Gluten-intolerant? Keep on baking, because Sourdough bread is basically a health food

Dietitian Susie Burrell explains why Sourdough bread may a glorious solution for those who are gluten-intolerant but still love bread (because, who doesn’t?). Plus, she shares some expert tips from pro-bakers on how to master the art of baking a perfect Sourdough loaf at home. 

It is not by chance that supermarkets literally have zero flour available at the moment, our obsession with homemade banana bread, pasta and Sourdough means that we are working our way through plenty of the white stuff. And this is not a bad thing. In fact, food that we make at home tends to be lower in calories, less processed and offer more nutritionally than store bought alternatives.

Specifically when it comes to homemade bread , getting comfortable making your own Sourdough loaf is a great addition to your weekly baking schedule. Not only is it a cost effective way of making your own loaf each week but when we take a closer look at the nutritional qualities of Sourdough, you may never return to your old school supermarket loaf of bread again.

So if you have been toying with the idea of getting back to basics when it comes to your weekly loaf, here is everything you need to know about Sourdough, and why it is such a good option nutritionally.

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Sourdough is better for you than regular loaf bread

Unlike regular loaf style bread that we pick up at supermarkets which is made using Baker’s yeast, flour and water, Sourdough is made using an age old process which sees the wild yeast and lactic acid that are naturally present in the flour act as a starter culture. This culture ferments the naturally occurring sugars found in dough which causes the dough to rise whilst also giving Sourdough its distinct, sour flavour.

This is a relatively time consuming process, with a Sourdough starter taking anywhere between four to 24 hours to work its magic. This is why Sourdough loaves can be relatively expensive to buy commercially, they basically take much more time to make.

The key thing to remember when attempting to make your own Sourdough is that much of the benefit will come from the quality of your starting culture, and while you can buy cultures you can also make your own unique starter, but you will need to allocate enough time to get the process right to be able to make an entire Sourdough loaf.

Expert bread-bakers reveal the process of fermentation

Michael Klausen from Brasserie Bread has been making Sourdough in Australia for more than 25 years and now offers classes to teach people how to make their own starters and Sourdough from scratch, agrees the key to good Sourdough is in the starter.

“Making Sourdough and particularly the starter is like looking after a baby. It takes time, care and patience to get the starter right, and this is the crucial step in perfecting a Sourdough. Then once you have your starter, it is all about the process, and again this takes time” he said. “The average loaf we make at Brasserie takes up to 24 hours with a long fermentation phase, especially slow mixing process and cold water.”

While supermarkets may sell ‘Sourdough’ loaves, a closer look at ingredient list may reveal that they are simply adding a Sourdough powder to the mix, as opposed to following the traditional fermentation process. Andrew Connole from Sonoma Bakery in Sydney who leant to make Sourdough back in 1998 from the very best in Northern California recommends always checking the ingredients of the Sourdoughs sold in supermarkets.

“If you check a bread and it contains a slew of ingredients such as commercial yeast, ascorbic acid yoghurt and vinegar, this is a sign the Sourdough is not authentic like the breads you find in authentic Sourdough bakeries, where the bread is made using just three basic ingredients, flour, water and salt,” he said.

Why is Sourdough nutritionally superior?

The fermentation process makes it gut-friendly

One of the key nutritional aspects of Sourdough that differentiates it from regular bread is that the fermentation process naturally helps to reduce the phytate content of the bread.

As phytates are known as ‘anti nutrients’, blocking the absorption of key nutrients including zinc, magnesium and phosphate, choosing Sourdough means that you will naturally be able to absorbed these nutrients more readily. As wholegrain flour is more nutrient-rich than refined white flour, choosing a rye or wholegrain flour to make your Sourdough will in turn help to increase the natural nutrients in your Sourdough loaf.

For those who try to avoid gluten but do not have coeliac disease, there is a scientific reason to explain why your tummy may feel ok after eating Sourdough. Not only does Sourdough contain prebiotic fibres, and some probiotic activity that’s to the starting culture that will naturally support gut health, but it has also been shown that the fermentation process actually helps to lower the gluten content of the bread to a much greater extent than Baker’s yeast does. This explains why those with gluten intolerance may be able to tolerate Sourdough.

Controls blood glucose levels

While bread is often taboo for those on a weight loss diet, there is evidence to show that Sourdough bread has benefits over regular bread when it comes to blood glucose control. Specifically, the acidity of Sourdough that comes from the production of lactic and acetic acids during the fermentation process results in a bread with a relatively low glycaemic index. This means that after eating Sourdough, your blood glucose levels will be more tightly controlled, making it a particularly good choice of bread for those with Type two diabetes, hypoglycemic and insulin resistance.

And as is the case with regular bread, wholegrain varieties of Sourdough are better for us nutritionally, offering more dietary fibre as well as the nutritional benefits of wholegrains. The only thing to keep in mind is that while Sourdough is a better option nutritionally versus regular bread, larger slices do mean more calories, so keep your slices small if weight control is the goal.

Step up your Sourdough baking game…

So, are there any specific tips a Sourdough baker can offer someone new to the Sourdough baking game?

“There are a million different recipes you can use, but most importantly, use a flour that is free from chemicals,” says Michael. “Next be very patient, my view is that a great starter will take closer to three weeks to grow, and will need to be feed at least twice each day. Always keep the area where you are growing your culture very clean, with clean bowls to reduce contamination. Finally keep it simple. Once you perfect your starter and recipe, you can then start to experiment with different types of flours, sprouted grains, the options are endless. And remember, there is never a bad loaf, rather a process to refine and perfect each time you bake a Sourdough.”

Andrew agrees: “One of the key things we all have right now is time, time, time, adjust your recipe and process to get the right fit for you, and like we do at Sonoma for over 20 years now, always try and make tomorrow’s bread better than today’s.”

Susie Burrell is an Australian dietitian who works with clients helping them to achieve their nutrition goals in her Sydney clinic. She is also a keen baker, although not of Sourdough (yet). Visit her website www.susieburrell.com.au