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Many folks, being stuck at home and not being able to find bread in stores, have resorted to baking their own. There is nothing better than the aroma of bread coming out of the oven. The taste is just as divine.
It is also so much better for you than the commercial bread with all of its preservatives. Actual truth, we have an experiment with a loaf of bread that has been setting on a shelf since January of 2019 and is not molded yet. Yep, you read that right, over 15 months old. It really makes you want to eat loaves with all those preservatives!
However, I have always noticed that homemade bread, although made with healthy, wholesome ingredients, almost makes me feel worse than the up-town stuff. It is like the dough is just setting in my stomach, causing bloating. I thought this was just me until Ron mentioned the same thing recently.
Nope, it is definitely not in our heads. Even though homemade has healthier ingredients, there is still a culprit. With a little digging, I found that grains have special protective layers on the outside called phytic acid. Its job is to hold all the nutrients inside the grain. When whole grain is broken down into flour, some nutrients are released but the phytic acid is also present. Not only that, but the acid also snatches up other material in our digestive tract that it uses for food, thus wrecking havoc in our intestines.
The gluten in flour has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but there is more to the story. It’s not that the gluten is present, but rather that it is not broken down, hence the job of yeast. Yeast is a good thing, it literally breaks down the starches in grains which essentially pre-digests the bread, making it easier for us to digest.
The problem lies with the kind of yeast we use. The commercial yeast we buy in those little packets is an isolated version and it only rises bread without breaking down the phytic acid to aid digestion.
There is a better way. Our ancestors used wild sourdough yeast, also known as natural yeast. It grows naturally in the wild on leaves, grapes, berries and other living things. Our forefathers figured out that this natural yeast made bread rise and drinks ferment and they also knew that ingesting the gluten grains prepared with natural yeast made digestion more efficient and provided our bodies with higher amounts of nutrition. The down side to using natural yeast is that it took six to eight hours for breads to rise.
In the late 1860’s, the same Louis Pasteur who promoted the pasteurization of all milk, discovered that yeast was a living organism. He found a way to isolate the yeast in pure culture form, thus finding a way to make bread in 30 minutes. Thus, was born the Fleischmann’s and Red Star yeast we all use today, the same that led to the commercial breadmaking industry.
However, for many of us that have stomach issues for which gluten has been blamed, faster is not always better. Natural yeast, though it takes longer to “work,” has many natural benefits including breaking down harmful enzymes in grains and making the vitamins and minerals in grains more available for digestion by completely breaking down the phytic acid. This process just takes a little longer.
Natural yeast also converts dough into a digestible food source that won’t spike the body’s defenses. It predigests sugars for diabetics, breaks down gluten for the intolerant and turns calcium-leaching phytic acid into a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
We can get this natural yeast in the form of sourdough starter. It is rooted in American history since the pioneers had no choice but to collect yeast from natural sources if they wanted leavened baked goods. Sourdough got its name from the starter which, when left at room temperature developed a sour tang due to the fermentation.
The nice thing about sourdough starter is that it will literally keep indefinitely. If it is stored in the refrigerator, it will become dormant and leaving it at room temperature will activate it. Since it is a live organism, it needs to be fed once a week (instructions with sourdough recipe) which means measuring out a certain amount of yeast, adding equal parts of flour and water and placing back in a jar in the fridge.
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Sourdough starter is easy to make. It literally requires more time than ingredients since it uses only flour and water. It can be used for bread, pizza crust, pretzels and anything that requires yeast. You can make muffins or waffles with the yeast replacing the baking powder.
The important thing to remember is it needs to be fed. If you plan on using it, set it out the day before and feed it three times to get it nice and active. If you use it less than every two weeks, take some out and replenish it with fresh ingredients to stay healthy and strong. Even if you forget it, you can revive it by feeding it twice a day.
You will know your starter is good if it looks rough and uneven on the top and multiplies when at room temperature. However, if there are too many bubbles on top, it needs to be refreshed.
The good news is that using sourdough starter for yeast allows many of us to enjoy leavened baked goods again because it does a lot of the work for our digestive system. Baked goods made with fast-rising commercial yeast doesn’t allow the bacteria time to do any pre-digesting.
One other tidbit that I will add: I have noticed that when I toast bread, be it homemade or commercial, it doesn’t upset my stomach as much. Turns out, the scientific basis for this is that same as for using natural yeast. Toasted bread has a lower glycemic index since the heat causes carbs to break down more slowly, making it less likely to cause a blood sugar spike. Since insulin and insulin resistance is linked to weight gain, toasting bread may play a small part in weight loss and better blood sugar control.
Unfortunately, gluten gets all the bad rap for digestive issues lately, largely because stores and companies are capitalizing on their gluten-free products. Why not give sourdough yeast a chance and see if it could be the answer to your woes. You will have nothing to lose and maybe a lot to gain.
DAY 1. Stir together 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water in a one-quart glass container. Cover loosely and leave at room temperature (not less than 70*F) for 24 hours. All-purpose flour is fine but using whole wheat will jumpstart the process.
DAY 2. Discard half of the starter and add 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water, mix and leave 24 hours.
DAY 3. Keep 1/2 cup starter, feed twice today by adding 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Mix and leave 12 hours, repeat in the afternoon.
DAY 4. Repeat Day 3.
DAY 5. Repeat Day 3, only discard and feed once instead of twice.
DAY 6. If starter is not rising and doubling in size between feedings and showing signs of bubbles, discard half and feed twice a day until it does.
DAY 7. Give it one last feeding.
Note: Starter is done if doubling in bulk within 6 to 8 hours of feeding. Also, if you see spots of pink or orange, it is unwanted mold and must be thrown out but spots of green, blue or black mold are harmless. Skim it off with a non-metal spoon.
- 2 cups flour
- 1-1/2 cups sourdough starter
- 3/4 t. salt
- Combine ingredients and knead until dough is not sticky.
- Place in lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in bulk.
- Turn out on floured board and knead, cover on board with towel and let rise until double again.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Spray dough with mister, cut an X on the top, bake on a sheet until golden brown on top and it sounds hollow when thumped on bottom, roughly 60 minutes. It should have a darker crust than other breads, so leave in the oven 5 minutes after you think it is done.