Sourdough Bread – Health Benefits and How to Make it

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Are you baking bread at home? The world is making homemade bread more than ever right now! We are spending a lot more time at home, which gives us more time to tend to projects that require some attention every few hours– like bread. Also, in many areas, yeast has been sold out and people are googling “how to make bread without yeast”. We are really getting back to our roots and back to basics here with less access to fresh ingredients and store-bought bread. The bonus is that your health will thank you for it! The sourdough method results in beautiful loaves of bread that are fluffy, flavourful, and better for your body. Keep reading to learn about the health benefits of sourdough vs. typical bread, learn how to make your own sourdough starter, and get a recipe for easy sourdough bread.

What’s so great about sourdough?

Sourdough is made by creating a “starter” that takes in natural yeasts and bacteria from the air, which then feed on the flour and water mixture to grow (the process of fermentation). They create a bubbly mixture that continues to grow, so long as it is taken care of, and can be mixed into flour, water, and salt to create a bread dough that rises and has a slight sour taste. Because sourdough is made from wild yeasts in the air, sourdough from different places tastes differently. San Francisco is famous for its sourdough and you can buy sourdough starter from bakeries in San Francisco and have it shipped to you around the world.

Sourdough is easier for your body to digest. The way it works, is that the cultures in the sourdough starter feed on the glutens in the flour of your bread dough. Essentially, they eat some of the gluten for you! Some people with gluten sensitivity (not allergy) are able to eat sourdough bread without the digestive symptoms they typically get from eating bread.

It’s important to note that most commercially produced sourdough bread is not true sourdough. Many of them contain some sourdough starter but only for the characteristic flavour. They contain dry yeast for the rising process because it’s quicker, so the sourdough starter doesn’t get to do its job of breaking down the gluten. If the ingredient list contains yeast, it’s not true sourdough and doesn’t have the same benefit for your digestion. It’s not all that surprising that the way things were traditionally made are better for our health. Just like using vinegar in pickles instead of taking the time to ferment them creates a product that tastes similar but lacks the probiotics, bread made with commercial dry yeast creates a fluffy loaf of bread, but it doesn’t have the health benefits of the sourdough method. Sourdough starter is a living organism, which requires regular feeding and time, making it unfortunately unideal for mass production in our fast-paced world. Luckily, it’s really easy to make your own!

Make your sourdough starter

A sourdough starter is the yeast-containing culture that allows your bread to rise and have a lovely fluffy interior with that classic crusty exterior and a subtle sour taste. When you make bread with a different leavening agent, like baking powder or baking soda, think: banana bread, you get a much denser end result. The yeast breaks down the gluten, like you read above, which creates air pockets in the bread. That’s why gluten-free flours or bread without yeast won’t yield that fluffy result.

Growing your starter takes about a week before it’s ready for baking beautiful loaves of bread. You’ll notice that the flavour develops more and more. Baby starters give bread a slight sour taste, but mature starters give that depth of flavour that you expect from a loaf of sourdough from an amazing bakery. So keep with it!

If you need a break from taking care of your starter friend, you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for about a month, or you can even freeze it. If you are refrigerating it, you’ll need to bring it to room temperature and return to feeding it regularly again for a couple days before it’s fully active again. If you’re freezing it, you’ll need to thaw it at room temperature, then feed it for a few days. You’ll know it’s ready when it begins to consistently double in size a few hours after a feeding.

Your starter needs to be fed approximately every 12 hours, so work that into your schedule wherever it makes sense for you. I like to feed my starter while I make breakfast (7am) and after dinner (7pm).

You’ll need:

  • Unbleached organic white flour (it’s very important that it is unbleached for proper culture growth)
  • Filtered water
  • A 1-litre glass container with a lid (I like to use a wide-mouth 1-litre mason jar, you want to be able to easily stir and there needs to be room for the starter to grow without exploding out)
  • An elastic band that fits around your jar or container
  • A kitchen scale. If you don’t have one, 50 grams of water is about ¼ cup and 50 grams of unbleached organic white flour is about ⅓ cup.


