Time To Try: Sourdough


It seems everyone is busy with DIY projects of some kind and we have been experimenting with lots of yummy and healthy bacteria in the kitchen, so good for the gut and soul. Time to Try is our series about creating something wonderfully delicious with healthy bacteria. In this blog we explain the process of a Sourdough Starter and Sourdough Bread, plus throw in a bit of science as well.

Okay, so finding flour might be an issue right now, but if you do have any hanging around then you won’t regret making a bubbling, warm, glutenous Sourdough Starter and then some delicious Sourdough Bread. Why should you attempt all this and create a mess in the kitchen? Well, Sourdough is one of the easiest breads to digest and can keep your blood sugar levels in check.

What is Sourdough Bread and Why is it so Good for Us?

Sourdough is a crusty, tangy bread, with a sour flavour. It has been made for thousands of years, feeding Kings, Queens and common folk. The brilliance of Sourdough is that you don’t need ‘baker’s yeast’ to help the dough rise, it’s all in the Starter. Once the Starter culture is ready, it can be added to the dough base, known as ‘backslopping’. Then during the bread-making process the natural healthy bacteria in the Starter ferments the sugars in the dough, producing carbon dioxide helping the bread to rise and giving it a characteristic taste.

The nutrient content of Sourdough depends on the type of flour used to make it and whether it is whole grain or refined. It has a similar nutrient content to other shop bought breads, but with-out the preservatives. If you make your bread with organic whole grains, this will increase the fibre, mineral content, including phosphate, magnesium, zinc and potassium.

Making Sourdough bread takes a little longer than regular bread and the process can lower the bread’s content of non-digestible complex sugar molecules, resulting in the bread possibly being better tolerated by patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Several studies have looked at the impact of Sourdough bread in gastrointestinal function and disorders. However, the number of participants in these studies are low (less than 50) which doesn’t give enough strength to the results.

What is a Sourdough Starter?

A Sourdough Starter, or a ‘Mother’ acts as the pre-fermentation stage for the dough and allows the dough to rise, creating the bread. The Starter is a mixture of flour and water and it’s the natural, wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria in the flour that become activated. This fermentation stage produces a bubbling smelly wonder, what’s not to love about these healthy bacteria?

How to make a Sourdough Starter

You will need equal amounts of strong baking flour and tepid water, plus a little sugar. We started with:

· 250g/9oz strong wholemeal or strong white flour

· 250ml tepid water

· 1 tbs organic honey

Mix the ingredients well and add it into a Kilner clip-lid jar, then leave on a warm windowsill. It is very tempting to watch your Mother growing and while to start with its a little dull, but give it a full 24hrs (or couple of days) and your Starter will start to bubble away and increase in size. Fermentation in action!

After around three days, your starter is ready to use in your Sourdough Bread recipe (see below). You can keep your Starter alive and feed with equal amounts of flour and water (100g/100ml) and even pop it in the fridge (to slow the fermentation). Simply re-start it by returning to a warm place when you are ready to make bread again.

The Science of Sourdough

The amazing thing about bacteria is that they are all around us, waiting for the right environmental conditions to grow. We have been harnessing these wonder bugs for millenia. All shop bought flour contains wheat and gluten is a protein molecule that is found within the wheat. The fermentation process for sourdough bread partially breaks down the gluten in the flour, which is the origin of the claim that sourdough bread is safe for people who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Flour becomes activated when mixed with water, a bacterial enzyme called amylase converts the wheat starch (complex sugar) into glucose and maltose (simple sugars). The wild lactic acid bacteria convert these simple sugars into energy and lactate, then the yeast metabolise the lactate. As many of the sugars are converted, the complex carbohydrate remaining in the bread will enable a slow release of sugar into your blood stream, this is good for people with diabetes.

In Sourdough starters, several species within the Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Weissella, Pediococcus and Streptococcus genera have been identified. Lactobacillus species are the most prevalent, and Lactobacillus sanfransiscensis is a key bacterium isolated from most starters. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the most abundant yeast species, followed by Candida milleri, Candida humilis, Saccharomyces exiguous and Issatchenkia orientalis.

Once the bread is cooked there is no evidence to suggest these wonderful bacteria survive the heat, or your stomach acid for that matter. So, as you nibble your bread, have a thought for these helpful microorganisms.

Sourdough Recipe

Fresh sourdough bread can be made at home from three simple ingredients — water, flour and salt.

Here is a quick summary of the steps:

1. Mix half of your Starter with 375g strong white flour, 7g salt and 130 – 180 ml tepid water. Allow this mixture to rest for a few hours.

2. Fold the dough until smooth and stretchy a few times before letting it rest again for around 5 hours or over-night.

3. On the final rest, let the dough rise at room temperature until it grows to about 1.5 times its original volume.

4. Shape your dough and bake it in a Dutch oven at 200oC (a bowl of water on the lowest shelf of the oven).

5. If you like a crusty top, allow the bread to cool on a rack for 2–3 hours before slicing it, or cover with a floured T-towel for a soft top.

How to serve your Sourdough Bread

We toasted our Sourdough bread and mushed in half an avocado and topped with Mackerel. Served with a beetroot relish, spring onion and savoury granola (@ellypear). This delicious recipe can be eaten for lunch or dinner and contains a balanced dose of fibre, protein, carbohydrates, healthy omega fats, vitamins and minerals.

Sourdough served with mackeral and beetroot
Sourdough served with mackeral and beetroot