How is sourdough different from regular bread?

I have been reading the Google Trends report for 2020. It is a very interesting report, and shines a light on what an interesting year 2020 has been. People have searched for weird things as almost the entire world stayed locked up at home with lockdowns being implemented in every country. A lot of the searches in 2020 revolved around ‘how to…” as users searched for ways to do things that they didn’t give another glance or another thought before 2020. And one of the top ‘how to’ searches in 2020 was “How to make Sour Dough bread”. Similar search terms across the world included:

  1. Best sour dough starter
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  3. Sour dough crackers
  4. Sour dough pancakes
  5. Sour dough discard recipes
  6. Sour dough starter recipes
  7. How to make sour dough starter
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  12. Sour dough


The top countries sourdough and related search queries were punched in were:

  1. New Zealand
  2. Canada
  3. Australia
  4. United Kingdom
  5. United States
  6. Singapore
  7. Ireland
  8. South Africa
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Denmark
  11. Malaysia
  12. Philippines
  13. Norway
  14. United Arab Emirates
  15. Lebanon
  16. Netherlands
  17. Austria
  18. Sweden
  19. India
  20. Finland

Here is how the sourdough search terms have fared on Google searches over the past five years:

And here is how the sough dough search terms performed on Google searches in 2020:

So, now you know that sourdough has been quite a craze in 2020. Chances are at least someone among your friends or someone you follow on Instagram would probably have put up pictures of their sourdough starters and sourdough breads. The sourdough starter doesn’t look so pretty, but yields delicious and healthy breads.

What is Sourdough bread?

Sourdough is one of the oldest forms of grain fermentation. Believed to have originated in ancient Egypt around 1500 BC, sourdough fermentation remained the customary form of bread leavening until the baker’s yeast revolutionized baking and replaced sourdough.

What is leavened bread?

A bread whose dough rises during the bread-making process because of the gases being produced owing to the fermentation of the grains is called as leavened bread. Today, the most common way to bring about this leaving is baker’s yeast. Baker’s yeast is a specific mix of yeasts that can be controlled by the baker. They are manufactured in industries, and hence are carefully calculated doses.

Compared to this, sourdough breads rely on wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria to bring about the leavening process. These yeasts and bacteria are naturally present in the dough. These wild yeasts are not artificially manufactured, and exist wild in the environment and in the dough. They are more resistant to an acidic environment, which makes it possible for them to grow in sync with lactic acid bacteria.

What is a sourdough starter?

The mix of wild yeast, lactic acid bacteria, flour, and water that is used to make sourdough bread is called as a sourdough starter. When this starter is added to the dough, the microorganisms feed on the sugars, causing it to ferment helping the dough to rise and giving the sourdough bread its characteristic taste and texture.

Two of the regions in the world where sourdough bread making has been extremely popular are:

  1. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region
  2. San Francisco Bay region

The sourdough bread of San Francisco owes its unique fresh taste and texture to a special species of the lacto bacillus bacteria called Lactobacillus sanfrancisco.

During the Gold Rush days in California, some of the Boudin family who were well-known master bakers in France came to San Francisco. They discovered the sourdough culture there, and realized that bread made using this culture had an outstanding texture and an amazing taste. With time, they became renowned for their own sourdough bread in San Francisco. Miners would flock over to the Boudin’s bakery every morning for this special bread. It is said the family has been using the same sourdough culture from those days in 1894 and the same recipe for the bread. There is a popular tale of the heroic way Louise Boudin saved their sourdough starter during the deadly Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Is sourdough bread more nutritious than regular bread?

Yes, sourdough breads have a greater nutritional value than regular breads. Although sourdough breads use the same refined or whole wheat flours as regular breads, they still end up being more nutritious, thanks to the unique fermentation process. The lactic acid bacteria ferment sugars in the dough and produce lactic acid as a byproduct of this fermentation. This lactic acid causes lowering of the bread’s pH, which can help degrade the phytates present in the bread. Phytates are anti-nutritional components and naturally tend to reduce absorption of minerals such as potassium, phosphates, magnesium, zinc, etc. in the human body. But thanks to lactic acid, the phytates are degraded which in turn increases the absorption of the minerals into our bodies. Studies show that sourdough fermentation reduces the phytates content of the bread by 24 to 50% compared to conventional baker’s yeast fermented bread.

The lactic acid bacteria are also known to release antioxidants as part of the fermentation process. The sourdough process increases folate levels in the bread. Regular whole-grain bread may not look or taste so nice, but when whole grain flour is used to make a sourdough whole grain bread, it yields a bread with much better texture and flavor.

Thanks to the unique fermentation, the sourdough bread is easier to digest. The bread has lots of prebiotic content and also has probiotic properties. As it is proven, regular consumption of prebiotics and probiotics improves gut health and digestion. Sourdough breads are also low on gluten, so it is good for consumers who are sensitive to gluten. Sourdough breads can also be made using rye, which is generally not used for baking regular breads as it has very low gluten on which the regular baker’s yeast cannot work. However, the breads are not gluten-free, so if you are gluten-intolerant, then you would need to stay away from the sourdough breads.

It is also believed that sourdough breads have a lower glycemic index compared to regular bread due to the change in cab structure as a result of sourdough fermentation.

How to make sourdough bread?

Here’s a quick summary of the steps you should follow to make sourdough bread:

  • Make a sourdough starter
  • Feed the starter daily and let it grow for a few days (3 to 5 days generally)
  • Mix a small portion of this starter with flour and water
  • Allow this mixture to rest for a few hours, then add salt
  • Fold the dough a few times before letting it rest again for 10 to 30 minutes
  • Repeat the folding and resting process till the dough becomes smooth and stretchy
  • During the final resting, put the dough at room temperature till it grows to 1.5 times its original volume
  • Shape your sourdough bread and bake it
  • Allow the bread to cool on a rack for 2 to 3 hours before slicing and serving it

Regular breads require addition of oils, sweeteners, conditioners, and preservatives to improve the flavor and the keeping quality of the bread during the shelf life span. Sourdough breads are self sufficient and do not require any such external additives.

So, you realize how a sourdough bread is so much more nutritious and better than regular baker’s bread. It kind of also tells you why the sourdough bread was so popularly searched for across the globe during the lockdown times in 2020. You’ll find a lot of recipes to start a sourdough starter and each baker tends to have their own way of doing it, so I won’t dwell on that here. However, one thing I can tell you is that it is very important to feed your starters regularly in order to keep them alive and flourishing. You want all the good wild lactobacilli and yeasts growing happily in the culture. Monitor your sourdough starters closely. If you watch American TV shows, you’ll find quite a few shows where the family sourdough starters are heirloom possessions being passed down the generations. For instance, in Charles Boyle’s family in the popular show Brooklyn 99.

Did you start your own sourdough starters during the lockdown? Are you a fan of sourdough breads? Tell me in the comments or find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie.

Penny for your thoughts!