Bread, as Vanessa Kimbell, PhD, will tell you, is older than metal in humankind’s history, flatbreads having been a food of ancestral choice that pre-dates the bronze age. And sourdough is the oldest method of bread baking.
“Bakers culture and nurture a colony of symbiotic microbes in a pot of water and dough, this is called a starter. Some people love their starters so much they name them like members of their family.”
Kimbell is the queen of sourdough; her very thesis was on it (to be specific, on “the digestibility of bread and its effect on your gut microbiome and mood”). What you didn’t know about sourdough bread (or any bread), Kimbell certainly knows; and what she doesn’t know, isn’t worth knowing. For instance, consuming sourdough increases fibre absorption from the bread by between 10% and 15%, and so nourishes our “psychobiotics – the bacteria that affect our psychological function” (see our piece on the GAPS Diet). If there were ever a time to ameliorate our psychological functioning, it is now.
Indeed, the gut microbiome had been a hot topic this past year, now known as it is to play a considerable role in keeping at bay Type II diabetes, as well as protecting against developing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and other health issues. And sourdough as an aid to the microbiome’s processes has gone hand in hand with that popularity.
No two sourdough starters are alike; the microflora of the skin of a baker’s hands ever play an unforeseeable part in the end product. Nonetheless, the culture of the starter itself is a living entity: a mixture of wild yeast (one-celled fungi that produce CO2 during aerobic fermentation) and lactic acid bacteria (lactobacilli or LAB, the organic acids which quite literally acidify the dough and give it that special “sour” taste). The acidity prohibits growth of pathogenic microorganisms (for example, E. Coli and Clostridium botulinum). The LAB also serve to help create physates, enzymes that break down phytic acid, increasing digestibility.
The popularity of sourdough has also perhaps in no small way been influenced by the fact that “the bioavailability of ferulic acid is increased by 30-40% during sourdough fermentation” (ferulic acid being a boon for skin health)…
“[W]e are part of a system that connects our well-being directly to the earth. It is a web – the soil is full of microbes, a sourdough starter is full of microbes, our digestive systems are full of microbes.”
Soil health, as Just Natural Health & Beauty has discussed previously, is crucial to the well-being of everything – and that’s not resorting to hyperbole. Farming techniques, be they conventional (i.e. using standard fertilisers and pesticides) or organic (be that with livestock manure, or green manure, or with no input at all), impact the crop grown in the earth exponentially. For taste, organic wins every time (that’s without discussing the potential poison that is the herbicide glyphosate, used in conventional farming and present in an estimated 44% of people through food and water).
Of all wheat cultivated, 95% is Triticum aestivum, or bread wheat – think of those stereotypical golden fields of wind-caressed crop. One wheat in particular that seems to benefit from the sourdough process is Khorasan (Trictum turgidum). Similar to spelt, Khorasan originated in what is now Iraq, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan and is also known as “Wheat of the Pharaohs”. In the West, we refer to it as Kamut, the flour amazingly high in selenium and polyphenols. Not only that, but also protein and by extension amino acids, and more vitamins and minerals than humdrum durum wheat. Indeed, in recent studies, cardiovascular disease risk factors were shown to have a slight reduction when consuming Kamut, regulating blood sugar levels and also reducing low-density lipoproteins.
In general, scientists are aware of an estimated 8,000 different types of phenolic compounds. These are of interest due to their antioxidant content and potential antimicrobial and anticarcinogenic properties. On the whole, cereals contain up to 30 different polyphenols, particularly in the bran (or outer layers of the grains). The structure of the polyphenols can be of simple molecular design or more complex. The small intestine can digest the former, but complex polyphenols go straight to our colon (or large intestine) to be broken down by digestive enzymes so that they become metabolites (more easily absorbed compounds).
One could become like Ms Kimbell and go on, taking the entire science of sourdough to academic heights, but that is not the remit of our publication. In short, if you love bread, switching to sourdough versions of your favourite loaves could be just the thing your body needs. Try it out: your gut microbiome will thank you for it with an improved sense of overall well-being (something we could all use these days).