Sourdough Bread for Gluten Intolerance?

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SAMSUNGLast week I shared that I brought home two large boxes of frozen grass-fed beef only to find that our second freezer wasn’t working. Our best guess – thanks to input from a friend and reader – is that the garage freezer stopped working because it is attached to a refrigerator which also stops working when the temperature outside is colder than the temperature inside the appliance. We expect it to start working again once the weather warms up. I wasn’t about to let hundreds of dollars of meat go to waste so I got busy clearing space in the kitchen freezer. (Our neighbor graciously offered to store half of the beef.)

My kitchen adventures that day included dehydrating veggies, toasting hot dog buns into breadcrumbs and stumbling upon a sourdough starter lingering in the back of the fridge. The starter had been there since September… obviously I forgot about it. No worries though – the flavor of sourdough just gets better with age.

When I found the starter it had a layer of liquid – called hooch – on the top that looked a lot like this. I just stirred the hooch back into the starter. Image from http://glutenfree4goofs.wordpress.com

When I found my starter it had a layer of liquid – called hooch – on the top that looked a lot like this, jar and all. I just stirred the hooch back into the starter.
Image from http://glutenfree4goofs.wordpress.com

Why Make Sourdough Bread

I’m in a strange place… highly interested in baking yet living with a family that would like to become gluten-free. We haven’t had a loaf of bread in the house for 6-8 weeks. So why in the world did I bake bread this weekend? Two reasons.

First, sourdough bread is sustainable. Because fermentation is a natural part of the process, the dough doesn’t have to be refrigerated to be used. In addition, making bread from a starter means that as long as I have flour and water available I can keep it going for as long as I’d like. (A little salt would help too!) Sourdough bread is the kind of bread made for centuries before commercialized yeast was available. (Our definition of sustainable living is a system of living that maintains its own viability by seeking to optimize the use of naturally and locally available resources, often including reuse. Said more simply, it’s a lifestyle that can go on unhindered – or at least only slightly inconvenienced – in the face of shortages or stoppages of modern resources we’ve come to rely on such as electricity, gasoline and Wal-Mart. And refrigerators.)

Second, sourdough bread may actually have health benefits for those who are gluten-intolerant. I discovered this claim in an article of Whole Living Magazine. The article describes how a California baker named Jack Bezian claims that his sourdough bread is healthy because it contains living organisms (microbes) that other breads and foods do not.

The article goes on to explain:

“On one hand, few of Bezian’s ideas hold up under scientific scrutiny (for starters, dough can’t turn breadlike until it reaches 180 degrees, and 140 degrees kills most microbes, including probiotics). On the other hand, there is clearly something special about Bezian’s bread.”

That special bread sells like crazy, especially to devoted customers who have previously experienced pain and discomfort from eating wheat-containing products. Many of these customers not only claim to have zero discomfort when eating Benzian’s bread, but also to have experienced additional health benefits.

What’s the secret? No one knows for sure (and Benzian isn’t spilling the beans.) The key may be the fact that Benzian’s bread is fermented for a very long time (sometimes more than a month while traditional sourdough is fermented for no longer than 20 hours).

The article explains:

“Over the past decade, several studies have found that some people with gluten issues can tolerate intensely fermented wheat. The studies are small, and celiac experts like Joe Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, consider their data weak. Still, they point in the same direction. One, published in 2007 in the peer-reviewed Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found that when wheat bread was thoroughly fermented, it reduced gluten levels from roughly 75,000 parts per million to 12—a level that technically qualifies as gluten-free. How is this even possible?

According to the literature, fermentation’s trick with sourdough lies in its native bacteria and yeasts. As these microbes feed on grain’s proteins and starches, they break down gluten into more digestible elements. They also gorge on the grain’s sugars, turning them into compounds that our stomachs absorb more slowly than the sugars in standard bread.”

Fermentation isn’t the only ‘secret’ addressed by Oppenheimer, the article’s author. He also discusses how heirloom grains and old-school baking processes help to explain why our newfangled, commercial way of making bread may be resulting in wide-spread gluten sensitivities. For a very thorough, scientific explanation of how fermentation in sourdough can benefit those with gluten-intolerance, as well as a well-written overview of the rise in gluten issues in America, I highly recommend this article.

Our Daily Bread by Todd Oppenheimer

How to Make Sourdough Bread

sourdough bread loavesI’m not an expert on bread, least of all sourdough. But I’m learning. After discovering the potential benefits of sourdough as I outlined above, I did some research to find different techniques and recipes. As with most things in the world, you’ll find lots of helpful info on the internet, but I personally found the following site to be most helpful. I followed the recipe more or less with a few changes to the baking process. (For example, I added a shallow pan to the bottom of the oven with 1/2 cup of water during the baking process.) After reading about Benzian’s loooong fermented bread, I’m planning to try elongating the fermentation process myself.

Sourdough Baking: The Basics by S. John Ross

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