What is Sourdough Bread

I have been baking exclusively sourdough bread for some time now, and the process has been nothing but fulfilling (and addictive!). The baking routine can start late in the evenings by mixing the dough, and waking up in the wee hours to bake the bread from the day before, tiring but somewhat rewarding. The anticipation of the result is always intriguing and finger-biting not knowing at all if the dough will erm, "rise to the occasion". But regardless of the outcome, we always have bread to eat and some to share. Hence, I have literally stop buying off-the-shelf bread since then.
And so, with the frequency that I bake, many of my extended family members and friends become solicited critics to my baking products.
One of the question I got the most is, how is sourdough bread different from normal bread. I am going to attempt to answer that in this post. This is by no means an authorative write up, just a layman brief which I hope to create some awareness to sourdough bread for everyone.
First, sourdough itself is not a bread, sourdough starter refers to the cultured yeast which is used to ferment bread, or French call it levain, or the Italian call it pasta madre. For more detail definition, refer to wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough
Above: Growing my own sourdough culture and the rest is history.
Hence, it is more of a bread making method, rather than a varietal of bread. But today's we refer sourdough bread just to differentiate from the rest of the bread which do not use a sourdough culture. Truth is, more than 1500 years ago, before the emergence of baker's yeast, all breads are sourdough breads, or just bread.
The first sourdough bread is said to originated from ancient Egypt as early as 1,500 BC, and it is the way grain bread were first made, with just flour, water, natural yeast and salt. As the process of making bread using natural yeast is demanding, costly and requires constant attention; combined with the need of mass production, commercial yeast became the larger and convenient way which bakers today are used and trained in working with. The result of this, is that it also erodes the natural development of flavours in bread which derives from long hours of fermentation, and the health benefits that came along with this age long baking method.
Essentially, the most basic ingredients which can make up bread is just flour, water, yeast and salt. This is what we call a Lean Dough. Today, many of us are used to the Enriched Dough style of bread which other ingredients are added to manipulate the taste, texture, colour and longevity of bread we eat.
So, is sourdough bread healthier that regular bread? In a broad spectrum, the answer is yes, sourdough bread which uses natural yeast and long fermentation does have healthier efficacies like increased digestibility due to the break down of gluten which causes bloating, hence also suitable for those who are gluten-sensitive. The lactic acid produced and active within the bread also helps the body to absorb nutrients more readily and preserves the bread from turning bad quickly without adding preservatives. There are also studies showing that sourdough bread also has positive effect on blood sugar and insulin levels when compared to bread made from baker's yeast. For detail reading on sourdough health efficacies, read more here:
So, as we scroll down the aisle of bread in any given supermarket, take a look at the ingredient labels on the back, it is not hard to see bread, even the most seemingly healthier versions, could be made from more than 10 different ingredients with more than 5 ingredients we could only understand if we major in chemistry. I am not saying that all sourdough breads are eternally healthier than mass produced bread, but there are trade-offs for sure.
Hence, even for sourdough breads, we need to be aware of the ingredients which actually went into the process. For me, if there are more than 5 ingredients in a bread and/or there are ingredients which I could not eat it on its own, I will have doubts. In most cases possible, I will opt for whole food/ingredients as much as possible.
But it is also encouraging to see a small but growing group of friends who start to understand sourdough bread or more aware in the food we put into our bodies; much thanks to our aging bodies, 'newly discovered' medical conditions, or simply seeking a healthier lifestyle after years of self-inflicted physical "abuse" of destructive food.
More (friends of my age) are turning towards real and whole food, reducing highly processed food or ingredients intake and working out a little bit more. This is why baking sourdough bread and sourdough extension food like pizza dough is a rewarding journey personally, and I do see myself doing more of this in the future, maybe even start selling a few sourdough breads to benefit friends around me, once the recipe is perfected.
So, you see, whenever I got a question like this, it will be a long conversation of mwah going on about sourdough bread, and friends being too polite to walk away after like 30mins on this.
To Sourdough and beyond!