Currently living in a bucket in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dinah, an all-rye sourdough starter born in Herring Cove in 2012, makes badass bread. She has some friends that pitch in to make a variety of other products, but she rules over them with an iron fist. She expressly forbids the introduction of packaged yeast in her loaves.
Dinah’s human surrogate, Dan Corbett, is responsible for the physical labour that Dinah demands.
Want to know more, just ask!
First: what is yeast? Yeast is a type of single-celled micro-organism, a part of the fungus kingdom (the greatest kingdom, according to Dinah). Yeast eat carbohydrates (sugars). Under certain conditions, yeast produce carbon dioxide through a process called fermentation. Conveniently, flour contains sugars. So when yeast eat the sugars in dough, they produce carbon dioxide which, again, under certain conditions (see: what is gluten?), forms bubbles and causes the dough to rise, turning into a loaf of bread.
You can buy yeast at the grocery store in a little package. These packages contain a small variety of organisms that are pretty good at fermenting the simple sugars in flour, but particularly good at creating lots of carbon dioxide quickly.
Back to your original question: Sourdough is a great way to make bread that doesn’t use those little packages of yeast from the grocery store. It’s how bread was made for the ten thousand years before we had grocery stores. Making sourdough means keeping a sourdough starter. This is a stinky broth of flour and water that is saturated with many many varieties of micro-organisms including both yeast and bacteria. The yeast still eat up sugars and create carbon dioxide that leavens the bread. The bacteria break down some of the more complex sugars (starches) in simple sugars, making them available as food for the yeast. The bacteria also create a bit of lactic acid, the sour flavour of which gives sourdough its name.
And why is it awesome? Having all of those micro-organisms is actually really good for your gut. We need those little bugs in order to digest our food, and having them do a bunch of the work before the food even touches our lips is super helpful. Our digestive systems are actually not very good at breaking down starches (this is why we cook potatoes). ‘Normal’ bread, for lack of bacteria, leaves most of the starches in intact, making our systems work extra hard to break them down, if they’re able to break them down at all. Not so with sourdough.
But above all of the fantastic health benefits, sourdough bread just tastes really really good. Seriously.
Yup! And they each use different combinations of starters to ferment their constituent flours ideally. Dinah is the all-rye starter, Joey is the whole wheat starter, and Oscar is the whole-spelt starter, each adapated over thousands of microbial generations to breaking down and leavening their respective grains.
We use all organic flours from Speerville Flour Mill in New Brunswick. These include Whole White Flour, Whole Wheat Flour, Whole Rye Flour, Whole Spelt Flour, and Whole Kamut Flour.
What is Wheat?
It’s a grass, just like your front lawn. After sugarcane, corn, and rice, it’s the fourth most cultivated crop on earth by mass. 82Kg of wheat for every human on earth were grown in 2011. Let it suffice to say it’s an important food for humanity’s past and present survival.
What is whole wheat flour?
It’s wheat ground into a fairly coarse powder. Every part of the grain remains in the finished product.
What is Whole White Flour?
It’s whole wheat flour, minus a bunch of the bran and some of the germ. This makes it smoother, and less gritty than whole wheat flour. Necessarily, it has less fibre and more gluten than whole wheat flour. Compared to commercial white flour, Speerville’s version is actually quite brown. It’s unbleached
What is Kamut?
Delicious. But also a variety of wheat the predates this genetic selection for gluten nonsense. Also know as Khorassian wheat, Kamut’s an ancient grain that, despite some effort in the mid-twentieth centure, never took hold in North America. Truth is, it’s pretty low in gluten and as such is very difficult to turn into bread. That why Dinah’s blends Kamut with whole white flour to make a soft, leavened hearth loaf, retaining the buttery rich flavour of Kamut.
What is Spelt?
Also known as Zeia, or dinkel wheat, Spelt is a formerly ubiquitious grain from the region now known as Turkey. Archaelogists have uncovered traces of spelt kernels from 9,000 years ago. Unlike almost all other varieties of wheat, Spelt contains all 21 amino acids. It’s high in protein, low in gluten, and, when prepared as a sourdough, is exceptionally friendly for the gut. Lastly, it’s spectacularly delicious, harbouring a slightly sweet, nutty flavour.
Gluten is a handy term for a few proteins commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is pretty sticky and can stretch out into long elastic fibers. This is super-helpful in bread, because gluten both traps bubbles (thanks for the CO2, yeast friends) and holds the whole loaf together as it rises.
A tiny handful of the general population has celiac disease, a potentially catastrophic allergy to gluten. Other folks have a less severe version, increasingly known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. From here, we enter a divisive and contentious discussion. Here’s Dinah’s position:
Wheat has been genetically selected over many centuries to have A LOT of gluten. At the same time, for the sake of commercial food manufacturers, most wheat has had the ‘disadvantageous’ parts of the grain removed (who needs dietary fibre, anyway?). This has been great for the sticky pastry industry, but maybe not so good for our guts. As a species, humans are actually pretty well adapted to digest gluten, particularly when it’s accompanied by properly rendered, appropriate amounts of the other parts of grains. Unfortunately, most bread contains more than a normal amount of gluten, and less than normal amounts of fibre, neither of which are properly rendered through fermentation.
To sum it up: a normal amount of gluten as part of whole grains (particularly heritage varieties), well-rendered by a lively sourdough culture is almost certainly not going to cause you digestive woes. But you do you.
Ok. Let’s talk. The short answer is no. But we gotta ask, why do you want that stuff anyway? Bleached, finely milled, fibreless flour is pretty much the worst thing you can put in your body. Furthermore, most of the time it’s completely flavourless. Jump on the whole grain train. It’s the high speed rail of bread.
This bread contains no preservatives and starts to dry out soon after it’s baked, particularly in the winter. If you keep it whole and in a plastic bag, it’ll stay ready-to-eat for 48 hours after it’s baked, and great for toasting or grilling for a week. After that, some less desirable micro-organisms start to colonize. If you want it to last longer, slice it up on day two then put it in plastic in the freezer. Put slices directly intot the toaster from the freezer.
Yes. Yesterday’s bread loaves are $1 off the regular price. Sourdough bread continues to fermit even after it’s baked. Indeed, day-old is prime time. At the end of day two, all bread goes to our neighbours at Barry House and Ad Sum House.