About Sourdough – fermentation

I handed this out to my customers in the Baddeck market on Wednesday as part of a slow, general campaign to educate people about natural fermentation. Partly I am also trying to explain the difference between organic bread that is organically fermented, and bread made with organic flour but fermented with unnatural – and therefore decidedly not organic – single strain test tube yeasts…

French Road Bakery, Cape Breton Island



About your Bread

The word ‘sourdough’ comes from the German ‘sauerteig’. The sour taste comes from the fermentation process which produces acids which inhibit bacterial decay – why they are used in natural pickling – and also pre-digest the grains. Symbiotic cultures of yeast and bacteria are the living building blocks of life; their populations determine the soil health from which comes all our food, seeds depend upon them for germination, and they are indispensable in all animal and human digestive systems along with our lower, or ‘enteric’, brain functions.

In agriculture, the term ‘organic’ refers not only to being free from artificial chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers, but also being the result of a genuinely natural process. Unfortunately the word ‘natural’ has been distorted by industrial food manufacturers to be almost meaningless. In baking, for example, fermentation using single strain test tube grown yeast can be called ‘natural’ even though such single strains are never found in Nature, and thus single strain fungal fermentation is most certainly is not organic. Authentic, organic fermentation is thus not only free from artificial chemicals, but also involves only natural, living organisms – usually around 20 symbiotically functioning yeasts and bacteria – grown directly from the same grains used in the bread. This organic fermentation usually takes between 12 to 36 hours (or longer), during which time the grain, be it white or whole flour, feeds these microbial fermentation cultures which in turn develop superior texture, flavour and nutritional profile (including raising protein and vitamin levels).

With organic fermentation, there is no need to speed up gluten development with mechanical mixing, which is why this bakery has no such mixer. Most yeast-risen bread has only had a few hours between the initial mix to the oven and thus is much harder to digest, and indeed it is possible that this rapid, unnatural fermentation is the cause of so many problems surrounding bread these days; moreover, without numerous additives, such rapid processing (typically three hours) would not result in anything even remotely edible. For example, most commercial bakery ‘sourdoughs’ simply have had ‘acetic acid’ added to the dough, or use a small preferment of test tube yeast and flour to add sourness to a loaf which is then raised with test tube yeast. That unnatural single-strain fungus – for yeast is a fungus – in turn penetrates into each and every cell of your loaf which is why even when made with organic flour, such a loaf should not really be called ‘organic’ and indeed some countries have laws prohibiting such a description.

Care of your Sourdough: Although generally speaking organically fermented breads retain their moisture longer than yeast-risen breads, they do not remain as moist and springy as  supermarket imitations containing numerous ‘dough conditioners’ which governments don’t require being put on the ingredient list. For example, most commercial flours contain human hair harvested in hair salons in China and India because this speeds up the processing time. Many have animal enzymes too. And most such loaves have elevated salt, sugar and oil levels to maintain this springy, moist feeling which imitates the fresh-baked genuine article.

Sourdough bread lasts about a week – longer if it is very humid – drying out a little every day. There are two things that make a great difference: first, toasting softens it up considerably; just slice the loaf, pop in the toaster, do not over do it, and it is soft again. Second, consider using a bread bin or bread box; Stokes has one in the Mayflower Mall for $30.00 but there are others available via the internet. (Personally, I think all-wooden ones are best and all-plastic the worst.) In a typically humid environment, a genuine sourdough loaf will remain soft and moist for about a week when kept in a bread bin, albeit it does harden a little every day. It is best not refrigerated; this will just harden the loaf. The idea is to let the loaf breath moist, well circulated air. Above all, do not store in plastic, which promotes mould growth.

In sum,  you hold in your hands a handmade organic loaf, not only containing organic flours – some of which are fresh-ground at the bakery – but also organically fermented, the same way good bread has been made for millenia, without any modern shortcuts such as using test tube yeast, mechanical kneading and so on.

Wood-Fired Brick Oven: A brick oven bathes the dough in natural, radiant heat which penetrates into the core of the loaf from the first minute of being in the oven making for a more rapid and even bake than with modern convection ovens. It also makes high temperature baking possible – since baking at 700F with a convection oven burns the outer crust long before the inner dough is ready – such as focaccios and ciabattas, which can be made even with whole grains, featuring nice large holes and a satisfying, chewy crumb texture.

Farmer’s Markets: Thank you for buying produce and other items at your local Farmer’s Market. Even if you choose not to buy this bread regularly, please buy from other producers here, including other bakers, because supporting local productivity is the single best way for us ‘ordinary folks’ to fight back against the big box store paradigm, which is daily undermining health, productivity and local community culture – what life in Cape Breton is about!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s