Seeking Out Sourdough

Margot Bakery, N2

Margot Bakery, N2

Who’d heard of sourdough bread ten years ago? Well, OK, but mainstream it was not. Now it’s like the salted caramel of baked goods. It’s everywhere.

I am very lucky to have a sourdough bakery just around the corner from my house. Buying bread fresh from the oven is hard to resist. What I particularly love is that there are only a few, organic ingredients. Quite unlike the industrial, mass-produced, spongy, chemical-laden rubbish that passes itself off as a sliced loaf on every supermarket shelf in the country. (How did we ever become persuaded that bread that wasn’t mouldy after 10 days was a good thing? It takes a chemical to do that. NOT what we want.)

Sourdough has been enjoying a renaissance in the UK for the last few years, for several reasons. One is “the starter” – which takes the place of yeast. Starter is simply flour and water mixed together and left to ferment for a few days until it becomes a frothy, bubbly, thick liquid. Not everyone likes the slight sourness that comes with it, but it’s that ‘tang’ that gives sourdough its nutritional superiority. Fermented foods are very much in vogue right now and for good reason. Fermented foods are a source of good bacteria for our gut. These good bacteria can improve digestion and boost immunity, amongst other things. No surprise then that sourdough has picked up popularity.

Back in 2001, there was research to compare the nutritional benefits of sourdough vs yeast leavened bread. Sourdough came out on top. Why? Because it confirmed that fermentation process impacts the nature of the wheat – it breaks down the phytates.

“What’s a phytate, Thalia?” I hear you cry. Well, I’m glad you asked. Phytates are naturally-occurring compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nut and seeds. One problem with them is that they are known to bind to micronutrients like zinc, magnesium and iron and can slow their absorption in the body.

So, fewer phytates mean our bodies can better absorb the nutrients in the flour and fewer phytates makes the flour more digestible. This means those sensitive to gluten may be able to tolerate sourdough, most likely a superior choice to the gluten-free breads you buy in the supermarket, which are often filled with all sorts of fillers and nasties.

But not all sourdough is created equal. The loaves you buy in the supermarket may not be the real deal. An investigation last year revealed that only 4 out of 19 loaves tested contained the traditional four ingredients only – starter, flour, water and salt. The rest also contained additional ingredients – they had the tang but only because it was added in. Yep.

So, the upshot is, whether gluten is your friend or not, sourdough can be part of a healthy diet for bread lovers everywhere. Praise be to toast.