What are the health benefits of sourdough versus yeast?

Over the past few months, judging by the number of hashtags about quarantine baking, sourdough has become a wonderful distraction. The aroma of fresh baked bread has been wafting in homes like never before in the recent past.

But as a result of all of this baking activity, while still available, yeast has been in somewhat short supply.

Enter sourdough.

Mothers (what sourdough starters are called) began appearing in kitchens everywhere (including my own where my daughter, Alyssa, who has been staying with us through the pandemic has been nurturing her mother – me too, not just the sourdough!- and providing us with incredible tasting baked goods breads and crackers).

As a result of interest in sourdough being at an all time high, the Oldways Whole Grains Council put together a wonderful resource called, “Sourdough Bootcamp: How (and Why) to Create a Whole Grain Sourdough Starter… and What to Do with It”. Erin McKenney, PhD, of North Carolina State University, presents a wealth of information for both sourdough newbies and veterans who want to learn more. She offers tips from how to start and feed a sourdough (including how to know when to feed it) and what kind of flours work best in sourdough to making sourdough with gluten-free flours and the nutritional perks of sourdough.

First, though, here’s a little background on what exactly a sourdough starter is and why you need to feed it. You begin with equal parts of flour and water mixed together and by leaving it at room temperature covered with paper towelling, bacteria and other microbes enter the mixture. As the microbes in the mix are alive, they consume the sugar and starch in the flour and lead to both carbon dioxide (that’s why the starter looks bubbly and grows in size) and acid formation. The acid contained prevents the starter from becoming mouldy. But once the sugars and starches have all been digested, that starter must be fed again. But if you simply added more flour and water to the starter without removing any of the existing starter, you would end up with a kitchen full of sourdough starter.

What you take off is called a discard. While some people may toss it out, it can be used be used to make various options like crackers or pancakes. I’ve been the lucky recipient of an amazing variety of whole grain crackers containing an assortment of additions such as sesame seeds, rosemary, za’atar and more – depending on my daughter’s mood.

It takes about 10 to 14 days to produce a starter that is lively enough to use to bake bread. (Each day, as my daughter fed her starter, I would hear squeals of joy as she proclaimed, “My mother is ALIVE!”.)

In the presentation, McKenney shows her range of sourdough starters from all-purpose flour to buckwheat and teff. For economical sourdough feeding, McKinney suggests using all-purpose flour but then when it comes to the actual baking of different products, such as bread, a variety of whole grains can be used.

Because of the microbial mix, sourdough baking yields fabulous flavours. Those flavours will also vary according to the flours used. But I have to say that I have been eating some of the most delicious breads ever!  A crusty exterior with a chewy crumb and tons of flavour!

Probiotic versus prebiotic

While sourdough breads rise due to the microbial mix in the starter, these microbes are killed when the product is baked. So while they are full of beneficial bacteria and such, the bread itself is not a probiotic. But the finished baked good, when whole grains are used, becomes a prebiotic– the food which nourishes and stimulates the growth of the healthy bacteria in your gut.

Sourdough versus yeast – which comes out on top

After finally getting a working mother going, many new sourdough bakers are wondering about the health benefits of sourdough versus yeast bread.

While the bacteria don’t survive the heat during baking, they still offer plenty of health benefits before  they’re killed off. For example, they lead to higher levels of various nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin K. They’ve also been shown to reduce the glycemic index (slow the blood sugar rise in the bloodstream) of breads.

Another perk may be better digestibility for some people. According to McKenney, there have been reports of decreased gluten sensitivity to sourdough breads. (But it’s important to note this may offer benefit only to those who may have a sensitivity to gluten, not those with celiac disease.)

No matter the health perks, I do have to say that over the past few months, I have been enjoying some of the best tasting breads I’ve ever had.

Thank you Alyssa for taking such good care of your mothers – your sourdough starter and me!

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Categories: Food Trends

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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  1. What are the health benefits of sourdough versus yeast? – Eleve11 - July 13, 2020

    […] What are the health benefits of sourdough versus yeast? […]

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