Sourdough bread is becoming more and more popular these days, partly due to novelty and partly due to its perceived health benefits. Due to becoming more mainstream recently, there are a lot of misconceptions about sourdough. In today’s article, we will try to understand sourdough bread quite closely, see its nutritional profile, benefits, and its possible good and bad effects from an ayurvedic point of view.
How is sourdough different from regular bread?
Normally all soft loaves of bread are prepared by fermenting flour follows by baking it. In industrial bread, the process of fermentation is done with the help of baker’s yeast and it is a quick process. In sourdough, the fermentation is done using a starter culture, which mainly contains wild form yeast and lactobacillus bacteria (which normally helps fermentation in milk, sauerkraut, etc) which is comparatively a slow and natural process. It is very interesting to know that apart from this there is NO real difference between both end products. Most cheap sourdough bread can be still made of regular wheat flour making it equally unhealthy as its counterpart.
Sourdough and probiotics
The recent researcher has made it beyond doubt that human health, wellbeing and especially immunity system is vastly influenced by the kind of bacteria that resides in our gut. Based on these findings a lot of people have started using fermented foods and probiotics to nourish the right microbiome. Studies mostly have shown that the food we eat and the condition of our gut mucous membrane have more to do with the actual composition of the gut microbiome than the probiotic pills consumed. Due to the presence of lactobacillus which is considered beneficial for us, sourdough is often thought to have a probiotic property in it. This is completely incorrect. Like any baked product, the amount of heat during the baking process will leave no bacteria or probiotics to be left there alive. So, sourdough bread, even though uses probiotics in its preparation phase, DOES NOT have any probiotic value when consumed.
The probiotics bacteria are supposed to eat the sugar in bread and release carbon dioxide as a by-product. In regular bread this action is done by the bacteria present in our colon, causing gases to be released. This is a major cause of distension, flatulence, and bloatedness after having regular bread. Sourdough can be thus creating less bloatedness and will feel more comfortable to digest.
Sourdough is acidic
The process of fermentation in sourdough bread is different from regular bread due to the presence of lactobacillus. These bacteria as the name rightly indicate eats the sugar from the wheat/flour for its energy needs and give out lactic acid. Lactic acid is also presenting in our yogurt and kefir. This lactic acid gives sourdough bread a unique and sour flavor profile. Presence of lactic acid also has some other benefits. One it reduces the overall availability of easily broken-down sugars and improves the glycaemic index of the bread. That means it will comparatively have a less spiking effect on our blood sugar and keeps it more even. Secondly, this also reduces certain metabolic blockers and improves the absorption of naturally available minerals in wheat or other flours. The lactic acid can stimulate our digestive system and improve the production of digestive juices. This can make the overall digestion of sourdough bread easier process. But is this any different from the effect of buttermilk with regular bread? I seriously doubt!
Ayurvedic point of view – Is Sourdough Good or Bad?
The act of fermentation is many thousands of years old process that was in use during the time ayurvedic texts were compiled. In the Indian subcontinent, there were a variety of grains including Jowar, Bajra, Sorghum, corn, rice and wheat used to make the loaves of bread. It can be simple flatbread or fermented ones. The Most Important difference in ayurvedic understanding is that – the health benefits of the bread has more to do with the grain than the fermentation process. Grains were chosen mostly based on seasonal availability. Wheat and corn were winter preparations and summer and the rainy season will have various varieties of beans, gram flour, vegetables, etc.
Wheat and corn are considered warming and having pitta increasing property, hence consumed during cooler weather and avoided mostly in extreme heat and pitta aggravated personality type. The process of fermentation will make most food lighter to digest and if it’s a slow process involving lactobacillus instead of baker’s yeast the presence of lactic acid could make it more acidic and warming. Hence sourdough bread is generally not recommended in pitta imbalance. As it is easier to digest and as researchers show is of a low glycaemic index, it is suitable for both Vata and Kapha in moderation. Adding seeds to it can make it better for Vata due to oils present in the seeds. The process of aging is also considered having an impact on the grains. Aged grains are easier to digest and facilitate the disintegration of complex and heavy to digest carbohydrate chains. So traditionally grains were harvested and stored to make it light, followed by fermentation to make it lighter and baking to further breakdown the complex nutrients making the result very easy to digest. The industrially produced quickly fermented ones lack almost all their properties and are filled with various preservatives and additives.
This research conducted in 2017 does indicate that the effect of regular bread and sourdough bread is in all clinical parameters including effects on blood sugar level the same and any difference in effect is possible based on the individual taking part in the study. So, to answer the above question whether sourdough is good or bad, Its neither. According to your body type, digestive power, and nutritional ability, it can be either. Having a varied, seasonal, naturally prepared diet will have its obvious advantage to mass-produced sourdough bread. Excess intake of sourdough due to its perceived health benefits can be equally damaging like excess regular bread intake.
NOTE- This article is created in collaboration and support from Ananda in the Himalayas. Visit anandaspa.com to know more about this wonderful healing space in India.
 The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease June et al
 Gut, Chapter 30
 Bread Affects Clinical Parameters and Induces Gut Microbiome-Associated Personal Glycemic Responses
Tal Korem, Zeevi et al