We’re going to have a sourdough week. Why? Well, because I recently discovered the magic of making my own sourdough bread using sourdough starter. I want to share that magic with you! So prepare for sourdough goodness over the next few days!
What is Sourdough?
Let’s first talk about what sourdough is. I had no idea until this year that sourdough was something a little more special. It’s not sour because of some special ingredient added during an otherwise normal baking process.
No, it’s sour because it’s made with wild yeast. It’s captured and fed regularly, and is constantly allowed to feed on–and thereby ferment, by the way–flour. In fact, when your sourdough has had some time to ferment between baking, you’ll see liquid on the top that is comprised at least in part of alcohol.
Oh does that surprise you? That’s how alcoholic beverages are made, you know. Yeast feeds on the sugar and spits out alcohol. Congrats, we’re drinking yeast waste.
Anyways, this natural yeast replaces the dry active yeast so commonly used in bread recipes. The fermentation brings the unique and tangy sourdough flavor.
Why Use Sourdough?
Many grains and legumes contain something called phytic acid. This stuff binds to many nutrients in grains, making them totally unavailable to our body. So perhaps that whole grain food you’re about to eat contains 20% of your daily calcium or something like that, but you’re not getting much, if any, of it. Sourdough increases the availability of these nutrients by as much as 90%!
The phytic acid also inhibits the enzymes that break down protein and starch in the stomach. Since gluten, one of the main culprits of wheat intolerance, is a protein, having this enzyme inhibited worsens the problem. It’s not unusual for people to be able to digest homemade sourdough when they can’t comfortably digest any other kinds of bread.
It even seems to be a little nicer to your natural yeast balance, by the way. If eating regular bread makes your more prone to yeast infections, this stuff might not. Neat, huh?
As if the health benefits aren’t enough–and I think they are–the independence is glorious. I used to wonder how in the world I could make decent bread if I had wheat but no packets of dry, active yeast! Well, now I wonder no more.
Obtaining a Sourdough Starter
There are a few ways to get a sourdough starter.
Ask a Friend
Know someone who bakes sourdough? Ask them. Chances are, they probably have a good strain of yeast going if they’re enjoying what they’re baking. You can always ask after you’ve tried their sourdough goodies, of course.
Instead of discarding part of their starter or using it to bake with when it’s time to feed it, ask them to measure some out into a jar and feed it for you. Then you can take it home and just continue the regular routine.
This is how I got mine, although it went all the way from Utah back home to Washington with me.
Catch Your Own
Not all strains of yeast are as tasty as others, so this may not work well for you, depending on where you live and where you get your grains.
There’s wild yeast on flour. You’re going to want to use whole wheat or whole rye, as the whole grains have more goodness for the yeast to feed on.
Use a 1:1 ratio of ingredients, weather by weight or volume. Weight is more accurate, but you’ll need a kitchen scale. Volume will work to. You’ll start with one cup of flour, which is about four ounces by weight. That means you can then either use one cup by volume, or four ounces by weight, of cool water. Mix these together thoroughly in a non-reactive container such as glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or food grade plastic. I like using a mason jar for this purpose.
Cover it loosely with something breathable, such as a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Air should be able to circulate, but you don’t want anything else getting into it.
Keep it at room temperature; somewhere close to 70 degrees F is best. Let it sit for 24 hours.
Then measure out four ounces of the starter and discard the rest. Mix in four ounces or one cup each of water and flour again, stirring it in thoroughly. Cover and let rest for 24 hours again.
Now you should start seeing some activity; it should be a little bubbly, expanding a little in its container. This is when you’ll start doing two feedings a day. Keep doing this until it’s quite active over the next few days. You now have your starter.
You can also purchase sourdough starter online. Not having done this myself, I hesitate to steer you to any sites for this as I haven’t vetted them. If you choose to go this route, just use some common sense and look for some outside reviews first.
This can be more desirable than starting your own if you live somewhere that doesn’t have the best tasting wild yeast strains. It’s also less labor intensive. The starter shows up in the mail, you feed it, and ta da! You have your own sourdough starter, simple as that.
What do you think? Had you ever considered sourdough before, and are you considering it now? Are you going to get your own sourdough starter? I have loved baking sourdough this month, and if you bake your own bread at home, I hope you fall in love with it too.