The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread (Recipe: Whole Grain Sourdough Bread)

Written by Shannon of Nourishing Days

I wish you could smell this bread. It smells of handmade farm tables and loaves shaped by the hands of our ancestors. It is the kind of bread that you slather thick with butter and eat with soup when snow falls and winds howl.

This is sourdough bread – tangy and moist, dense and nutty. It is the bread made for centuries before the invention of commercial yeast packets.

For over two years we did not make or keep bread in our home for health reasons. Bread now graces our table once again, but without the ill effects we felt before. And it is all thanks to the wonder that is traditional sourdough bread and the many health benefits it contains.

Health Benefits of Sourdough

Sourdough breads are leavened by a starter that contain natural yeasts and acids. The airborne yeast creates the enzymes needed to eat up or predigest some of the toughest-on-your-belly parts of the grain. This action creates carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in tiny pockets of dough, resulting in a natural rising of the bread.

Breaks Down Gluten

The longer soaking/rising time breaks the proteins (gluten) down into amino acids, making it more easily digested. This is why some who have a gluten sensitivity can tolerate sourdough wheat breads.

Better Nutrient Profile

Like all other fermentation processes, the bacteria present in the sourdough starter eat the starch and sugars present in the grain. This results in a lowering of the starch or carbohydrate content of the bread, which is helpful for keeping blood sugar levels regulated. It also increases some of the vitamin and mineral content of the grain.

Naturally Preserves the Bread

The lactic acid in the bread creates a lovely tang and predigests the grain for you. The acetic acid produced in the souring process helps the bread to store longer, inhibiting the growth of molds.

Neutralizes Anti-Nutrients

Finally, the bacteria present in the sourdough help to activate phytase, an enzyme that breaks down an anti-nutrient present in all grains, beans, and seeds – phytic acid. This may seem minor, but phytic acid is known to strip your body of minerals and can be hard on your digestion.

None of this can be said of the quick action of commercial yeast.

Recipe: Whole Grain Sourdough Bread

1) Obtain a Starter

You can do this in one of three ways. The first is to obtain an established starter from a friend, feed it, and use it for baking. Another method is to purchase a dehydrated starter from a culture starter company and follow the directions for rehydrating, feeding, and baking with the starter.

If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer like me, then you may want to make your own. Honestly, you won’t believe how easy this is. All you need is flour, water, a half-gallon jar, and a wooden spoon.

Here’s how I do it:

  • Day 1: Combine 1 cup wheat flour with 3/4 cup warm water. Cover with towel or coffee filter and secure with rubber band or canning ring. Place in a warm place.
  • Day 2: Add 1 cup freshly ground wheat flour and 3/4 cup warm water. Ditto above.
  • Days 3-5: Repeat.

The time it takes the starter to become active will probably depend on what yeast beasts you have hanging around in your home. To maintain your starter simply feed it every day and keep in a warm place, or refrigerate and feed just once per week. I also like to pour the starter into a bowl once a week and beat some air into it with a wooden spoon.

2) Make Your Sponge The Night Before

I have found that giving the yeast time to activate without added ingredients results in a better bread. For this step you will need a large, non-reactive bowl, a wooden spoon, and the following ingredients:

  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups active sourdough starter
  • 3.5 cups warm water

Combine all ingredients and beat well to incorporate air. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with a damp towel and place in a warm place, like next to a heater or in a warm oven.

3) Prepare Dough to Rise & Bake

In the morning, get out your starter which should look active with bubbles and a bit of rising action. Give it a good stir and then remove 1 cup to set aside for your next batch of bread. To this you will add:

  • 1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 5-6 cups of whole wheat flour, or as needed for kneading
  1. Add the butter/coconut oil to starter and fold in along with sea salt. Now add the flour one cup at a time, while mixing, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, but is still a little sticky. Remove dough and place on a well-floured surface. Now knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until smooth, adding more flour to work surface as needed.
  2. Butter two bread pans and set aside. Now cut your dough in half and form two loaves. Place loaves in bread pans, give them a few diagonal slits with a sharp knife, cover with a damp towel (tea towel, not terrycloth), and place in a warm spot. This time of year I place them inside of my oven and turn it on warm every time I walk past.
  3. At this point you wait until the loaves have risen past the top of the pan. Depending on how active your starter is this could take a couple hours or you may be baking bread around dinner time. This is something you have to make peace with when you bake with sourdough bread.
  4. Once the loaves have risen to your liking you will bake them in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you thump it. Remove loaves from pans and place on a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.

There are many different ways to make sourdough bread, and I encourage you to experiment. That is the beauty of sourdough – besides it’s health benefits, it is also extremely versatile.

Have you made sourdough bread? Will you, now that you know of the benefits?

About Shannon

Real food, sustainability, and homesteading are inextricably intertwined on the off-grid homestead Shannon, her husband and three children inhabit. She shares the insanely beautiful and shatteringly hard of it all on her blog Nourishing Days. She also works as a content writer and blog editor for Cultures for Health.

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  1. And one more thing – should it be fed with 1 cup flour and 3/4 water each? thks

  2. One more thing should each cup of starter be fed with 1 c flour and 3/4 c water today? Thks

  3. Looks like I made my sponge a day early ( I would have had 5 c of starter :-)) Hope I don’t run into more problems baking it a day early!!! Pardon me all, forget I posted!!!

  4. My husband and I are gluten-intolerant. I have been buying sourdough bread, but recently started making it. I’ve been doing on-line searches regarding sourdough bread. So far, Your point by point breakdown of the process and steps is the easiest to follow and understand. Thank you!

  5. Most excited to try this!

    I have Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour and also their Whole Grain Buckwheat Flour. Would they be able to be mixed half and half or should I just stick to the Stone Ground Whole Wheat?

  6. Great recipe! I cut it in half for one loaf, even removing 1/2 cup starter for next time, but my dough rose too much and the side fell off in the oven. Fortunately I caught it before it went to the bottom.

    I used an 8″ glass pan. What did you use?

  7. Rachael says:

    There is something about sourdough bread that I just LOVE. Have you ever heard about Sourdough International’s sourdough starter? I have a friend who bakes and she uses their starters but I kind of wanted some more reviews..

  8. hello, just need to clarify, to make sponge I used two cups of starter. Then you instruct to set aside 1 cup of sponge/starter for next bread. Do I add this cup to my existing starter that I still have left that is just minus the two cups?

  9. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I love this recipe with whole wheat.

    “This time of year I place them inside of my oven and turn it on warm every time I walk past.”

    I do follow the same trick.
    My starter doubled with full bubbles on the first day itself :-) I ‘m little scared & kept that inside my fridge & started my second batch with same trick & im in day 3 going good. This time not much bubble.
    Can you tell me how many days did it take for you to get the complete starter .

  10. When you say “wheat flour” for making the starter, are you referring to whole grain wheat flour or just any wheat flour? I have been making sourdough with a starter that was 100% whole wheat, but found the flavor very strong (and my kids wouldn’t eat it, even though they are used to 100% whole grain breads only), so I thought I would try using a starter with refined flour but the rest of my bread with whole wheat.
    Tara’s last post: New Location for Joyful Birth Classes

  11. Any idea the calorie content? I’m looking for low calorie foods to replace store bought ones (like my 45 calorie bread from sara lee)

  12. David Morgan says:

    I wish I could smell it, too. I canโ€™t wait to try out myself.

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