For the Love of Bread: Sourdough Fermentation and the Revival of Gluten Free Baked Goods
* the opinions expressed are those of the author and not Nutrition Ink.
“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” —Julia Child
Humans have been leavening, baking, and joyfully consuming bread for thousands of years, but for the approximate 1% of the US population affected by celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, most traditional bread, pasta, and baked goods are now off limits.
Food companies and home cooks alike have worked valiantly to create gluten-free products that mimic the flavors and textures of the original baked goods with some success. I personally have tasted fabulous gluten-free cookies, but it is clear more improvement is needed. Gluten-free products are often nutritionally inferior. The most common gluten-free flours, corn, rice, and potato are generally low in fiber and high in starch, the combination of which can cause a spike in blood sugar when consumed. Furthermore, a market review revealed that most available gluten-free products have poor mouthfeel (think grainy or excessively oily), off- flavors, and generally undesirable textures. Thankfully, we are not forever bound to gluten-free mediocrity.
Research suggests that sourdough fermentation may be the key to creating a new generation of high-quality gluten-free baked goods. Sourdough fermentation is not only documented to improve the texture, flavor, and aroma of gluten-free baked goods, but it greatly increases their nutritional profile. Sourdough is a simple combination of yeast, flour, and water. As the dough ferments, lactic acid bacteria and yeast break down the proteins and sugars naturally found in flour. This process reduces phytic acid, (A compound naturally found in grains, it binds essential nutrients like calcium, iron, and zinc, and keeps them from being absorbed), increases the number of free amino acids and antioxidants, and reduces the-absorption of starch thus reducing blood sugar spikes. Preliminary research has also shown that some peptides (the smallest unit of a protein) produced by sourdough fermentation have anti-tumoral and anti-hypertensive properties.
What may be more exciting is that sourdough fermentation produces products that look, smell, and taste good. Each batch of sourdough is completely unique, as the selected combination of flour, fermentation time, and temperature determine the aromas and flavors of the final product. Sourdough fermentation has been successfully applied to gluten-free and legume-based flours in the production of pasta, biscuits, and bread. These products have a greater shelf life than conventional gluten-free items and have been ranked by consumers as having better flavor, mouth feel, texture, and aroma.
You can experiment with your own gluten-free sourdough at home by buying a gluten-
free starter, available on Amazon. Check out this video by Bon Appetit to learn more about making and baking sourdough bread. Happy Baking!
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