Bread has long been a staple food in many cultures around the world. However, in recent years, there has been a growing concern about the health implications of consuming bread, leading to the rise of alternatives like gluten-free or low-carb options. One type of bread, however, that has seemed to be accepted by the “bread haters” is sourdough. It has gained popularity for its unique characteristics and wonderful taste. But what exactly is sourdough bread, and is it a healthy choice? Let’s look at the benefits and nutrition of sourdough bread, compare it to regular bread, and clear up misconceptions about bread’s overall healthiness.
What is Sourdough Bread?
Sourdough bread is one of the oldest forms of making bread. In fact, experts have estimated its origins to be somewhere around 1500 BC in ancient Egypt. It was the primary method of making bread until the invention of baker’s yeast, which was only a couple hundred years ago. Needless to say, people have been consuming sourdough bread for a very long time. (1)
Sourdough bread is made through a natural fermentation process. Unlike regular bread, which typically uses commercial yeast as a leavening agent, sourdough bread relies on a sourdough starter. This starter is a mixture of flour and water that has been fermented by wild yeast and lactobacilli bacteria, creating a symbiotic relationship between the organisms. During the fermentation process, the wild yeast and bacteria consume the carbohydrates in the flour, converting them into carbon dioxide and organic acids. This creates the distinct sour taste and chewy texture commonly associated with sourdough bread. (2)
Nutritional Profile of Sourdough Bread
Unless you are truly allergic to gluten or have Celiac Disease, then this bread certainly can have a space in a healthy diet. Sourdough bread offers a range of essential nutrients that contribute to a healthy diet. While specific nutritional values may vary between recipes and brands, here are some common elements found in sourdough bread (3):
Wait, what? Carbohydrates are a nutrient? Yes, they are! And despite what you may read about them being the “evil” thing making you fat, they are not – and they are essential to our health. Sourdough bread is a significant source of carbohydrates, providing energy for the body. Carbohydrates are also the only source of energy for our brains.
Compared to regular bread, sourdough bread often contains higher levels of fiber. Fiber aids in digestion, helps maintain a healthy weight, and contributes to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Sourdough bread contains proteins, which play a vital role in building and repairing tissues. Though it will not be a primary source of protein in the diet, sourdough can still contribute to your total protein intake.
4. Vitamins and Minerals
Sourdough bread can be a source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron. The exact amount depends on the flour used and the fermentation process.
Sourdough Bread vs. Regular Bread
While sourdough and regular bread are made from similar ingredients, their preparation methods and nutritional profiles differ significantly. Again, this is not to say that well-made, not highly processed, regular bread is bad for you. These are just the ways these two types of bread differ.
Sourdough bread undergoes a more extended fermentation process, allowing beneficial bacteria to predigest the dough. This fermentation also increases the bioavailability of certain nutrients, making them easier for the body to absorb. Naturally, this process takes much longer. This is the reason why baker’s yeast was invented: To help speed up the process. (4)
One of the misconceptions about bread is the belief that gluten is universally bad for everyone. While individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease should avoid gluten-containing bread, many people can tolerate it just fine. The fermentation process in sourdough bread may actually break down gluten to some extent, potentially making it more digestible for those with mild gluten sensitivity. However, those with celiac still need to avoid it. (5)
Sourdough bread is often considered more digestible due to the fermentation process. The breakdown of complex carbohydrates and proteins during fermentation can help ease digestion and make nutrients more accessible.
Read: Why Ezekiel Bread is One of the Healthiest Bread You Can Eat
Debunking Misconceptions about Bread
A lot has been said about bread in the last ten to fifteen years. Carbohydrates have been deemed as “bad” for us, with bread being the king of carbs. Many articles, talk shows, and experts have gone on at length as to why bread is what is causing us to be overweight and more susceptible to disease. This, however, has ultimately been debunked. These are the myths surrounding bread and what is actually true.
1. Myth: Bread is unhealthy and leads to weight gain
Bread, including sourdough, is not inherently unhealthy or responsible for weight gain. The impact of bread on weight depends on overall calorie intake, portion size, and the other ingredients consumed alongside it. As always, homemade or bakery-made bread using high quality ingredients is better for you than processed, industrial bread (aka, most of the bread you will find in the grocery store).
2. Myth: All bread is equal
Different types of bread have varying nutritional value. Sourdough bread, with its fermented nature and potential health benefits, can be a healthier choice compared to some commercially mass-produced bread. These breads may contain additives and preservatives, as well as higher amounts of sugar and salt.
3. Myth: Carbohydrates in bread are bad for you
Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient vital for energy production. We should include a variety of whole, non-processed carbohydrates in our diets, which can include well-made bread. When choosing bread, choose whole grain options and sourdough bread, which provide valuable fiber and nutrients.
A Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe
Now that we have explored the benefits and nutrition of sourdough bread, you might want to try making your own. The first step to making sourdough is acquiring your starter. While you can find pre-made starters, it’s not hard to make your own. Check out this tutorial here:
Now that you’ve got your starter, you are ready to make your first loaf of bread. Here is a simple recipe to get you started:
- 500g bread flour (can be a mix of white and whole wheat)
- 350ml water
- 200g sourdough starter
- 10g salt
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, water, and sourdough starter. Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated and form a shaggy dough.
- Cover the bowl with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for about 12-15 hours. This long fermentation time allows the sourdough flavors to develop.
- After the fermentation period, sprinkle the salt over the dough and knead it gently until the salt is fully integrated.
- Shape the dough into a round loaf, and place it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Cover the loaf with a cloth and let it rise for another 2-3 hours until it has visibly expanded.
- Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C) and place a cast-iron pan on the bottom rack.
- Before baking, score the loaf with a sharp knife to allow for proper expansion during baking.
- Place the baking tray in the oven, and carefully pour a cup of water into the heated cast-iron pan to create steam. Steam helps develop a crispy crust.
- Bake the loaf for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Once baked, let it cool completely before slicing.
Don’t Be Afraid to Eat Bread Sometimes
Sourdough bread is not only delicious but can also be a healthy choice for those who can tolerate gluten and enjoy a balanced diet. With its unique fermentation process and potential benefits for digestion and nutrient absorption, sourdough bread stands out from regular bread options. By understanding the nutritional value, debunking misconceptions, and trying out a homemade sourdough bread recipe, you can incorporate this wholesome bread into your diet with confidence. Enjoy the rewarding experience of baking your own sourdough bread and savor the taste of tradition and healthiness in every bite.
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- “Thirty years of knowledge on sourdough fermentation: A systematic review.” Science Direct. Kashika Arora, et al. February 2021.
- “Sourdough Fermented Breads are More Digestible than Those Started with Baker’s Yeast Alone: An In Vivo Challenge Dissecting Distinct Gastrointestinal Responses.” NCBI. Carlo Giuseppe Rizzello, et al. December 4, 2019.
- “Bread, french or vienna, toasted (includes sourdough).” USDA
- “How the sourdough may affect the functional features of leavened baked goods.” Pubmed. Marco Gobbetti, t al. February 2014.
- “Sourdough improves the quality of whole-wheat flour products: Mechanisms and challenges-A review.” Pubmed. Sen Ma, et al. October 2021.