The lactic acid within sourdough gives it that trademark sour-tasting flavor it’s named for, making this a very sought-after type of bread to bake. If this will be your first time baking sourdough, then you’ve probably been told to make a sourdough starter. You can’t help but wonder why though. Is a sourdough starter really necessary? Why should you use one?
Using a sourdough starter is beneficial for the following reasons:
- It’s homemade (always better) , giving your bread its own unique stamp
- The ingredients are all-natural and even organic
- You know exactly what’s in your starter
- You get a tremendous sense of accomplishment from making your own sourdough starter
Ahead, we’ll talk more about the perks of using your own homemade sourdough starter, including a refresher on what starters are and how they work. We’ll also expand more on the perks above and share other benefits of sourdough starters. You’re not going to want to miss it.
Understanding Sourdough Starters: What Is a Starter?
We touched on this in our post about making your own sourdough starter, but we’d thought we’d offer a quick recap now on what a starter even is.
Starters are popular in sourdough bread, but you can also rely on them when making other baked goods such as cakes and cookies. Also referred to as mother dough or a pre-ferment, a sourdough starter is like an alternative or a replacement to yeast.
When you make your own sourdough starter at home, you combine flour and water and allow the fermentation process to begin. This produces a type of wild yeast that requires daily feeding to make greater quantities of yeast culture.
The recipe we shared in our blog post above requires at least seven days of fermentation before your sourdough starter is ready to use. You can sometimes shorten the fermentation to five or six days depending on the humidity levels in your home.
4 Great Reasons You Should Use a Sourdough Starter
The above process may be time-consuming, as you must take a few minutes out of your schedule every day to check on your sourdough starter and feed it by adding new ingredients. That said, you can refrigerate and even freeze your starter, making it last longer.
Plus, there are all the many great benefits ahead that you get to reap by making your own sourdough starter. Let’s talk about these benefits more now.
Buying Online Starter? Homemade Is the Better Way to Go
Have you ever looked for sourdough starters online? It’s a risky way to go. Since the starter needs constant feeding, it could die before it even reaches you. If that doesn’t happen, then acid could build up in the store-bought starter when it’s in transit, making its flavor a little too sour.
When you make your own sourdough starter, you can ensure your bread has that authentic, homemade taste and quality. Once you start making your own bread using ingredients you’ve procured and created on your own, you’ll find that bread made with store-bought ingredients just don’t compare. Do your taste buds a favor then and carve out a bit of time throughout the next week to make a sourdough starter. You’ll be so glad you did.
You Get to Choose the Ingredients, Which Are Natural and Even Organic
Another great reason to get into the habit of making your own sourdough starter is you get to select the ingredients. Sure, water is water, but that’s not the case with flour. You want to only use strong flour, which is flour that contains at least 11 percent of protein.
Besides the flour’s protein content, whether you want to go with something like white flour versus whole-wheat organic flour is up to you. Since you’re the one in the driver’s seat making a sourdough starter, you can create an all-organic starter or one that uses natural but non-organic ingredients.
For beginners, it’s hard to beat high-protein flour or pure bread flour for your sourdough starter. Both these flour types contain more gluten compared to other flours, which will let air get into the mixture and make your sourdough nice and chewy. In other words, you’re boosting your chances of success. That little win will make you feel a lot better about making more sourdough starters in the future.
Personally, on this blog, we’re fans of combining 50 percent rye flour with 50 percent bread flour.
You Know Exactly What’s in Your Sourdough Starter
Some bakers opt to add fruit juice to their sourdough starter to give the yeast something to feast upon. Natural juice is preferable, and the fresher, the better. Grape and apple juice are favorites among bakers to mix into the sourdough starter. Alternately, you could dump some sugar into the starter ingredients or even saturate raisins in a cup of water overnight to draw out their sugar.
When you go the homemade route with your sourdough starter, you never have to guess what kind of juice or source of sugar–if any–lingers in your sourdough starter. You also don’t have to wonder if the flour is organic, bread flour, or rye flour. You know because you added it yourself.
Baking bread is almost mathematic. When you tinker too much with the quantities of ingredients or the math formula, you can end up with very different results. If you’re not sure exactly what’s in your sourdough starter, then your bread may not turn out as intended through no fault of your own. Still, not knowing what went wrong makes you second-guess your ability to bake sourdough bread when really if you had made your own starter, you could have avoided this whole scenario.
The Sense of Accomplishment Is Immense
Another reason to use your own sourdough starter rather than risk it by purchasing a starter online? When you buy rather than make your ingredients, get no sense of accomplishment. In fact, you might even feel a little bad for taking advantage of a shortcut.
