Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened bread and probably dates back to ancient Egyptian times. I reckon it was discovered by accident, when someone left some bread dough out on a table and the wild yeast floating around in the air got busy doing what they do best – fermenting. The dough would have risen and that would have got the baker wondering why. Mind you the Egyptians were also good at brewing beer so perhaps there was an overlap between bread and beer at some stage.
Bread is older than metal and way before the bronze age, our ancestors were eating and baking flat unleavened bread. There is evidence of Neolithic grinding stones which were used to process grains. The oldest bread ever discovered was in Switzerland dating back to 3500BCE. The Egyptians then discovered leavening.
Wild yeast has been used in food preparation all around the world for thousands of years. It is steeped in culture and history!
Prior to the development of commercial yeast, all leavened bread would have been made by naturally occurring or wild yeasts and therefore all bread would have been sourdough, with its characteristic slow rise.
In the Jewish faith, the importance of unleavened bread is emphasized and this was probably because at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, they did not have time to leave the bread to rise overnight. They went forth into the desert with unleavened bread. In modern times this is depicted as Matzos.
Sourdough then spread to Greece, Italy and France. The Greeks had over 70 different types of bread. The Italians or Romans perfected kneading and baking. There are French recipes dating back to the 17th Century when the starter would have to be fed and have risen and fallen three times, before it was used to bake. This would have greatly altered the taste of the bread.
Commercial yeasts were introduced in the 19th Century. Naturally leavened breads made way for speed and consistency. Labour laws in around 1910 placed restrictions on nightshift work and working long hours. This resulted in bakers striving for even faster rising breads and hence the baguette was introduced.
It was only in the 1980’s that there was a resurgence of sourdough bread. In 1993 in the UK, regulations were issued, declaring what could be classified as sourdough bread.
Countries with a strong rye bread tradition such as the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, Germany and France, have very strict regulatory protection as to what can be manufactured as sourdough.
In the USA during the 19th Century, prospectors and explorers were commonly referred to as ‘sourdoughs’. This was because they used to carry the sourdough starter on their person to prevent it from freezing in the cold San Francisco winters. The warmth of their body would also have served to activate the starter. Because of this the bread in San Francisco is to this day, predominantly sourdough and the Boudin Bakery which was founded in the mid-19th Century is still baking bread to this day!
Since the times of mass production of bread there is now definitely a re-invigoration into the quality of food and hence a resurgence of smaller bespoke bakeries and home baking is once again becoming popular and so sourdough bread is gaining notoriety.
Why is sourdough bread easy to digest and healthier?
- A slice of sourdough bread has the same number of calories, carbs and fiber as any other bread but it is lower in sugar and higher in protein.
- The live yeast as opposed to commercial dried yeast, ensures that the bread stays fresher for longer.
- Sourdough is fermented using lactobacillus cultures (probiotics). Some of these bacteria are lost or changed during the heating process but lactic acid is created and that does the body a whole lot of good.
- Lactic acid helps decrease the levels of phytic acid in bread (phytic acid interferes with the absorption of certain nutrients, which is a bad thing). This in turn, helps other nutrients become more readily available, digestible and absorbable.
- Sourdough bread has –
- vitamins B1-B6
- vitamin B12
- vitamin E
Some of these are only in very small amounts but will still benefit you.
Why is sourdough bread sour?
The wild fermentation process will attract naturally occurring yeast and lactobacilli. The lactic acid that is produced as a result of this process, gives the bread its characteristic sour or tangy taste. Once you start baking sourdough bread, you will learn how to manipulate the sourness to suit your taste.
Is sourdough bread easy to make?
YES! Once you get the hang of keeping your starter alive and well fed, it becomes very easy to include baking into your daily or weekly routine. It may take a bit longer to make than bread with commercial yeast but it is far more rewarding and of course delicious. It is also very versatile and you can create any combination of tastes using herbs, spices, fruit, veg and different types of flours. It can also become very artistic.
I have never been a very good baker as I always overworked my dough and ended up with a brick. I have discovered that methods such as stretch and fold and even slap, make bread baking simple and I am always amazed with my end result. I love it still slightly warm served with cultured butter. Remember though, everything in moderation, if you can at all resist eating the whole loaf, one or two slices a day is enough.
So, get busy baking some fermented bread and if you would like to learn more, keep a look out for my workshops.
Happy fermenting and happy baking!