Sourdough is tangy and piquant, which means pleasantly sharp with enjoyable zing.
This perfectly describes how a slice of sourdough bread tastes to me, especially if it is warm and buttery. The sensation of creamy, sweet butter with warm crusty bread that tastes pleasantly zingy is an experience not to be missed.
Sourdough is exactly that; sour dough, or rather sour flour. It can be made from a variety of flours although it is most commonly made from wheat or rye. To make sourdough, a small amount of flour is mixed with water and left to “sour” for a few days. Each day more flour and water is “fed” to the base as it sours so that the lactobacilli and yeast cultures colonizing the mixture can grow, mature, and create more. Basically, sourdough is fermented flour and water.
Once you have a batch of sourdough base, if you treat it well it can last forever. In fact, there is an Italian pizza place in Stroud, U.K. whose claim to fame is a sourdough culture that is over 200 years old. Each generation of bakers has committed to keeping the culture alive, passing it down from family member to family member. I have tried their sourdough crust pizza and I must admit it is completely delicious.
From a culinary perspective, the base can be used for a multitude of things, you dip a little out, add back in a little fresh flour and water and just keep on going. The fermented mixture acts as a natural leavening agent, giving bread or other baked goods a delicious tangy quality. It can be used in bread, cakes, cookies, and muffins. Sourdough pancakes and waffles are to die for and even you can make tortillas and flat breads. Really anywhere that you use flour you can use sourdough for an added flavor bump.
From a health perspective, sourdough is a fermented entity... a little happy village of beneficial bacteria just waiting to make your belly happy. Many people avoid bread these days because they are either worried about the gluten (unless it’s rye bread) or they are worried about the glycemic spike that can accompany eating regular bread. Research demonstrates that the nutrients generated by the fermentation process actually help decrease impact on blood glucose levels and allow the bread to be metabolized at a slower rate.
The fermentation also helps your gastrointestinal tract better utilize the proteins that are present, so sourdough bread is usually better tolerated by people who may have less tolerance for regular flour breads. Of course, if you suffer from celiac’s disease then even sourdough should be avoided. Fermenting the flour also neutralizes the phytic acid that can be irritating to gut lining and completely decimates any potential for ergot poisoning. Ergot is a fungus that grows on grains, especially Rye. Consuming grain infected with ergot causes what has historically been called St. Anthony’s fire or ergotism; it results in hallucinations, aggression and ultimately convulsions and gangrene of the limbs. Ugh! Fermenting the grain saves the day.
Another beneficial quality of the fermentation process is that it helps populate your gut with good bacteria. Studies show that having a balanced gut microbiome (community) increases cognitive function, moderates serotonin and dopamine levels, which stabilize mood and energy; increases nutrient assimilation and boosts immune function. What’s not to love about keeping the beneficial bacteria in your belly very, very happy...especially when it tastes pleasingly zingy and it’s oozing buttery goodness!
One caveat: Sadly, as with most things, most, if not all, factory baked breads found on conventional shelves do not actually use a sourdough starter. Instead, they add a packet of dry sourdough, which is sort of like dry yeast, to complete the “sourdough” process. Unfortunately, this does not impart the same health benefits, since it actually requires a slow fermentation process to build the bacteria necessary for True Sourdough. So, do be sure to read labels and know where your bread is coming from, chances are if it was manufactured then it is not genuine sourdough.