Benefits of Sourdough Bread
What’s the big deal about sourdough bread? Why is it so coveted among artisan bakers? I hope this post will help clear some myths and give everyone a better idea of the benefits of sourdough bread over commercial breads.
What’s a Bread?
Well, bread is simply flour that has been kneaded to form gluten and then put over heat to cook it. Under breads, we have leaven and unleavened bread. Most common form of unleaven bread would be like pitas or tortilla wraps. Most breads are baked, but in asia, we also have steamed breads which we call “bao”.
Most of the breads we eat are leavened with yeast.
What is leavening?
Leavening isn’t just about rising the dough. If it were, then we can simply add rising agents like baking powder. The process of leavening is actually fermentation with the added difference that the carbon dioxide produced is also used to make the bread fluffy.(in most fermented foods, carbon dioxide is just a waste product) Leavening helps the bread to build flavour by having the yeast convert the starch into simple sugars and a bit of alcohol.
Sourdough, aka wild yeast, is a living symbiotic relationship of yeast and good bacteria. The yeast is caught from the air and so is the bacteria. Different regions have different stains of yeast and bacteria and thus it explains why sourdough breads taste differently in other parts of the world. The most famous one is the San Francisco sourdough bread which has a very distinctive tanginess. That particular stain of yeast and bacteria can only be found in San Francisco. The yeast I use, therefore, can only be found in Singapore.
What are the benefits of sourdough?
Sourdough breads are made without any preservatives and additives. They are made the way bread was made thousands of years ago. The use of wild yeast in baking has been dated back all the way to ancient Egypt.
Here are the benefits and reasons for sourdough:
- they have a much greater complexity in flavour and texture
- the acid in the sourdough acts as a natural mould-resistent, so no artificial preservatives are used
- the long fermentation process pre-digests a lot of the bread so it is easily digestible
- much of the gluten is broken down by the yeast so it’s actually good for those who have gluten allergies
- the good bacteria in the bread helps aid our digestion as they form part of the pro-biotics(pre-biotics are just the wheat in the flour)
- long fermentation allows for more nutrients to be released due to the yeast breaking down the flour
- sourdough breads are extremely unique and almost a work of art
- wild yeast is easily affected by chemicals, so having a sourdough bread properly risen means your bread is healthy for consumption
- the yeast remains active and continues to ferment the bread after baking, so sourdough breads actually taste better the follow day!
Why commercial breads aren’t beneficial?
Comparatively, commercial breads use a lot of commercial yeast. Think of commercial yeast as yeast on steroids. They eat quickly and fart a lot. Thus, they usually only require 1/4 of the time required to properly rise bread. In baking, we call this quick-rise. The bread comes out very weak with a crumb texture that has many fine holes. It will also have to be enriched with a whole bunch of stuff to make up for the loss in flavour. So it’s very common to see “enriched” breads, and companies make you pay more for it. Also, the breads don’t have any protection against mould so artificial preservatives are used. Usually, home baked breads using commercial yeast will begin to mould in two days. If your loaf of bread stays mould-free for 5 days; it should make you question what’s going into your body. Commercial bread companies cannot afford the time that it takes for sourdough to rise. Time is money and it is more cost effective for them to make more breads than to wait for doughs to leaven.
So that also explains why artisan breads cost more than commercial breads. The ingredients used, the time taken…it all adds up.
Myths about sourdough
- “If it ain’t sour, it’s not sourdough!” – this isn’t true. The degree of sourness is actually determined by the baker on how long the dough is left to leaven. Also, there have been companies who make “sourdough” by simply adding vinegar to the dough.
- “It’s fancy pantsy” – Not really. Sourdough has been the way bread had alway been made. It’s the new breads that are fancy pantsy.
- “All breads are the same” – Nope. There’s good bread and then there’s crap.
Just give sourdough breads a try. In Singapore, there are about 12 artisan bakeries. Maybe one day I’ll start a bakery myself and join their ranks! ;D