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Sourdough September: Flour, Fermentation and Fun

What is Sourdough Bread?

Many of us now regularly enjoy Sourdough as a staple on our weekend brunch menus, but how many of us really understand how Sourdough is made and what sets it apart from commercially produced bread?

Sourdough is the original, ancient method for making a raised loaf of bread. It relies on a starter/levan, a fermented flour and water mixture containing natural wild yeasts and bacteria, to rise the loaf of bread in place of commercial, fast acting yeast.

When mixed with water, wild yeasts and bacteria in the surrounding air and in/on the grain itself can feed on the simple sugars in the flour, producing carbon dioxide (enables the bread to rise), lactic acid (gives the bread characteristic tangy flavour and prevents harmful microbes from growing) and enzymes, which break down some of the gluten and carbohydrates in the grains. This is your starter/mother/live sourdough culture.

Starter culture is simply mixed with more flour, water and salt; the gluten is developed in the dough via a kneading process, which enables the loaf to be shaped, proved, and baked. The yeast in the starter culture is much slower acting than commercial yeast, so the proving time of the loaf tends to be a minimum of 12 hours. The resultant benefits of a long fermentation process include amazing flavour, reduced Glycemic Index (GI) and gluten content, and increased digestibility and availability of the vitamins and minerals in the flour.

In this way, Sourdough bread is a very natural, elemental form of baking; an art and science which transforms virtually indigestible grain into a wonderfully nutritious and wholesome food source.

The importance of good flour

It’s really important to use organic (and ideally British grown) flour. This ensures it is free from nasty pesticides, which may negatively impact the health of your Sourdough starter and, more importantly, your own health. It also protects the soil in which the grain is grown and the surrounding wildlife.

Wheat is a commercially grown crop; typically the same single-variety (monoculture) wheat is grown year-on-year in the same fields at the detriment to soil health and biodiversity. It’s not all bad news though, non commodity grain is on the up! Wheat such as Wakelyns (YQ) is being grown by clever farmers like @farminggeorge from Curtis Farm, Essex. YQ is a biodiverse population wheat with a huge genetic bank, the result of 21 parent varieties being crossed in all combinations. It performs well in low-input organic rotations with strong resilience to climate shifts and pests - certainly a crop for the future. Heritage grain flours such as Einkorn are also worth looking out for. Lammas Fayre flour by John Letts is very special stuff.

So, the take home message is to source organic flour and try to experiment with some of the ancient/unusual wheat varieties suggested above.

The Real Bread campaign

A charitable organisation, founded 11 years ago, whose mission is to find and share ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. They help people to realise that supporting the production of #realbread can have a pretty phenomenal impact!

In 2013, they launched ‘Sourdough September’ which is an annual international celebration of genuine sourdough and the people who make it. To read all about it and get involved click the link below.

A few top spots in London for Sourdough baked goods

These bakeries are all setting an example by using organic and heritage grains in their products.



Elsewhere in the UK:

@landracebakery - Bath

@smallfoodbakery - Nottingham

Want to give it a go yourself?

BOOKS to get your hands on:

Bread Matters, by Andrew Whitley

Sourdough, by Casper Adre Lugg and Martin Ivar Hveem Fjeld

Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson

Modern baker, by Melissa Sharp

London-based WORKSHOPS:

ONLINE TUTORIALS: (@sourdoughclub on instagram)

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