Think back to the day you first made your own loaf of bread. You were so overwhelmingly proud of yourself, right? Most definitely. Since then, you’ve likely baked dozens upon dozens of more loaves of bread, maybe even hundreds upon hundreds if you’re especially prolific.
Now you’re ready to move on to more advanced baking concepts like making a sourdough starter. Doing so successfully will bring back those same bursting feelings of pride you experienced when you began your bread-making journey. You’ll feel so accomplished that you’ll wonder why you never made sourdough starters before.
The Benefits of Using Sourdough Starters
We’re not yet done talking about why homemade sourdough starters are so great to use when baking bread and other treats. The following benefits will hopefully convince you to begin using a sourdough starter if you’re not already doing so!
Better Gut Health
According to health resource Healthline, the fermentation sourdough undergoes via a starter is not just great because of the above reasons, but it aides your gut as well. The lactobacillus in the fermented starter, which is a type of bacteria, makes lactic acid.
When you chow down on your homemade sourdough bread, your gut will fully ingest the minerals and nutrients thanks to the lactic acid. This keeps your gut healthier. You may think that a well-functioning gut is only good for your digestion, but the perks extend even further than that.
By optimizing your gut health, you may notice you sleep better and are in a more chipper mood. Plus, you can feel good that you’re benefitting your brain, heart, and immune system with a healthier gut. All that from a homemade sourdough starter! Who knew?
Plenty of Minerals and Nutrients
You don’t necessarily equate bread as a good source of nutrients and minerals, yet with homemade sourdough, that’s just the case. Here’s what you get by ingesting that sourdough loaf you just baked:
- Calcium: Through calcium, your body can support nerve, muscle, and heart health, as well as keep your bones strong. It’s even believed that calcium could safeguard against high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers.
- Magnesium: As a crucial mineral, magnesium keeps your immune system healthy, controls blood pressure, and helps with nerve and muscle function. Magnesium may also regulate as many as 300 different enzymes, triggering reactions for each.
- Zinc: Zinc allows your thyroid to work as necessary, your blood to clot, and your wounds to heal. Like magnesium, zinc also supports immune health so you’re less likely to come down with a cold or flu.
- Iron: Sourdough bread also contains iron, which too bolsters the immune system. Besides that, a healthy amount of iron can keep your body temperature regulated and your gastrointestinal processes going normally. If you feel unfocused or less than energetic, a lack of iron is typically why.
- Niacin: Niacin is another vitamin you’ll find in sourdough that you should ingest more of. This type of B vitamin could help with painful arthritis symptoms, make your skin look healthier, give your brain functioning a boost, control triglycerides, and even ward off heart disease.
- Thiamin: As another B vitamin, thiamin takes the carbs you eat and converts them into a useable energy source. Besides that, through thiamin, your body can metabolize glucose.
- Folate: Your homemade sourdough bread also contains a healthy amount of folate or vitamin B9. If you’re a woman who may become pregnant, you must especially maintain your folate levels. Without this nutrient, red blood cells cannot develop, as can’t other cells.
A sourdough starter can also contribute to the texture of sourdough bread, which stands out very much compared to other types of bread. If you love a harder, firmer crust, with sourdough at home, you get a crust that almost crackles when you break the bread apart or take a bite. The texture of the inside of the bread is nice and soft, airy, and chewy, giving you a toothsome, delectable bite each and every time until there’s no bread left.
When using a pre-ferment like a sourdough starter, you may also notice yet more benefits besides awesome texture and more vitamins and minerals. When the sourdough’s proteins and starches undergo bacterial changes for longer periods, such as upwards of a week, you tend to get a sharper, more distinct flavor to your sourdough bread.
Longer Shelf Life
All that time for the lactobacillus bacteria within your sourdough starter to do its thing not only augments the complexities and richness of the sourdough flavor, but you get another benefit as well. Your bread typically has a longer shelf life, so to speak. In other words, you can hold onto it longer without it going bad.
The average life of sourdough bread made with a homemade starter is between four and five days. Make sure you save some bread for later then!
Are you making your own sourdough starters yet? If not, then you’re missing out on the pride of successfully making a starter, being able to choose your own ingredients, and going organic if you prefer.
Sourdough bread made with a starter is quite healthy for you too. It’s loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, plus, it has a delectable taste and a pretty decent shelf life of up to five days. We hope this post convinces you to start using a sourdough starter! Best of luck.