Sourdough September – reclaim your daily bread (1/2)
It's Sourdough September and anyone who has ever experienced the wonder of an authentic, slowly fermented organic sourdough loaf will agree that this is bread as it should be: easily digestible, sustaining, flavoursome and utterly delicious. And it's healthful. We make organic, long-fermented sourdough regularly at home and I always feel the need to say a big “thank you” to my Other Half for baking our daily bread.
Sourdough September is when the Real Bread Campaign goes on a mission. They aim to:
- Share the delicious delights of genuine sourdough
- Encourage more people to bake sourdough
- Celebrate the small, independent bakeries that bake genuine sourdough
- Help people to say no to ‘sourfaux’ and avoid paying a premium for something that isn't the real deal
- Encourage people to join and/or donate to the Real Bread Campaign.
“Extra yeast, extra gluten, fat to improve crumb softness, reducing agents to help create stretchier doughs, soya flour to add volume and softness, emulsifiers to produce bigger, softer loaves and retard staling, preservatives - to extend shelf-life, and any of a wide variety of enzymes, legally defined as “processing aids” which do not have to be declared on the label.”
- Barbara Griggs, The Guardian: The rise and rise of sourdough bread
In the first part of this 2-part blog post, I’ll discuss the problems with modern, mass-produced 'kleenex' bread and why it is slowly but surely destroying our health.
In the second part, I’ll explain why authenitic sourdough is bread as it used to be (and should still be) and how it’s so easy to bake your own. You’ll never look back!
There are myriad recipes for sourdough loaves, using a variety of flours - rye, wholemeal or white are the most common - but the most important thing is to use organic flour.
“A probable carcinogen”
All non-organic flour comes from wheat which has been treated with pesticides (most commonly glyphosate), which have been strongly linked with a host of serious illnesses. Even the World Health Organisation has declared the glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen” and that there are no ‘safe’ levels. And in landmark litigation in the United States, glyphosate manufacturers were found to have known that their product was dangerous yet still failed to warn consumers.
I wrote a feature on glyphosate contamination of our bread and flour products for the Real Bread Campaign which you can read here: Weedkiller Sandwiches? Not on My Plate!
For a deeper dive into the dangers of modern wheat and how our daily bread is eroding our good health, I encourage you to read my book Once Upon a Cook - Food Wisdom, Better Living devotes a whole chapter to the issue, with more must-read research and information in one of the appendices.
“How can a nation be called ‘Great’ if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
The words of legendary food writer Julia Child, and she’s not wrong! Not only does most of our daily bread taste like Kleenex but sadly, it actually resembles it too.
It’s no exaggeration to say that our time-honoured, traditional bread has been stolen from us and as a result we’ve been getting sicker and sicker. But (glyphosate aside, as discussed above) what’s the problem with modern wheat?
Wheat, that ancient grain and the raw material for the ‘staff of life’, has been intensively hybridised and grown in high-yield monocultures, to produce a high-protein, chemically contaminated, highly processed - and highly profitable - product for growers and the baking industry.
Almost all of the wheat we eat today is high-yielding dwarf wheat with shorter stems and much larger heads, which produces a much greater yield. However, back in the day, our forefathers grew and ate ancient varieties of lower protein, gut-friendly wheat like emmer, einkorn and kamut and they encountered few of the problems associated with the wheat we eat today.
While ‘modern’ wheat is cheaper and more profitable to produce than these older varieties, hybridisation markedly changed the nutrient and the protein composition of the wheat plant itself; the important mineral nutrients in wheat (like zinc, copper, iron and magnesium) have decreased by a third since the 1960s.
It’s higher in protein
Back in the day (well in my day, at least!) as kids, we frequently made a sticky mess by mixing flour and water into a gluey paste. This stickiness is a key property of the gluten protein in flour; in fact, the word ‘gluten’ itself is derived from the Latin word glutinis meaning ‘glue’.
Although gluten is the term that we’re most familiar with, it’s not a single protein but a combination of much smaller gliadin proteins and longer glutenin molecules.
A particular amino acid sequence Glia(a)9 is closely linked with the ability to trigger coeliac disease. Glia(a)9’s dramatically increased presence in modern wheat mirrors the huge increase in coeliac disease, leading many researchers to speculate that modern wheat may be much worse for people with this disease (and maybe for all of us?) than older varieties of wheat.
It’s lower in nutrition
Absent from refined white flours is the whole grain - those portions of the wheat that are richest in nutrients: proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. These ultra-processed products yield so little nutrition that, in the UK at least, there is a requirement to add back in synthetic nutrients in a misguided attempt to enrich a nutritionally deficient food ‘product’.
It’s full of processing aids and additives
In 1961, research bakers at Chorleywood in Hertfordshire, UK, developed a process where hard fats, extra yeast and a number of chemicals were added to flour and then mixed at high speed, producing a dough that was ready to bake in a fraction of the time it took to bake breads by traditional methods.
It’s done and dusted at the speed of light
Now, our ‘freshly-baked’ loaf is good to go in a mere three hours: from first mix to spraying with anti-stale agents, wrapping in mould-inhibiting plastic packaging and then journeying hundreds of miles across the county, its crumb-less form finally comes to rest neatly and almost indefinitely on the store shelf, ready for us to enjoy.
Is it really any surprise that millions of us can’t eat these loaves without experiencing a host of digestive issues? By contrast, are you one of many who feel just dandy eating European breads?
Alternatives to gluten and grains
There are now quite a few varieties of gluten and grain-free flours (almond, cassava, arrowroot, coconut, tiger nut, tapioca, etc.) available for those who wish to go gluten- or grain-free.
But please be aware that many of these alternatives can cause other problems for those with weakened or poor digestion; for example, almond flour can be a gut irritant in itself and the high fibre content of both almond and coconut flour will cause issues for some.
Most commercial gluten-free versions of wheat-based foods are actually just highly processed junk food. Read the labels and you’ll find combinations of rice starch, corn-starch, tapioca starch, potato starch and guar gum as a substitute for white flour.
These are the same kind of highly refined industrial starches that spike blood sugar as much as - or even more than - white flour. And they contain a host of emulsifiers, pesticide residues
Also, be aware that most corn (maize), although gluten-free, is now predominantly genetically modified (GM) and contaminated with glyphosate (unless organic) and imported into the UK, usually as animal feed: a reminder here, that you are not only what you eat, but also what your animal eats.
“We have mutant seeds, grown in synthetic soil, bathed in chemicals. They're deconstructed, pulverised to fine dust, bleached and chemically treated to create a barren industrial filler that no other creature on the planet will eat. And we wonder why it might be making us sick?”
In Part Two, I’ll take a closer look at how to make sourdough at home (spoiler alert: it’s SO easy!) and as you get into a routine of making deliciously digestible bread, over time you’ll find yourself with a lot more starter than you can use. So I’ll include a simple recipe for making delicious pikelets and crumpets.
Do you want a chat?
If anything you’ve read in this post resonates or rings any alarm bells for you (or anyone you know) and you want any help in identifying and resolving any health issues, one of my Femergy@40 Nutrition and Lifestyle Health Coaching Programmes may be able to help.