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Sourdough bread is beneficial for gut health, immune system

A+rye+loaf%2C+rosemary+sourdough+loaf+and+baguette+are+shown+stacked+on+top+of+each+other+April+8.+The+Bread+Chic%2C+a+Fort+Collins+bakery%2C+offers+freshly+baked+pastries+and+bread+every+day+of+the+week.+
Collegian | Lauren Mascardo
A rye loaf, rosemary sourdough loaf and baguette are shown stacked on top of each other April 8. The Bread Chic, a Fort Collins bakery, offers freshly baked pastries and bread every day of the week.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many new trends like TikTok challenges, playing Among Us and binge-watching shows like “The White Lotus.” However, if dancing and gaming are not your forte, you can try participating in one of the culinary trends that gained traction during the pandemic: baking sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread is relatively simple to make, as it requires only a few ingredients: water, flour, salt and a starter culture. This starter culture is perhaps the most important part of baking sourdough bread and makes sourdough completely different from the typical bread usually made or bought at the store.

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Most bread uses Saccharomyces cerevisiae, more commonly known as baker’s yeast, to help it in the process of leavening or rising. 

“This (baker’s) yeast is pure, dried, stabilized and usually in powdered form,” said Caitlin Clark, a food scientist at the Food Innovation Center at Colorado State University Spur. “When the baker adds a specific amount of it to the dough, the baker can predict exactly how much (carbon dioxide) gas will be produced and how long it will take (to rise).”

The production of carbon dioxide from the baker’s yeast incorporates it into the dough and allows the bread to leaven or rise before it is baked. However, in sourdough, this process of leavening is accomplished by fermentation.

The sourdough bread starter is simply a previously fermented mixture of water and flour that contains yeast as well as many other species of bacteria.

“These organisms (in the starter) exist in a symbiotic balance in which they keep each other healthy and share nutrients,” Clark said.

“Diets that have more fermented food tend to have a healthier gut microbiome and a healthier immune system.” -Charlene Van Buiten, food science and human nutrition assistant professor

The sourdough starter can contain over 30 different types of bacteria and yeast, said Charlene Van Buiten, an assistant professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at CSU. Her lab’s current research is focused on how differences in sourdough bread starters can cause differences in the bread itself.

“Not all sourdough is created equal,” Van Buiten said.

Different bacteria populations in different starters can actually affect the end-result bread. The microbiome of the sourdough greatly affects the flavor and taste of bread made from the starter.

The organisms in the sourdough microbiome also produce a huge variety of flavorful byproducts, meaning that the flavor of sourdough is more complex (compared to ‘regular’ bread),” Clark said.

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Sourdough fermentation has been in use for centuries and was actually found to be the first form of leavened bread. There is even evidence of it being used by the ancient Egyptians, but it was not until recently that the health benefits of sourdough bread have been considered.

The fermentation that assists with the leavening of the bread has actually been found to be beneficial in both the short and long term for the gut health of humans.

“(Studies) have found that (those whose) diets that have more fermented food tend to have a healthier gut microbiome and a healthier immune system,” Van Buiten said.

So ditch the low-carb diets, and try out sourdough. You might end up with a healthier gut microbiome and a new baking hobby.

Reach Hana Pavelko at science@collegian.com or on Twitter @hanasolo13.

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