Sourdough Culture

Tart, tangy sourdough bread encourages a healthy digestive system and inspires mindful cooking in its dedicated makers.

| September/October 2016

  • Sourdough bread's natural probiotic properties make it easier to digest and have less impact on blood sugar than other yeasted breads.
    Photo by Fotolia

Sarah Owens’ relationship with sourdough starter began in a used bookstore. “I picked up this hokey old cookbook from the ’70s called Adventures in Sourdough,” Owens says. “It had a chapter on how to take your starter camping.”

Owens bought the book partly on a whim (it was only 50 cents), but also because she had been suffering from disruptive digestive issues, and had started making fermented foods as a way to help soothe her digestion.

The results were transformative, not just for Owens’ health, but for her professional life, too. Now a baker and award-winning cookbook author (Sourdough, published last year by Roost Books), Owens says her kitchen experimentation also changed her life by helping her become more mindful. “I think it forced me to slow down and observe what’s happening in the moment,” she says. “It sounds new-agey, but it’s so important, and something we take for granted.” 

How it Works

Sourdough bread is the product of natural fermentation between wild yeast and lactobacilli present in our environment—the same beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and cheese.

The basics of creating sourdough starter involve mixing flour and water, and leaving the mixture to ferment. The yeast and bacteria latch on to the broken-down sugars in the flour, creating probiotic byproducts as well as flavor compounds, such as the acetic acid that makes sourdough tangy.

In addition to bread, sourdough starter can be used to make other baked goods, including crackers, cakes and pastries. In her cookbook, Owens writes that the acidity of sourdough culture pairs well with various flavors, including chocolate, and adds extra tang and texture to pie crusts.

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