What is sourdough bread and is it healthy?

31 May 2023, 08:50 AM
  • Sourdough is often viewed as a healthier bread choice. Learn whether sourdough bread is better for you, how it’s made and why it’s different to other breads
What is sourdough bread and is it healthy?

For the non-bakers out there, sourdough bread’s ubiquity on fine food retailers’ shelves may give the impression that this sought-after loaf is complicated to make, with an ingredients list as long as your arm and requiring several trips to specialist shops.

But those in the know understand the truth: the beauty of sourdough bread is in its simplicity. With shoppers craving healthier choices and simple ways to cut costs, homemade sourdough bread hits the sweet spot.

Read on to learn more about what sourdough bread is, what it’s made from and why so many customers are asking if it’s healthier for you than ‘regular’ bread.

What is sourdough bread?

Sourdough bread is the oldest type of leavened bread – that is, a bread that contains a raising agent, like yeast. But sourdough is different to typical breads you’ll find on a supermarket shelf because it doesn’t use commercial yeast.

Instead, it’s leavened naturally using a ‘starter’ containing wild yeast and good bacteria. This results in a loaf that is free from unnecessary additives, making it a ‘real bread’, which is a rarity today. As much as 95 percent of bread sold in the UK today uses chemical raising agents, processing aids or other additives.

What is sourdough bread made from?

A traditional sourdough recipe only has three ingredients:

- Flour – strong white bread flour is standard. You can experiment with other combinations of flours like wholemeal and rye, but note that you may need to adjust the amount of water used accordingly.
- Water – straight from the tap works great.
- Salt – fine sea salt or cooking salt.

This no-frills recipe does away with fancy oils and flavouring ingredients – but these can, of course, be added on top of a basic loaf base for those looking to experiment further.

The only other element you’ll need is the one that makes sourdough bread so special: the sourdough starter.

What is a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is the raising agent in sourdough bread recipes. It’s simply a mix of flour and water that, through the fermentation process, has grown wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. A sourdough starter recipe follows a simple process of mixing flour and water and regularly feeding the starter with more flour until it becomes active. A healthy starter has bubbles and a fresh, yeasty smell after feeding.

What makes sourdough sour?

The fermented sourdough starter gives this bread its signature tang, just as bacteria give yoghurt its tart flavour.

Is sourdough bread healthy?

Sourdough bread is completely natural, as there are no additives from yeast, and it’s a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

The lactic acid bacteria found naturally in a sourdough starter is the same good bacteria that’s found in other fermented foods, like kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut, which are good for gut health. For this reason, it’s believed that sourdough is easier to digest than breads made with commercial yeast.

It’s also thought that the wild yeast in sourdough contains more nutrients, and that sourdough bread may be less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar levels.

Sourdough bread’s healthy credentials have caused demand to soar, and more customers are looking for products boasting this trending ingredient. But not all products labelled ‘sourdough’ are created equally. Ensure your customers are aware of the ‘artisan washing’ of breads that contain artificial ingredients.

Is sourdough gluten-free?

No, sourdough bread is not gluten-free. However, sourdough has a lower gluten content compared to other types of bread, and it is believed to be easier to digest for those who are gluten sensitive.

Is sourdough bread good for weight loss?

While sourdough bread may have some benefits compared to processed counterparts, it’s no weight loss miracle food.

If your customers are wowed by the ‘real bread’ label on sourdough, fill them in on sourdough’s natural credentials and health benefits, but be sure that they know sourdough is still bread, and it has a similar nutrition profile to other breads.

How to make sourdough bread

While the ingredients needed to make sourdough bread are minimal, you will need a fair amount of time if you’re making a loaf from scratch. Customers will always appreciate hearing your go-to recipe, or why not use this recipe for a perfect sourdough boule featured in Great British Food.

How to make a sourdough starter

Making your own sourdough starter can take around a week, but it couldn’t be easier. All you need to do after whipping up the original mixture is to take a few moments each day to feed it until it is active. Then, you can use your sourdough starter again and again in your sourdough bread recipes.

The Perfect Sourdough Boule

Makes: 1 x 810g Sourdough Boule Prepare: 10 minutes, plus 2 days proofing & rising Cook: 50 minutes

- 380g water at 27°C
- 150g healthy starter
- 400g organic white wheat flour (13% protein), plus extra for dusting
- 100g organic stoneground wholegrain wheat flour (11.5% protein)
- 10g fine sea salt
- 2 tbsp polenta

Special equipment:
- A banneton
- A cloche
- A stand mixer with a dough hook

Before you mix your dough, you will need to refresh your starter twice. When it has plenty of bubbles it’s ready to be worked with!

The second step is to mix your dough. Use your kitchen scale to measure out 350g of the water and the starter. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 350g of the water and the sourdough starter until well combined. Tap water is fine, unless your water is very over-treated with chlorine. Add the flours and sprinkle the salt evenly over the top. Mix vigorously in the stand mixer with the dough hook for about 2 minutes until there is no dry flour left and the mixture comes together to form a stiff ball. This initial mix can feel quite tight, but by not adding all the water yet we ensure the gluten develops well.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 1 hour so the gluten can form. Meanwhile, refresh the remaining starter in your jar and put to one side.

When the gluten has had 1 hour to develop, you can begin making your bassinage. In this recipe, we are using it as a way of mixing and proving at the same time, so it is important to keep the dough temperature at 27°C. If your dough temperature starts falling, use slightly warmer water. If it rises, use cooler.

Add 20g of the remaining water to the bowl and mix on full for 1 minute, then rest for 20 minutes.

Add the remaining 10g water and mix on full for 1 minute, then transfer the dough to a separate container or bowl, cover and rest for 1 hour.

Now your dough is rested, oil your hands. Taking the side closest to you, fold the dough in half, then fold one side across two thirds of the dough and bring the other side over on top of that, as shown in the photographs opposite. Flip the dough over and dust the top with flour. Place your shaped dough, floured-side down, into a well-floured banneton. This way you have flour on both the banneton and the dough – a ‘belt and braces’ approach to stop it sticking.

Cover the banneton and rest for another 40 minutes at 27°C, then put it into the fridge overnight.

The next morning, preheat your oven to 220°C/ Fan 220°C/ Gas 7 for 30 minutes and place a cloche in the oven to preheat.

Taking great care, remove the hot cloche from the oven and put the dome to one side. Scatter the polenta over the base of the cloche – it will act like tiny marbles to stop the dough sticking. Turn the dough out onto the hot cloche base, removing the banneton gently. Score the dough using a lame and cover immediately with the cloche dome.

Place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 200°C/ Fan 180°C/Gas 6. Bake for 50 minutes. After this time, remove the lid of the cloche and bake for a further 1–7 minutes, depending on how dark you like your crust. All ovens are different, so be sure to check your loaf towards the end of the baking time.

Place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 200°C/ Fan 180°C/Gas 6. Bake for 50 minutes. After this time, remove the lid of the cloche and bake for a further 1–7 minutes, depending on how dark you like your crust. All ovens are different, so be sure to check your loaf towards the end of the baking time.

Carefully remove the cloche from the oven and cool your loaf on a wire rack. Alternatively, you leave the bread in the oven with the door open as it cools – this will give you a really crusty, beautiful loaf.

Once cool, wrap your loaf in a clean, dry tea towel for storage. Best enjoyed within 3 days.

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