When I was in college, the gluten and wheat allergy pandemic exploded. It seemed like at one point, I knew more people who couldn’t eat gluten than those who could. My science professor at school was one of them, along with his entire family; it was as if all of a sudden, their bodies refused to process wheat and gluten even though they never had that allergy before. But after looking at a few changes in modern food in society, it’s not that surprising; he discovered (almost ten years ago) some research that is just now getting traction in health and science communities.
First of all, access to refrigeration has enabled us to eat fresh foods year round. You wouldn’t think of this being a bad thing normally, would you? However, since we can preserve the “fresh” state of meat, vegetables, and dairy with a fridge and freezer, we’ve lost the older preservation techniques which include natural fermenting. The other big technological capture of instant or dry active yeast has give us a shortcut to the natural way of capturing yeast from our air and environment, which makes leavening faster and easier and more predictable, but possibly to the detriment of our diets. The natural way of processing and keeping food edible for long periods of time was also a huge source of probiotics in the daily diet, which we now lack, and have to substitute with a lot more effort and supplements. Those probiotics keep our digestive system working, and when we are lacking, our body has a much harder time processing certain things.
To further frustrate the problem, even if you want to eat fermented foods (like pickles, sauerkraut, sourdough, etc), most of the fermented foods that are mass produced aren’t even naturally fermented; vinegar is added to just make it taste “sour” as a matter of taste preference, since the actual fermentation process takes much longer and isn’t cost or time effective for these huge producers. And while vinegar still contributes some benefit to your digestive system, the level of probiotics simply isn’t there. So, that’s depressing.
As much as I’d like to say that there is an easy way to fix this, it does take a bit of effort to fix this problem. The two options that I’ve settled on is either 1) paying a lot more for more naturally produced yogurt, pickled/fermented items, sourdough etc, or 2) having the time and space to do it at home; though none of these processes are particularly difficult, it just takes time and effort. To be honest, I go back and forth between each option, as life/time/budget allows.
All that to say, this sourdough process that I’ve been exploring is one way to combat the influx of hard-to-process foods with which we bombard our bodies. The natural fermentation process that occurs is huge in helping our body process wheat and grain, since the long raising time allows for those acids to be broken down before they even enter our body; our body doesn’t have to do the work anymore of breaking down the defense mechanisms that are present in a wheat grain. Because of that, many people who have been gluten-intolerant or have an aversion to wheat can actually eat true sourdough without the negative effects of regular unfermented bread. I’m no scientist, so if you have a definite wheat allergy or severe symptoms, definitely consult a doctor or nutritionist before trying this.
If you are gluten/wheat-intolerant and this seems like it might be a good option for you, the process is simple. Follow the recipe in my previous post, but after step 2., follow the instructions below:
- Shape into loaves in two loaf pans, and place in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours. Being in a cool environment will allow the fermentation process to occur slower and longer, and process out more of the hard-to-process acids. Also, the dough might get a bit softer, which is why I recommend using bread pans so they don’t spread out too much.
- Before baking, remove from the fridge and allow the loaves to return to room temperature. They should rise a bit more and get a bit more puffy as they warm up. I like to place them on my stovetop as the oven preheats, so the gentle warmth helps them proof even more.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, give the tops of the loaves a few gentle slashes, then immediately place in the oven to bake for 20-30 minutes. Follow the same instructions in slashing, spritzing, and cooling as described in my previous post.
Also want to re-iterate that those who have an intense allergy to wheat or gluten shouldn’t try this without caution; it’s a theory that maybe be helpful for some people, and not for others. It’s also a way that those of us who aren’t yet gluten/wheat intolerant can help our bodies stay that way by helping break down our foods first.
One last thing: here’s a research idea for anyone who is interested! So I am curious about how different sourdough starters make a difference in taste etc; I’ve always thought that since you are basically replacing all the original content within the first few feedings, that your environment (air, water, flour) matters more than your starter. But there’s a company who claims that the lactobacilli bacteria do stick around (which I guess makes sense) and have a big effect on the taste and texture. They claimed that the reason to buy a starter as opposed to making your own is that simply “you might just not have very tasty bacteria and wild yeast in your kitchen.” Fair enough if it’s true, but this was coming from the people selling the starter. So if any of you have any experience with this, I’d love to hear about it!