What is the Difference Between Sourdough and Normal Bread?

September 16, 2022
Written by Allyza Cepeda
Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is loved for its balance of slightly tangy and sweet flavor since it goes well with soups and is often eaten as a breakfast staple.

For those who haven’t tried it yet, it can be confusing to know how it differs from your normal bread.

Aside from having a slightly tangier taste (due to the sourdough starter’s fermentation process), sourdough bread is also more nutritious than conventional bread. This is because sourdough fermentation changes the structure of carb molecules which then lowers its glycemic index (GI) and slows down the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.

What is sourdough bread?

A sourdough is a form of grain fermentation. It originated around 1500 B.C. in ancient Egypt and is how bread was leavened until it was replaced by yeast a few hundred years back.

Nowadays, most types of bread are risen using yeast. It does that by releasing enzymes that transform the flour starch into sugar, the cells then absorb and metabolize the sugar. This process releases carbon dioxide gas and forms bubbles that become trapped inside the dough. 

During baking, the heat in the oven further expands the bubbles inside the dough even further.

Sourdough starters, on the other hand, leavens dough with a combination of “wild yeast” and lactic acid bacteria that both naturally exist in flour. Wild yeast is much more resistant to acidic conditions compared to baker’s yeast, so it works better with lactic acid bacteria in helping the dough rise.

When wild yeast, lactic acid bacteria as well as flour, and water are combined—this makes the sourdough starter. The starter is what ferments the sugars within the dough so it rises and acquires its characteristic flavor.

Sourdough bread also contains different levels of acetic acid bacteria. This is a group of bacteria that are also found in vinegar so it gives the sourdough bread a slight vinegar-like aroma.

The higher the level of acetic acid bacteria, the longer it takes for dough to ferment and rise.

The naturally existing yeast found in sourdough bread also increases its nutrient content so it’s easier for your body to digest it than bread types that use standard baker’s yeast. 

Despite being an ancient practice, sourdough bread still lives on today and is, in fact, slowly rising in popularity as more people turned to home baking during the pandemic lockdown.

For those who prefer to buy store-bought sourdough bread though, not all commercially sold ones use the conventional sourdough method so the health benefits may not be the same.

Nutrition

A sourdough bread’s nutrition profile is close to most other types of bread and only differs by the type of flour used in making it.

On average, a medium slice of sourdough bread (weighing about 60g)  that uses white flour and weighs approximately 2 ounces contains the following.

  • Calories: 188
  • Carbs: 37g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Protein: 8g
  • Fat: 1g

Why is sourdough bread better for you?

Why is sourdough bread better

Although sourdough bread is typically made using the same flour as other kinds of bread, the fermentation process improves its nutrition profile in several ways.

For one, the minerals in most types of bread lower can’t be absorbed by your body due to the presence of phytic acid or also called phytate. This is common in grains and is usually referred to as an antinutrient.

With the lactic acid bacteria present in sourdough bread, the pH level gets lowered which then deactivates phytate so you get to absorb the minerals much better.

Research shows that sourdough fermentation reduces the phytate content by more than 70%. This is especially true in bread types that have a pH level between 4.3 and 4.6.

When a sour bread dough’s low pH and lactic acid bacteria combine, this then increases its nutrient and antioxidant levels. The sourdough’s longer fermentation also helps in improving its aroma, texture, and flavor.

Is sourdough bread easier to digest?

Sourdough bread is typically easier to digest than ordinary bread since it has gone through the fermentation process.

The lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast present during the fermentation help neutralize antinutrients such as phytate which are naturally found in grains. This way, your body can digest food made from grains much more easily.

Sourdough fermentation also produces prebiotics, which is a type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut. This, in turn, eases digestion and improves gut health.

Moreover, the process of sourdough fermentation also breaks down large compounds in grains, such as the gluten proteins that some people may find hard to digest. Once that’s broken down, it becomes easier for the body to digest.

The thing about gluten is that it’s a common cause of digestive issues for people who are allergic or sensitive to it. Gluten tolerance can differ from person to person. Most people won’t have any issues consuming it while some experience stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, or constipation.

With sourdough bread having a lower gluten content, it’s much more tolerable to be consumed even for those who have mild gluten sensitivities.

However, do note that the fermentation process of making sourdough itself doesn’t get rid of gluten completely.

If you have celiac disease or moderate to severe gluten sensitivity, you should avoid eating any sourdough bread that contains wheat, rye, or barley should be avoided.

Is sourdough bread good for blood sugar?

Data shows that sourdough bread has a good effect on blood sugar control and insulin levels compared to other types of bread. However, it’s not clear to scientists the likely reason why is this so.

But it’s widely believed by researchers that the process of sourdough fermentation transforms the structure of carb molecules which then reduces its bread’s glycemic index (GI). This then slows down the rate at which sugars get absorbed into the bloodstream.

However, several factors affect GI response so more studies are needed on how sourdough affects blood sugar levels. Since GI is a measure of how a specific food affects blood sugar, foods with a lower GI score are less likely to spike blood sugar levels.

For instance, rye bread typically uses sourdough as a leavening agent because normal yeast can’t make it rise since this type of flour has low gluten content.

A study then showed how participants who ate rye bread had a lower spike in their insulin levels compared to those who ate the same amount of standard wheat bread.

Aside from the change in the molecule structure of carbs, the lactic acid bacteria found in sour bread also helps prevent blood sugar levels from spiking.

Moreover, several other studies have compared participants’ blood sugar levels after eating sourdough bread and bread leavened with your standard baker’s yeast.

The results showed that participants who consumed the sourdough bread had lower blood sugar as well as insulin levels than those who ate bread that used baker’s yeast

How to make sourdough bread

Why is sourdough bread better

Making fresh sourdough bread only requires flour simple ingredients: water, your choice of flour, and salt.

Here’s an overview of the steps required to make it:

  • Create your sourdough starter five days before making your bread. Here’s a simple recipe you can follow.
  • Once your starter is ready, mix about ⅓ cup of your starter with 4 cups of your preferred flour and 1 ⅞ cups of water. Mix and let rise (proof) for a few hours before adding 2 teaspoons of salt.
  • Fold the dough for a couple of minutes so everything’s well-incorporated and then let rest again for 10 to 30 minutes. Repeat the folding and proofing process two to three more times until your dough becomes smooth and stretchy.
  • On the final proofing, let the dough rise at room temperature until it grows to almost double its original volume.
  • You can then proceed to shape your bread and score the top with a blade. After that, put it inside a dutch oven. 
  • Bake in a preheated oven (pre-heat for 1 hour) at 500F for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Allow the bread to cool for 2 to 3 hours before slicing.

The great thing about using a sourdough starter as your leavener is that there’s always plenty of enough left. Just feed it once a week and store it in your ref to keep it alive.

Why sourdough bread is a great alternative to conventional bread

Aside from being richer in nutrients, sourdough bread is also less likely to spike your blood sugar. Moreover, it’s much easier to digest for people with mild gluten sensitivities.

Just remember though that sourdough’s fermentation process doesn’t get rid of gluten completely. 

More and more people are now choosing sourdough bread because of its improved aroma, flavor, and texture that bread made with typical baker’s yeast can’t achieve. That’s why if you haven’t tried it yet, it’s highly recommended that you try sourdough bread yourself.

If you’re unable to find a “true” sourdough bread in bakeries in your area, you can make it using any type of flour. However, it would be better to opt for flours with whole grains instead of refined ones so you can harness the full beneficial effects of your sourdough starter.

Allyza Cepeda
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