reduced by fermenting dough with sourdough cultures. Phytates are responsible for binding minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous which can lead to deficiencies of these minerals. Phytic acid can also chelate niacin which can lead to a condition called pellagra. In sourdough, the phytates can be reduced by nearly two-thirds, nearly twice as much as conventionally yeasted breads.

Baking sourdough bread has become a passion for me, as well as being my own personal path to health. I'm really excited to start a business that enables me to share all I know about it, as well as sharing some delicious bread.

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