Sourdough bread: is it better for you and why?

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My favourite breads have always been sourdough breads. Just my luck that they also happen be harder to find and more expensive. You also have to be careful when trying to purchase sourdough breads that they are authentic; that they were actually made using lacto-fermentation and are not just regular bread with some sour flavour added.

Real sourdough breads are actually better for you. According to an article in the Journal Food Microbiology, the fermentation process makes nutritional components more available. What that means to you is you get the benefit of greater nutrition from the same amount of food. [1] The article states that “sourdough can also actively retard starch digestibility leading to low glycemic responses.” Lower GI foods are better for us so combining whole grains with sourdough fermentation makes sourdough bread an even healthier choice. The fermentation of the gluten may also make sourdough more suitable for celiacs. This is supported by another article from the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. [2]

So while many people may not be able to digest gluten, these journal articles suggest that the bacteria used in sourdough making can and do. Perhaps the fact that slow fermentation, sourdough bread making was replaced in the 1950s with quicker breads so companies could increase their production and profit explains the explosion of gluten intolerance in our community. It was not a sudden change in people’s ability to digest gluten, but a sudden change in the bread we eat. Both the science and empirical evidence suggest to me that going back to the old ways of making bread, slow and fermented, is better for our health. Making it yourself is better for your budget.

Basic Sourdough Directions

Useful Tips:

Use the best quality, organically grown flour you can get, preferably freshly ground if possible. I get my flour from Grandma’s Pantry in Capalaba. They have a great selection and I find them to be very like-minded people.

Use filtered water (to get any chlorine out of tap water).

Always allow your culture to come to room temperature before opening and handling, and keep closed as much as possible.

Essentially sourdough is made with flour and water. Most bread cultures are used to control the indigenous bacteria naturally present in the flour, which might produce unwanted characteristics such as excessive sourness or a spoiled taste. Adding the cultures will ensure a uniform and a more complex flavour development with minimal batch-to-batch variations.

The variety of flour used influences the characteristics of the sourdough and it is possible to make sourdough with wheat, rye and other types or mixtures of flours. Other important parameters influencing the attributes of the cultures are time and temperature during the processing. Additionally, it is possible to produce sourdough adding sugar and salt, which also will influence the result.

Making Your Sourdough Starter

First, you have to make up your sourdough starter, using flour, water and bacteria. In some cases, you may also add some sugar and/or salt, which will affect the flavour of your final bread. Once you have made your starter you are ready to take a portion of this starter and make your bread, following the recipe of your choice. The remaining starter can be stored in your fridge for later use.

Step 1. Preparing the initial pre-dough.

Mix 500 grams of flour with 500 ml of water (one part flour to one part water) to make one kg of pre-dough.

Add 0.25 grams, or one pinch if using our mini measuring spoons, of the starter culture. The starter culture can be dispersed in a small amount of water and then be added to the flour, mixing in well.

Cover with a wet tea towel and allow to rest. Depending on the required effect (acidity and flavour development) and type of flour, the resting time for the wheat pre-dough should be up to 24 hours at 20-30°C. At 25°C, 12-18 hours are recommended whereas at 20°C the time should be increased. For pure rye pre-dough it is recommended that the resting time should be more than 24 hours at above 37°C. The shorter the resting time the less sourness (acid production) and flavour components are developed. The dough should be stirred from time to time.

Step 2. Feeding sourdough

Mix 500 grams of flour with 500 ml of water.

Take your one kg of the pre-dough and blend this with your new mixture of flour and water giving you two kg.

Depending on the bread recipe, additional baker’s yeast may be added together with salt, sugar and other ingredients.

Cover with a wet tea towel and allow to rest. Stir the dough from time to time to prevent indigenous yeasts developing and leave it for four to six hours at the same temperature as used for preparing the pre-dough. The shorter the time the less sourness and flavour components are developed.

Now you have a sourdough mother and you are ready to make bread using this as your leaven. Following your bread recipe, add the required amount of sourdough mother (leaven) to your other ingredients. Allow to rise for the required amount of time in your recipe, or for sufficient time to get the rise you are looking for.

Preparation of the bread

I have used this sourdough mother (leaven) to make breads with or without additional baker’s yeast with good results. The addition of baker’s yeast speeds up the rising process. Without the yeast I like to let my bread rise 12 to 24 hours, depending on the flour I am using. Rye flour always takes longer to rise. Slow fermentation bread is also easier to digest as the gluten and other difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down during the fermentation process. This may explain why many people who are gluten intolerant can eat sourdough bread with little or no negative effects.

Basic Bread Recipe


750 grams of wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon of dried baker’s yeast (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of sourdough pre-dough
1 1/4 cups of water


Place the flour and salt into a bowl and mix. Make a well in the centre and add in your sourdough starter and mix in. Add one cup of your water and mix in. Add additional water as necessary until a smooth elastic dough forms. If using yeast, mix this with the water prior to adding to your sourdough starter/flour mix.
Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for several minutes. Knead until it is smooth and elastic. Under kneaded bread can collapse so don’t skimp on this step.

Once your dough is the right texture, place it in a clean, oiled bowl to rise. This is not a quick bead where you add commercial yeast. You are using sourdough mother, so expect this to take some time.

Once your bread has risen for the first time, punch it down and then turn it out again and cut the dough in half and form into loaves and place them into two oiled bread tins. Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise for at least six hours. The longer you leave the bread the better. The best results come when you make the dough on one day and bake it the next leaving it to rise for 12 to 24 hours.

Bake your bread in an oven that has been preheated to 200° to 220° C. This should take about one hour. Your bread is done when you can remove it from the tin and tap it on the bottom and get a hollow sound, like a drum. You can also use a temperature test to see if your bread is cooked through. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature which should be 90° C. Once done remove your bread from the tin and allow to cool on a rack so that air can flow around the bread.

The use of baker’s yeast will result in lighter, fluffier bread. Sourdough breads are different and if you have someone who has been used to white bread that is as light as a feather, real bread might be a shock to the system, so a bit of

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[1] Poutanen, K., et al. (2009). "Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective." Food Microbiol 26(7): 693-699.

[2] Thiele, C., et al. (2004). "Gluten hydrolysis and depolymerization during sourdough fermentation." J Agric Food Chem 52(5): 1307-1314.