We've all heard that sourdough bread is better for us but what makes it different and sets it apart from the conventional loaf of white sliced? In this blog I'm delving into exactly what is sourdough, what makes sourdough different to other breads, and why you should add sourdough baking to your baking skillset.
I've been baking sourdough for many years now, but before I got into the homesteading way of life, I used to think sourdough was just a standard loaf of bread with lemon juice added to give it it's signature tangy flavour. Seriously!
How wrong I was. In fact it's board line embarrassing looking back now.
Sourdough isn't just a type of bread, in fact its a whole other way to make bread, plus a host of other recipes like pancakes, pizzas, buns, and cakes.
I'm thankful to say that I know understand sourdough a whole lot more, and in this blog I'm sharing exactly what it is and how it's different.
What is sourdough bread?
Sourdough was the traditional way of making bread before the advent of commercially available instant yeast; the kind you buy in a packet at the grocery store.
Sourdough has been around for a really long time, in fact it's thought to have originated in ancient Egypt.
When you make bread, you need a way of adding gas to the dough so the bread will rise and become fluffy, otherwise you would be left with a hard, dense brick. This is called leavening.
In sourdough bread the leavening ingredient is sourdough starter, which is a fermented mixture of flour and water. This mixture cultivates a colony of beneficial wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria, found naturally in the flour and in the air we breathe.
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Sourdough isn't just about bread. You can also use sourdough starter to create a range of bread-like recipes and baked goods such as pancakes, muffins, pizza bases, cakes, buns and more. Compared to non-sourdough recipes, the key difference is the fermentation process.
What makes it different?
When you compare a standard bread recipe with a sourdough one you will notice most of the ingredients remain the same; flour, water, salt and sometimes fats and sweeteners.
The main difference is the leavening ingredient. Like I mentioned before, in sourdough bread the leavening ingredient is sourdough starter, whereas in conventional bread, instant yeast is used.
The other thing that sets it apart is the fermentation process the dough undergoes prior to baking.
First a sourdough starter or mother is created. Then part of this is mixed with flour, water and salt to create a dough.
The dough is then fermented (allowed to sit for anywhere between 2 - 6 hours at room temperature, or longer in the refrigerator) prior to baking.
Because it's fermented, sourdough bread takes longer to prepare, but much of this time is hands-off, and the dough is just resting and doing it's thing.
Compared to conventional bread, the sourdough bread making process and results are more heavily influenced by a number of factors such as the condition of the starter, ambient temperature and humidity, and the flour used, making it a little trickier for the beginner baker. But hey, who doesn't love a challenge! And the benefits are totally worth it.
How is sourdough bread different?
So now we know what makes sourdough different, let's dive into how this benefits us.
During fermentation, magical things happen. The wild yeasts and bacteria feed on the flour and water, consuming sugars, breaking down anti-nutrients and producing lactic acid (tangy flavour) and carbon dioxide (rise and air pockets).
Aside from it's unique flavour and delicious texture it becomes easier to digest and may be better tolerated by people sensitive to gluten. It is not suitable for people with gluten allergy, however, as it doesn't completely eliminate all the gluten.
The fermentation process breaks down phytic acid making the nutrients in the grains (flour) more available, boosting its nutritional value.
One of the byproducts of fermentation is lactic acid, which aside from giving sourdough its tangy flavour, is a natural preservative that extends the shelf life of the bread.
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What are the other benefits?
If you're making a lot of bread, then maintaining a sourdough starter is a lot cheaper than buying packets of instant yeast. By regularly feeding and caring for your starter, it will continue to live on indefinitely, creating many delicious loaves of sourdough bread.
Plus if you can't access instant yeast or fresh bread in times of grocery store shortages you're still able to be self sufficient and bake your own bread.
All round I think it's a great skill to add to your homesteading repertoire.
Ready to start making sourdough bread at home? Shop my favourite tools:
- Sourdough Bread Making Starter Kit (AU readers) includes proofing basket, dough scrapers and lame, similar kit (USA and other readers)
- Flour scoop (AU readers), similar (USA and other readers)
- 23cm Banneton Proofing Basket (AU readers), similar (USA and other readers)
You can also visit my page Sourdough bread making tools and substitutions to see what every day kitchen items you can use to make sourdough, without any special equipment.
Thanks for visiting the farmhouse!