The year 2020 has changed our home cooking. As we dealt with phases of lockdowns and unlocks while working from home and schooling online, the search for healthy food options led us to experiment with cooking and baking.
In the last few months, there has been a deluge of sourdough baking posts on Facebook and Instagram. Run a #sourdough hashtag search on Instagram and you will find 3.7 million posts. Interestingly, many of them are from India, where bread is not even the staple food.
What is sourdough? Is it a new food? Not really. Sourdough is one the oldest forms of fermented food believed to have originated in ancient Egypt around 1500 BC. It was the only way to make bread until the 19th century when baker's yeast came into the market.
In India, bread making was considered to be a complicated and time-consuming process. However, during the lockdown, hesitancy to buy readymade bread, non-availability of yeast - an essential ingredient for bread making, and time to experiment led to sourdough baking and is the reason for the immense popularity of this technique.
What is Sourdough?
Sourdough is naturally leavened mix that doesn’t use commercial yeast to rise. A 'starter' is used to ferment the flour that produces a tangy flavour and chewy texture. It can be used to make bread, pancakes, cookies and biscuits. Sourdough recipes require a blend of flour, water and sugar called the starter.
History of Sourdough
Bread has been an important part of our diet since ancient times. An important product of cereal origin and a staple food all over the world, it has played an important role for nutrition and economy. Historians believe that sourdough in bread leavening developed in ancient Egypt and then spread to Europe.
It was only in the 19th century when baker's yeast became available that it substituted the sourdough in the leavening of the flour. Sourdough making is a process that requires time, patience and practice. However, once you get the knack of it, it becomes easy. It also offers a multitude of health benefits.
Why You Should Include Sourdough in Your Diet
Sourdough bread is a source of important minerals, many B Vitamins, and antioxidants. It consists ofprebiotics that to keep the gut healthy.
Rich in protein, selenium, folate, thiamine, magnesium, niacin and iron it packs a healthy punch. Although the flour used for sourdough bread could be the same as regular breads the fermentation process makes a huge difference.
Sourdough bread is easier to digest than the one fermented with brewer’s yeast. This could be due to its prebiotic properties. The fermentation also degrades gluten greatly compared to the baker's yeast. Therefore, people with gluten intolerance can also eat sourdough bread.
Natural fermentation makes it more nutritious healthy than regular food.
It is lighter than the normal bread.
Sourdough bread has no baking powder, yeast or baking soda so can be given to kids as a healthy option with no chemicals.
Doesn’t make you feel bloated even if you use whole wheat flour that is rich in gluten.
How to Make A Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter contains lactobacillus cultures (kind of lactic bacteria) that thrive in acidic environments and impart the sour flavour to the bread. These microbes help the dough to rise while fermentation and give it a structure. You will need mason jar bottles with tight caps, whole wheat flour, water preferably tepid and a warm (temperature 26 to 32 °C) place to rest the starter.
“People were hesitant to try sourdough because they felt it was a complicated process. However, the fermentation part is very easy to understand”, shares Simran Oberoi Multani, the founder of Ovenderful and Ovenderful Mom Bakers Community, who has a lot of experience with sourdough baking.
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup water
Next day again add the same quantity of normal water and wheat flour to feed the starter. Keep feeding the starter in the similar way until bubbles appear. Feed your starter daily and let it grow for a few days.
The fermentation should be complete in 4 to 5 days (or more) depending on the weather of your location. Once it is ready you can bake the bread as per the recipe. Use part of this starter to make the bread and save the rest for future use
Tips and Precautions
Baking sourdough bread becomes easier with practice and experimentation.
Though whole wheat flour gives good results, other flours can also be used.
The nutrient content in your bread will depend on the flour used. With fermentation, the absorption of the minerals already present in the flour becomes higher.
Use glass bottles to make and store the starter.
You can keep the starter at room temperature or in the fridge. If kept inside the fridge, the process will be slower.
Feed the starter once a day - preferably at the same time every day.
Use the same flour for every feed.
The number of days required to get the starter ready depends on the climate of the place.
When the starter is ready, there will be plenty of bubbles, both large and small.
Once it is ready, use as required and store the rest of the starter in the fridge for a week or 10 days, depending on the weather.
If the starter has an unclear surface, a rancid smell, streaks or dots of black, green, pink, orange or any other colour than the normal colour of flour, furry dots, or no bubbles after many days of feeding, please discard.
Sourdough isn’t just for bread making. You can make cakes, pancakes, muffins, tortillas and crackers. There are many possibilities. Join online groups, classes, attend webinars and learn the nuances to explore the pleasures of healthy baking safely from home.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting, and travel.)