Every decade or so tends to have its own health trend or craze. The Thigh Master and grapefruit diet of the 70s bled into the aerobics and low-fat/no-fat wave of the 80s and early 90s, which gave way to the NordicTrack and low-carb diets of the late 90s and early 2000s. But other than my mom’s NordicTrack which has had a comfy home in her basement for almost 3 decades, we can more or less kick this all to the curb. What is the point of eating if you can’t break open a warm and fluffy loaf of bread and take a big bite out of the middle? And with November marking the official start of the holiday season, we’re sure to come into contact with some delicious loaves, if we’re lucky enough.
However, over the last several years, many of us have realized that we aren’t quite willing or even able to give in to the almost irresistible call of breaking our daily bread. Some are plagued with gut issues, while some still have a nearly ingrained reaction to stay away from carbs altogether. But lately (since say, mid-March 2020) it seems like everybody knows somebody, or maybe they are that somebody who has at least started a brief, but passionate, love affair with sourdough. And for good reason! Sourdough has so many health benefits, if not just for your physical health, perhaps for your mental health. In a culture that prizes restrictions (Don’t eat that! Don’t drink that! Don’t rest!) above all else, allowing ourselves the simple pleasure of biting into a lovingly baked loaf of bread does us some good.
What is Sourdough?
Simply put, sourdough bread is made through the process of fermenting dough with wild lactobacillaceae and yeast. Lactic acid from the fermentation process creates the trademark sour taste and improves its shelf life. Since sourdough is a fermented product, it contains lower gluten and antinutrient contents and has a lower pH than regular bread, which actually helps with digestion.
Sourdough Health Benefits:
Some studies show that sourdough bread can act like a prebiotic. This means that the fiber content found within the sourdough feeds the good bacteria in your gut. By feeding these good bacteria, they’re able to grow and multiply and crowd out the bad bacteria that harm your gut, and thus improves your overall health (immune system, mental health, etc.).
Blood Sugar Stabilization: If you are somebody who needs to watch their blood sugar, you know the defeated feeling you can get when you come back from lunch and check your levels. However, it’s been found that eating sourdough bread can help your blood sugar levels stay more stable than eating white bread. The fermentation process changes the structure of the bread molecules, which helps your body absorb them slower, lowering the bread’s overall glycemic index. Additionally, the fermentation process makes the dough’s magnesium levels more bioavailable and magnesium helps control your blood sugar and protein levels.
Easier to Digest:
There has lately been growing attention given to those who experience gut issues related to grain digestion (this would be celiac or gluten intolerance). Sourdough has been known to be able to at least partially reduce the harmful effects of these cereal grains and in some cases allows individuals with these gut issues to enjoy a slice of bread or two without painful ramifications. However, it’s important to note, that if you are Celiac, you are still advised to abstain from sourdough. Additionally, individuals with IBS symptoms have noted an overall improvement in the digestion of bread items that were fermented, like sourdough, due to the fermentation process as it degrades certain carbohydrate chains known as FODMAPS. This has been shown to help mitigate gas formation related to intestinal discomfort. Yay! Also, due to the fermentation process, sourdough bread is rich in bioavailable nutrients. This means that your body is more likely to absorb them and put them to good use.
Thanksgiving-worthy Sourdough Recipes
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups water
3 cups wheat, spelt, or rye flour
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
The night before you plan to make the pancakes combine starter, pumpkin puree, water, and flour in a large bowl. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.
The next morning mix in eggs, maple syrup, melted butter, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spices until just combined.
Pour onto a hot skillet and cook over medium-low heat until bubbles form and the edges start to set. Flip and cook a few more minutes until done.
Serve hot with butter, maple syrup, honey, or other sweet toppings.
Heavy-based saucepan or Dutch Oven
Heavy-Based Casserole Dish
225 g Unsalted Butter (divided into 150g and 75g)
600 g Sourdough Bread cubed
150 g Apple (2 small apples, diced)
200 g Onion (2 small onions, diced)
160 g Celery diced
500 g Liquid Chicken Stock or Broth or Vegetable Stock
HERBS + SPICES
12 Sage Leaves finely chopped
2 Rosemary Stalks, stems discarded, finely chopped
5 g Fresh thyme leaves approx. ¼ cup
3 g Dried Parsley Leaves approx. 2 tbsp.
4 cloves Garlic finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
The Night Before
The night before you are going to make the stuffing, chop your sourdough bread into chunks (around 1-inch cubes are perfect) and arrange them on a large baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake them in the oven at 200C (390F) for around 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the sourdough is toasted and dry.
Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to sit out overnight (pop a dish towel over it if you are worried about it sitting out).
To Make The Sourdough Stuffing
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grab a heavy-based, oven-safe casserole dish.
Place the dried sourdough bread cubes into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Add 150g of butter to a heavy-based saucepan (I use my Dutch Oven) and allow it to melt before adding the onions and garlic. Allow them to soften for a few minutes before you add the celery and then the apple.
You don't want these to brown, just soften in the butter. Once they are soft, turn off the heat and allow them to sit for a few minutes while you move on to the next step.
Add the eggs to the liquid stock and whisk them together in a batter jug set aside.
To the large bowl with the sourdough bread, add the herbs and salt and pepper, as well as the softened vegetable mixture.
Pour ¾ of the liquid stock and egg mix over the top of the vegetable mixture and then mix everything through the sourdough bread cubes until they are all well coated.
Tip the sourdough stuffing mix into a heavy-based baked dish and spread it evenly in the dish. Pour over the remaining stock mixture.
Cut the remaining 75g of butter into small cubes and place evenly over the sourdough stuffing mixture.
Cover the dish with foil and place into a 350F oven for around 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the stuffing is golden and crunchy on top and the liquid is no longer bubbling underneath.
Allow the stuffing mix to cool slightly before serving.
You can use stale sourdough bread or freshly baked sourdough bread with this recipe. It doesn't make too much difference since you are going to dry the bread out in the oven anyway. If you are baking sourdough bread especially to make stuffing, you can of course bake it a few days before making the stuffing.
To start your very own sourdough journey check out the King Arthur Baking’s Sourdough website for tips and tricks. And remember to be cautious around grocery store sourdoughs. They’re often a highly processed mutation of true sourdough and aren’t packing the same nutrient-dense punch. It’s always best to support local/artisan bakers or better yet, make it yourself!