Bread making is one of the worlds oldest crafts. It has independently originated in many ancient civilisations, in many geographies and has taken many forms, both leavened (fermented) and unleavened. Almost anywhere the seeds of grasses (grains) were harvested, the development of more digestible and palatable ways to eat these grains has led to flour and then to bread.

The fermentation of milled grains or flours was no doubt a very early discovery, because the yeasts and bacteria responsible for the fermentation are naturally present on the grain itself. Moistening the flour to create a dough activates natural enzymes present in the flour, and the resulting sugars and other components in the flour create an environment for these microorganisms to flourish. The process of fermentation created highly nutritious, more digestible, lighter breads. Bread baking and its companions, brewing and wine production, were born, although it would be thousands of years before artisans understood the mysteries they had exploited for their craft.

In modern times, the advent of the microscope enabled the investigation of these mysteries, and the secrets of fermented foods were fully revealed. This knowledge was exploited to industrialise the production of bread, beer and wine. In the case of bread, natural fermentation arising from a diverse population of yeasts and bacteria was replaced with industrial fermentation using a cultivated single yeast, Saccharomyces cerivisiae, a very active monoculture allowing for compressed fermentation times, highly consistent results and lower production costs. Some of the adverse effects of this transition, such as short shelf life, were compensated for by the use of chemical preservatives and other additives.

The industrialisation of bread production occurred in partnership with similar changes in grain production and milling. White bakers flour today has not only had the non-flour components physically removed. It is also bleached with compounds such as chlorine dioxide gas.

Many of us feel that the industrialisation of bread production has led to a less satisfying and healthy product without knowing exactly why. Sourdough bread production is again flourishing as people everywhere begin to appreciate the health benefits and superior flavour profile of naturally fermented bread, using the diverse population of naturally occurring organisms that our ancestors used thousands of years ago. Our bodies are telling us that it is better for us and more satisfying but wouldn’t it be good to know how this happens?

For a number of decades, scientists have been exploring the unique characteristics of naturally fermented bread, and in conjunction with our improved knowledge of human nutrition, have identified the benefits that sourdough provides as an alternative to industrial bread. These include the natural bio-preservation of sourdough, eliminating the need for the addition of chemical preservatives. Compared with industrial breads, naturally fermented breads also have a lower glycemic index, improve protein digestability, improved mineral bioavailability, and decreased anti-nutritional factors.

Stand by as Snowy Mill’s resident scientist prepares to tell all in a series of articles about the history and science of bread, and why for leavened breads many of us are returning to the sourdough methods of times past.


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