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  • Shelly Tschupp

Why Sourdough Bread Starter is Better for You than Active Dry Yeast!

When I first began using a Sourdough starter to bake my own bread it was a hobby, just something to learn. The jar I used was very small holding only 16 ounces. While that was enough to bake a single loaf of bread the more I baked the more I fell in love with using my own ingredients and knowing they were organic. As I read more about live active yeast, vs inactive, and the extreme positives of Sourdough Starter over store bought processed foods I was honestly shocked. I'd gone through most of my life too busy working, buying groceries and cooking with too little regard to what chemicals were in it. I trusted the manufacturers, I should not have, after all their main interest is in making more money and that does not always equate to higher quality. It turns out that Sourdough Bread Starter is better for you, far healthier than the dry yeast many manufacturers and home cooks have been using to make bread. Powdered yeast is processed to rise the bread really fast. It is not meant to break down gluten or Phytic Acid the same way that natural sourdough yeast does. Is this important? Well, apparently it makes a huge difference. Here's why...

Our digestive systems need time to adjust to major food changes and when we do not have that time, many more seem to suffer from food allergies, everything from minor swelling to rashes, IBS symptoms or worse. Many people today are having greater difficulty digesting staple foods we have eaten for thousands of years like breads, pasta, and flour based goods. We now have many people showing an inability to process the food as efficiently causing more stored fats from these fast growing but 'empty starches' and as a society we are gaining weight faster than at any recorded time in history. There has to be a reason for this. After all we have been harvesting grains for flour for at least 30,000 years so why are we losing our natural tolerance to these foods?

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In the last 200 years we have modified our wheat grains in major ways four times. Each time the amount of gluten and other chemicals in the wheat have increased as a byproduct of producing these faster growing grains. We are at a point where 6% of the population is completely gluten intolerant, another 3% have mild insensitivity, and upwards of 15% have Irritable Bowel Syndrome which seems to be aggravated by the higher Phytic acid found in these new wheat strains which end up in all processed flour products we buy. We have also modified the Yeast we use to make bread several times to create strains that rise bread products faster but have also lost many of the yeasts positive attritibutes. I don't believe in coincidences and with roughly 24% of the population struggling in some way with these new grains it stands to reason if we go back to older wheat or ancient grains and original yeast processes our bodies would have an easier time digesting them. In fact, Sourdough starter breaks down the very gluten and phytic acid in a way that dry yeast simply can’t. Is Gluten bad for you? No, in general it’s good for you unless you are highly allergic to it or have celiac disease, but like all foods eating everything in moderation is key to staying healthier. Yet the Gluten levels in today’s newer wheat grains are up to 12 times higher than the original wheat strains our bodies have been eating for thousands of years, at some point perhaps too much of even a good thing is simply.. too much?

Type's of Yeast for making Bread:

  1. Fast Rising /Dry Yeasts are found in most grocery stores commonly Active Dry Yeast, Instant Yeast, and Rapid Rise Yeast are available. All have been dehydrated and ground for baking but rise so quickly the yeast does not have time to fully interact with gluten and proteins to aid your digestion. This is the least healthiest option.

  2. Fresh Yeast, is sold in a block form in the refrigerator section of the store and lasts for about a week. To use it in a recipe that calls for dry yeast, double the amount, crumble it and let it soften and dissolve in whatever liquid the recipe calls for (warm the liquid to just lukewarm) before adding it to your dry ingredients. This is a better option than dry but is harder to find and also rises too quickly to break down gluten or phytic acid providing little value to your digestion.

  3. Make your own Yeast.. this is called a Sourdough Starter, this yeast takes about a week to fully mature, it is grown with just a few minutes of attention daily and two ingredients (flour & water) and you can keep it going forever. You can even buy dehydrated starter that has been kept growing for hundreds of years to begin your own or just use the flour and water you have on hand.  Winget Farms sells their starter to the public on Etsy and they claim it is 400 years old having been handed down for generations. If you feed your starter fresh flour and water daily, it does not even need to be refrigerated. Or you can store it in the fridge up to a week between feedings. This yeast takes a full 12 to 24 hours to rise the bread allowing the yeast to work some literal magic on the gluten, proteins and phytic acid!

Why is Sourdough Starter better for your digestion? Sourdough bread has many health benefits that occur because during the long rise time the yeast can break down some of the carbohydrates and proteins increasing your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals from the bread. Don't let the long rise timeframe scare you though, your active time working with the dough is only a few minutes a couple of times, most of the time the dough is just resting and working it's magic. As the dough ferments, it also produces enzymes that break down the phytic acid and gluten. Phytic acid can lead to gas production in those with IBS and can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, according to Kimbell in her new book The Sourdough School goes into more detail on this.

Some of the many health benefits from using a Sourdough Starter include:

  • Less likely to spike blood sugar & has a lower glycemic index.

  • Feeds good gut bacteria for easier digestion.

  • Keeps you fuller for longer.!

  • Contains natural live yeasts.

  • Fewer to no chemical preservatives especially if you buy organic ancient grains or even mill your own grains at home. Milling your own grain is not difficult either but requires a home grain mill.

