The loaves have been hard to miss. Social media has been flooded with pictures of crumbly-crackly-crusty-sourdough loaves for months now. Chances are, despite years of a “bread is bad” culture and an overall national decline in bread consumption, you, or someone you love, have given in to the peer pressure and tried to be an artisan baker.
There have been many contributing factors to the soaring popularity of sourdough baking, including a commercial yeast shortage. But those reasons can’t account entirely for the soaring popularity of sourdough bread.
For instance, the same bakers that couldn’t find yeast also had to go to great lengths to find the flour that they needed to create their loaves. And as I said before, bread consumption has been falling for decades. So was something else contributing to the sudden love of sourdough?
While carbs in general, and wheat in particular, have recently been blamed for everything from obesity to Alzheimers and cancer, there has also been a growing rally around pre-industrial bread-making techniques that utilize natural fermentation, not commercial yeast. Proponents say sourdough is a healthy way to consume your carbs. Quarantine shortages may have simply set the table for the sourdough takeover that would have come anyway. In fact, behind the craze come 4 hidden benefits that may surprise you.
Sourdough as stress relief
It’s no secret that stress is overwhelming amidst an uncertain economy and a pandemic that just won’t quit. There are many helpful and often cited ways of coping with stress. Exercise, even when you can’t get to the gym, can work wonders. And we all have our favorite carb-laden comfort foods. But did you know baking can also help beat the blues and work off stress?
Research shows that the mere act of creating can brighten moods, but lately baking itself is in the spotlight as it can be especially therapeutic in several ways. Many long-time bakers will tell you that kneading dough is helpful for relieving stress. Not only can kneading be a good workout for your arms, but as you fold and punch the dough you relieve muscle tension that can collect during times of stress.
The sensory aspect of working the dough with your hands also sends signals to your brain which increase the production of endorphins, the neurotransmitters that create feel-good thoughts. John Whalite, the 2012 winner of The Great British Bake Off, credits baking with helping manage his manic depression. “Baking helps lift my depression. It can’t cure it but it helps,”
Sourdough as a diabetic support
With diabetes, and hypertension on the rise doctors are pleading with patients to get exercise and eat well. More and more doctors are including fermented foods in their recommendations for a well-balanced diet. Fermented foods, like sourdough, can help regulate the appetite and reduce cravings for sugar. Sourdough also seems to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, which leads to more stable blood sugars overall.
Bacteria in cultured foods also produce vitamins and enzymes that are valuable for better digestion. Even more surprising though, according to research, among these beneficial enzymes are some that regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Although you’d never want to skip medicine because you eat sourdough, this could mean that sourdough bread may be a valuable support tool for people suffering from diabetes and possibly hypertension.
Sourdough as an allergy reducer
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are becoming increasingly common throughout the world. As they are, researchers are working to find ways to limit or reverse reactions to cereal grains, like wheat, that have played a valuable role as a staple in the human diet for hundreds of years.
While there is no cure for Celiac disease and those who suffer from it are still required to avoid all gluten, research shows that the fermenting process changes the structure of gluten to a point that some people with gluten sensitivity can eat sourdough bread with no adverse reactions.
Because the sourdough process begins to break down the wheat’s structure some of the properties which lead to allergic sensitivity are reduced or eliminated and people who once couldn’t eat a dinner roll without adverse reactions are now happily eating away at their homemade sourdough.
Sourdough as a mineral source
Phytic Acid is common in plant-derived foods, especially grains and nuts. Often called an “anti-nutrient”, phytic acid actually plays an important role in protecting a seed before it sprouts. Unfortunately, that same protection can cause malabsorption of nutrients, especially minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. In sourdough, however, the fermenting process breaks down phytic acid, allowing the minerals to be absorbed. In fact, the lactic acid bacteria present in sourdough enhances acidification, which actually leads to increased magnesium and phosphorus availability.
So whether you want to, or have, hopped on the sourdough bandwagon for its stress-relieving qualities, or as a way to increase your nutrition overall, you can bake away in the knowledge that sourdough can be a healthy, relaxing, and beautiful way to consume those carbs.