  • Day 1 (morning): Mix together 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water in your container. Slide your elastic to mark where the top of your mixture is (this helps you see if your starter is growing). Put the lid on loosely, you want air to be able to get in.
  • Day 1 (evening): Discard half of your starter (just throw it out, once you have an active starter you can use this “sourdough discard” in recipes like pancakes and muffins). Feed your starter by stirring in 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water. Make sure to break up any lumps of flour. Adjust the elastic to be at the top of your mixture and put the lid back on loosely.
  • Days 2-5+ (morning): Discard half of your starter. Feed your starter by stirring in 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water. Make sure to break up any lumps of flour. Adjust the elastic to be at the top of your mixture and put the lid back on loosely.
  • Day 2-5+ (evening): Discard half of your starter. Feed your starter by stirring in 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water. Make sure to break up any lumps of flour. Adjust the elastic to be at the top of your mixture and put the lid back on loosely

What to expect:

  • Days 1-2: not much, maybe a few bubbles.
  • Days 3-4: maybe a funky smell. Your starter contains a variety of bacteria at this point. As time goes on, the desirable bacteria will take over the population.
  • Day 5-onward: pleasantly sour smell and lots of bubbles. The starter doubles in size a few hours after feeding it. You can tell it has doubled by seeing how far over the elastic level it has risen. It’s ready for baking bread! Keep feeding it every 12 hours to keep it active, or store in the fridge or freezer. Use the discard in pancakes, muffins, banana bread, and more. Just search for “sourdough discard recipes”.

Easy sourdough bread recipe

Feel free to experiment with all kinds of flours that contain gluten like rye, whole wheat, sprouted wheat, and white. You can substitute some of the flour for buckwheat as well, but because it doesn’t contain gluten, you don’t want to use all that much if you still want a nice fluffy loaf. I like this recipe because it yields a nice fluffy loaf, it doesn’t require much effort on my part so I can start the dough in the morning and shape and bake at dinner time without tending to it throughout the day, and it contains some whole grain flour for fibre and nutrients.


100 grams / ½ cup of active sourdough starter (make sure it has recently been fed, about 3-4 hours ago, and has just doubled up in size, that means it’s active)
270 grams / 1 ¼ cups of warm filtered water
225 grams / 1 ½ cups of organic whole wheat flour
225 grams / 1 ½ cups of unbleached organic white flour
8 grams / 2 teaspoons of himalayan pink salt or sea salt


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, stir together the water and starter with a spoon.
  2. Add the flours and salt. Beginning on low speed and moving up to medium speed, knead the dough for 5 minutes. It will be smooth, slightly tacky, and in a nice ball.
  3. Place the dough in a bowl and cover the top of the bowl. Leave to rise for 4-5 hours, or until the dough is approximately double in size.
  4. Place a pot with a lid, ideally a dutch oven, in your oven (including the lid) and preheat to 450F.
  5. Meanwhile, cut a square piece of parchment paper and set aside. Take your dough and shape it into a ball on a floured countertop by pulling the edges in toward the centre. Turn the dough over on to your parchment paper (you want the smooth, floured side up). Slash the dough 2-3 times about a ¼-inch deep. This allows the steam to be gently released without the bread exploding out the side. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
  6. After 30 minutes is up, carefully remove your pot from the oven. It will be very hot. Remove the lid and, holding the corners of the parchment paper, very carefully lower your dough into the pot. Cover with the hot lid and place in the oven. Reduce the temperature to 425F. Bake for 20 mins with the lid on, then carefully remove the lid and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Don’t forget that the lid will be hot for quite a while after you take it out of the oven so take care to not touch it.
  7. Let the bread cool to room temperature before slicing.

Notes: if you don’t have a dutch oven or pot with a lid, you can bake your loaf on a baking sheet instead. If you measure your ingredients in volume (cups/teaspoons) you may have dough that seems a bit too dry or a bit too sticky because these measurements are not as precise as grams. Add a tablespoon of flour at a time if your dough is too sticky, or a tablespoon of water at a time if it’s too dry, until you get a soft and slightly tacky dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.

Contributed by Melanie Maxwell, R.H.N.