You know your sourdough starter is feeding when you see the bubbles!
Sourdough Starter Feeding

In the last few decades, we have all watched our society gaining weight at the fastest pace in history leading to a multitude of health issues, and the more we modify our food the more this seems to happen. Don't even get me started on GMO's, the amount of sugar and corn syrup unnecessarily added to thousands of processed foods. It seems to me that going back to the foods and proven cooking methods we've used without issue for the prior 10,000 years, would be a great way to start living a healthier life. At least my body would recognize them. And once I realized I could use the Sourdough starter to bake far more than just bread I was hooked! Online I found recipes for pancakes, waffles, flatbread, crackers, bagels, muffins and more! Definitely check out Farmhouse On Boone, she shares so much information on how to start and maintain your Sourdough starter and many recipes for cooking with it! There's another great recipe book called The Sweet Side of Sourdough with 50 recipes to try. I have made this waffle recipe from Little Spoon Farm and it is really fluffy, light and has great flavor! I hope to be able to replace many more of my store-bought items in my pantry, to do that though I will need a lot more starter than my little jar can hold. Bonus… sourdough just tastes better to me!

My Favorite Sourdough starter Jar!

I tried using a larger wide mouth canning jar but it filled with just a couple of feedings, and yes, I'm discarding half each time. Glass seems to work great, and the lid should not be air tight. I work all week, so my baking happens on the weekends, then I refrigerate, freeze or vacuum pack everything for use throughout the week. I keep my starter in the refrigerator most of the week and feed it a day before I plan to bake. I round these larger jars which were perfect for me, the KooK half gallon jar set has a great price and high quality, fast arrival, and is short enough to fit in the back of my refrigerator when my starter is resting yet large enough to bulk up the starter for those Saturday baking marathons! For the sourdough starter jar I removed the rubber seal from the lid so the yeast could ‘breathe’. The second jar I kept the rubber seal to use it to hold for my dry Einkorn flour (Einkorn is an Ancient Grain with 1/12th the Gluten, click here to read about it and other grains to try). And it came with labels, chalk and two plastic scoops, which come in handy in the kitchen. My starter is growing well and loves the environment. For my weekly marathon I remove the starter jar from the refrigerator on Friday night and feed it (50/50 water & flour by weight to roughly double the size of what is in the jar) and leave it out on the counter with the lid on. By morning it is at room temperature bubbly and ready to bake with!

Fluffy and Flavorful Waffles!
Sourdough Starter Discard Waffles

Can you ruin Sourdough Starter? My initial worries on this journey is that I would I ruin my starter by forgetting to feed it or it would turn out to be a lot of work. So far, it's fairly hardy stuff and very little work but you can ruin it if you never clean the jar you store it in. Eventually mold can get into the jar. The solution is to pull out half of the starter to feed it in a glass container, bowl etc, cover that, and wash the jar. When it's done feeding put it back into the jar. I don't do this every time, more like after every 4th feeding or so.

Here are the steps that everyone seems to agree on for making your own Sourdough Starter:

  1. The water should be chlorine free (most refrigerator filters do this already, bottled or distilled water also work).

  2. When making your starter from scratch use a 50/50 by weight ratio of water to flour, stir, lightly cover and leave on the counter. Most food scales provide a gram weight mode, you can find them at your local store or online here.

  3. Temperature is important to Yeast growth: keep your starter between 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit. I do this by placing it near a warm appliance (like the refrigerator) or wrapping a small towel losely around the glass. You can use a temperature sticker on the outside of the glass or a thermometer if you are unsure. I live in South FL so I don't have to worry about cold weather, for me it's about the air conditioning.

  4. For the first week follow a start up method and feed it every 12 to 24 hours by removing (discarding) half of the starter before you feed it (save that ‘discard’ in a container in the refrigerator as a backup or to use in a no rise recipe like pancakes or waffles, etc) and then add in fresh flour and filtered water by weight (not by measured cups). See the chart below for a standard start up. Stir and cover with a lid that is not air tight after each feeding. By the end of the initial startup week you should have a very bubbly starter and can start making bread or other baking recipes that require a rise. The best time to use your sourdough starter is a few hours after it's fed, this is when it is most 'active' and will have doubled itself in the jar, that can take 6 to 8 hours. If you bake with starter that is not in an 'active' state you will not get the same amount of rise.

  5. After the initial startup week you can store your starter in the refrigerator for up to a week without feeding but by day 7 you should remove it and feed it to double what is in the jar and leave it out on the counter for a day allowing the yeast to eat at a temperature between 70-78 degrees. Many say that if you are a day or even a few days late it feeding it that doesn't seem to matter, I have not gone beyond a week though so I'm not sure if this is true or not.

You can adjust the overall amounts to make more or less starter. Just keep the ratios the same.
Basic Sourdough Startup Schedule

You need to discard half of your starter at each feeding.
Discarding half of my Sourdough Starter during feedings.

Why am I discarding? Microbiologist say it helps keep the yeast healthy, and since you are doubling it every time you feed it your jar fills up fast. During the feeding time the yeast are adding air to the starter causing it to rise to nearly double the total height so you need extra room in the jar for this. For example, if you have 100 grams of starter and feed it another 100 grams (50 grams of flour & 50 grams of water) that is 200 grams in the jar and it will rise temporarily while it eats to the height of 350 grams or so.

Why do we measure by weight? Yeast is a living organism that needs enough food to eat to survive and multiply, the consistency of the starter should slightly thicker than pancake batter. Using grams to measure it by weight gives you this consistency. If you measure with measuring cups it will be thinner slowing down the yeasts ability to feed.

What supplies do I need? You probably have all of these items in your kitchen and do not need to buy anything to begin.

  • A glass or ceramic container for feeding the starter.

  • A lid that is not airtight, this can be plastic wrap leaving a tiny bit unwrapped or a jar after removing any rubber seal it has.

  • A weight scale ( measuring by weight, not by size)

  • A spoon to stir it and a cup to transfer the flour and water

  • A plastic container with a lid if you plan to save your discard in the refrigerator


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