Thursday, June 21, 2012

bread winner

This month at River's school each class is 'investigating' food. For a couple of hours each week the students are involved in various activities centring on food, where it comes from, how to cook it, how to grow it and so on. The call came home for parents who would like to be involved so next week I will be talking to the prep classes about bread and we will bake some too. I have fond memories of River making bread at his Steiner kinder, all the children loved the tactile experience of kneading the dough, the smell of the bread baking and of course the eating.

Last week I went to Melbourne for the day and called in to Phillippa's Bakery and Provisions store to have a chat with owner Phillippa Grogan about slow fermented sourdough. You see, not all sourdough breads are created equal. Sourdough contains lactobacillus culture, and when the fermentation process is slowed down the culture has more time to break down the grain including gluten present in wheat, rye, and spelt flour. The end result is a sourdough bread that is easier to digest than those that are fermented for shorter lengths of time.

In this article 'Sourdough bread and health' by Mark Sircus writes about the commercialisation of bread baking in the 1950's seeing bakers switch from traditional slow fermentation processes to creating quick rising bread and the correlation with this change and the increase in gluten sensitivity. Sircus writes,

"Very basic sourdough bread that had once been fermented for a healthy 8 hours or more is not to be found anywhere except in ones own kitchen today. In commercial bread yeast levels are dramatically increased, accelerants and proving agents introduced including bromide, a known thyroid poison that was insanely substituted for iodine in the US. Fast-made bread is one of the most destructive implementations into the modern diet. It has become normal fare. Poorly-prepared and poorly-digested wheat is the chief contributor to the current plague of “gluten-intolerance,” obesity, diabetes, Candida diseases and many allergenic conditions all of which contribute to the conditions that cause cancer. 

       Only when wheat gluten is properly fermented is it healthy for human consumption. When not it is potentially one of the most highly allergenic foods we eat. It is similar to the controversy with soy which also can only be considered a health food if it is fermented long enough. Correctly fermented wheat contains 18 amino acids (proteins), complex carbohydrate (a super efficient source of energy), B vitamins, iron, zinc, selenium and magnesium, and maltase."

I left Phillippa's with plenty to think about and research and also a quarter organic sourdough boule made with stone-ground organic flour and local wild yeasts (boule is French for ball), wrapped up in a raw linen teatowel (pictured. I did iron it) plus a loaf of 100% rye sourdough. The dough for Phillippa's boule begins 2 days before the finished bread is sold, the fermentation process is around 30 hours. Phillippa's sourdough starter was first created in 1995, beginning with a mix of sultanas and water in a jar placed in a warmish place upstairs in their Armadale store for 10 days until the telltale bubbles showing fermentation appeared. The starter has been lovingly fed flour and water daily ever since.
Since Pete and I cut wheat out of our diet last year we have been eating minimal bread, when we do  it has been Wuppertaler's organic sourdough rye, which to be honest I don't find very exciting to eat at all. So the real bread from Phillippa's was very well received at home. Pete's comment when he could smell a slice of the boule toasting "It smells so gutsy" sums it up for me. It is indeed dense, sour and yes gutsy. Dare I say, the way real bread is meant to be. The fact Pete used the word gutsy made me smile too because unwittingly he is referring to gut-health which is central to the discussion of fermented foods.

'Bread' that is highly processed and mass produced is just one of the many food items on a long list that would be virtually unrecognisable to our ancestors and that is compromising our health. So in honor of our ancestors who grew their food, hunted and fished, and made real bread I will visit River's school next week to show and tell them just as it says on Phillippa's teatowel:

'Good bread is made from simple ingredients: flour, water, salt and a little yeast or sourdough. What separates good bread from great bread however, is a fifth ingredient. Time.'

For Melbourne readers Phillippa's organic sourdough boules are available whole or cut into halves or quarters at their Armadale and Brighton stores or St Kilda Farmer's Market 1st Saturday of the month or East Hawthorn Farmer's market 3rd Saturday of the month.


  1. Fascinating. I love a good bread. Thanks for opening my eyes ... had no idea about the slow fermentation processes.

  2. Thanks for your comment Imogen. Really great to hear you found this interesting. Researching it and writing it only further inspired my commitment to sharing stories about real food.


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