A few months ago, I decided I wanted to experiment AKA try to start baking my own sourdough bread. Years back I had received a wheat sourdough starter (the small amount that you continually “feed” and take from each time you want to make a sourdough bread) but it didn’t take me long to kill it. Yes, it is alive and most definitely will die without a fresh source of food. Honestly, I’m not a great or even successful baker, but I knew that store bought breads are not the best for healthy eating and losing weight.
When I wanted to try my hand at this time around, I didn’t know where to get a fresh starter since I wasn’t living near the friend whom had provided me with the first one and instructions. Hmmm.
My son, who absolutely LOVES to bake (he’s 12), had been looking through his King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook and left it on the counter (again, he’s 12…) so I thought I’d be nice and put it away for him. Curious, I started flipping randomly through the pages and came across a whole section on Sourdough! Turns out it is “easy” to make your own sourdough starter; distilled water and flour are the only ingredients!
It’s not that easy, sad to say. A key component to a successful starter is time, or attention. Fortunately, this cookbook did an excellent job providing details that really helped me turn my previous attempt of a starter around! A week prior I had started one using a recipe card I had saved, but it wasn’t working.
Why even bother with making a starter and then eating sourdough bread when there are all different grain type of breads readily available? Want to enjoy bread and have the potential for losing weight at the same time? I thought so…
When you combine the equal parts water and (whole grain) flour with a pinch of salt and let it sit on the counter, naturally occurring bacteria in the air settle on the moist flour-water concoction and start eating. The eating process creates more bacteria and tiny bubbles start aerating the wet flour, creating a by-product of the good bacteria culture lactobacilli and lactic acid.
Lactic acid loves to eat sugar, in turn decreasing the need for the body to create additional insulin when the food is being digested. This is the key for weight loss; eating a food that keeps the blood sugar level low helps the body slowly digest a food and keeps the body from storing excess sugars as fat. The sour, or tangy, taste in the starter and dough is the taste of weight loss. A sour taste also stimulates bile production, which helps in digestion.
Here are even more reasons why the sour taste means weight loss:
- The bacteria and yeast in the sourdough culture work to predigest the starches in the grains (less starch is great for losing weight)
- The longer soaking and rising times in the preparation of sourdough breaks the protein gluten into amino acids, making it more digestible
- The process of fermentation taking place in the flour-water mixture changes the nature of the starch content
Livestrong.com advocates for sourdough based on these studies:
A study published in “Clinical Nutrition” in August 2008 found that people following a low GI diet lost more weight than those who followed a diet higher on the glycemic index. Another study, published in “Diabetes Care” in December 2005, found that only people who secrete high amounts of insulin lose more weight on diets low on the glycemic index.
Interestingly, the research done on the benefits of sourdough all concluded that a whole grain flour is a necessity for weight loss. A whole grain flour has all of the grain parts ground into the flour; for example, whole wheat and white processed flour removes the seed coat, stripping the bread of the nutrients that stabilize blood sugar levels, fiber, and protein content. All the good stuff is removed (sold separately for a higher price tag), leaving a bulk of carbohydrates for your digestive system to turn immediately into sugar-an overload of sugar that your body then stores as FAT.
Refining wheat flour removes the bran and germ, decreasing essential micronutrients. –Whole Grains Council
Therefore…make a sourdough starter with a whole grain like spelt, rye, or real whole grain wheat (buy wheat berries and grind them). I prefer spelt, but it is more touchy to bake with because it doesn’t like to hold its liquids, oftentimes not rising to full fluffiness prior to baking. (It’s an issue I’m still working on…). Get ready for “wasting” a lot of flour while you are getting your starter healthy and strong enough to use for baking.
5 cups of (your choice of) flour; you use 1 cup each day
3 cups distilled (non-chlorinated) water (set out a jar of tap water for 24 hours and the chlorine will disappear); you use 1/2 cup each day
pinch of salt
glass canning jar (easiest), plastic or stoneware container that is food grade. NOT metal as it will react with the process.
stirring spoon or fork
wash cloth to cover jar loosely or a lid that will rest on the top
dry measure and liquid measuring cup
Day 1: The start of the starter
- Mix 1 cup of flour with 1/2 cup (4 oz) distilled water in a glass container. I prefer a quart canning jar. Stir it with a fork to combine the ingredients. You can add a pinch of salt if you’d like (helps prevent bad bacteria growth).
- Cover loosely with cloth or sit the lid, unscrewed, on the opening. It needs air flow.
- Try to keep it at an even temperature, between 65-75 degrees.
- Let it sit for 24 hours. You may see tiny bubbles or not.
Day 2: Dump and Add New
- Regardless of whether or not you see tiny bubbles appearing at the surface of the flour-water mixture, remove half of it and throw it away. (I eyeball it through the glass container, using the measuring lines on the side of the canning jar as estimation markers.)
- Add 4 oz fresh distilled water and 1 cup flour and mix the old in with the new.
Day 3, 4, and 5: Repeat
- Each day, after a period of 24 hours has cycled, remove half of the flour-water mixture and replace it with 4 oz fresh distilled water and 1 cup flour. Mix and store at room temp.
- You will start to feel angst over throwing away so much flour!
- You may see a brown liquid separate and float to the top of the container. This is a great sign! That is called “hooch,” which is the by-product of the bacteria eating the sugars in the flour. Fermentation is occurring!
Day 6: Ready!
- Repeat the discarding of half of the mixture and replacing it with new. This is now called “feeding” the starter.
- The bacteria/yeast content in the starter should be “strong” enough to bake with on this day or in another few days. Your discard is now usable in a bread recipe that when added to fresh flour and the other ingredients, it will “eat” fast enough to create a rise in the bread for fluffy baking.
Not ready to bake anything just yet? Go ahead and move the starter in the jar to the fridge with a lid attached, but not screwed tightly. Every few days, feed it. So that you are not wasting as much flour, cut the flour and water in half, discarding half but feeding it with 1/2 cup flour and 2-3 oz distilled water.
My starter has gotten pushed to the back of the shelf quite often, resurfacing only when someone is really searching for a treat in a similar container (canning jar = fruit or fermented food in my fridge). Try to feed it at least once a week, preferably 2-3 times.
When you are ready to use the starter in a sourdough recipe (bread, waffles, pancakes…replacement for yeast as an ingredient is possible, but you need to decrease the wet ingredient by the wet “ounces” in your starter amount used), take out the whole starter container the day or night before and give it a fresh feeding. Then, it will be room temp and active for the recipe.
Unfortunately, you can’t switch from one flour to another, even in recipes. If it calls for spelt, it has to be a spelt sourdough starter. Rye flour for a rye starter, and wheat for wheat. Don’t even think about using white flour if you want to lose weight…
Take out what you need, feed it a half feeding, and put it back in the fridge. If you see “hooch” on top of the mixture, it is telling you that it is really hungry…no need to dump it off. Just mix it back in and discard half of the mixture before feeding it.