What is a Sourdough Starter and Why Should You Bother?


What is a sourdough starter and why should you bother with it? Lets talk about what it is and the reasons I think you should add this skill to your homesteading repertoire.

Jar of active sourdough starter with a bag of flour and jug of water behind it

So, what is a Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter is a combination of water and flour that acts as a host for wild yeast. At this very moment wild yeast is in the air, on your skin and on the surfaces in your home. One of our many invisible friends, wild yeast (like the store bought packets at the store) can become a tool for us, if harnessed correctly. The yeast produces the organic acid called Lactic Acid and this is what gives sourdough bread it’s distinct, tangy flavor. Fun fact for you, the lactic acid kills unwanted bacteria; this is what keeps your sourdough starter from spoiling.

Sourdough Health Benefits

First, sourdough is an excellent source of antioxidants. We all deal with something called Free Radicals.  “A free radical can be defined as any molecular species capable of independent existence that contains an unpaired electron in an atomic orbital… Many radicals are unstable and highly reactive.” (1) These free radicals are produced by a number of things: pollution in the air, harmful chemicals in our food/cookware/household cleaners, etc., pollutants in our drinking water, seed oils, and so much more. “If free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress ensues. Free radicals thus adversely alter lipids, proteins, and DNA and trigger a number of human diseases.” (1) Antioxidants help take care of the free radicals in our body. “Antioxidants prevent free radical induced tissue damage by preventing the formation of radicals, scavenging them, or by promoting their decomposition.” (1) It is incredibly important to consume foods containing antioxidants to help maintain a healthy antioxidant versus free radical balance in the body. Sourdough will help with this and thus provides a great starting point in explaining why you should bother with it.

Second, the nutrients found in sourdough products are easier for the body to absorb. This is due to the lactic acid. It helps breaks down the antinutrients found in our food that our bodies usually have to expend energy to break down before we can begin absorbing the nutrients on the other side. Phytic acid is one such example of a common antinutrient that makes it difficult for our bodies to absorb the nutrients present in whatever we are eating. “In sourdough, the lactic acid bacteria produce an enzyme called phytase, which effectively ‘pre-digests’ the phytic acid during the extended fermentation.” (2) Nutrient absorption is a topic that isn’t discussed as often as it should be. We as an American people are grossly undernourished in comparison to the overall amount of food we consume. Our crops are starkly lower in nutrients compared to those of previous generations and the food present in grocery stores are stripped of any naturally occurring nutrients and instead replaced with synthetic versions our bodies can’t properly utilize. Sourdough is a great first step towards improving the nutrients present, as well as our bodies ability to use them.

Third, another very well-known antinutrient, gluten, is pre-digested by the fermentation process of sourdough. You may have heard it said that those with gluten sensitivities have an easier time eating sourdough bread products. If you haven’t heard that before, it’s true. That is because the gluten in regular, store bought, non-sourdough bread, is not broken down at all prior to eating and thus the responsibility falls completely on our digestive tract. The inability to break it down completely can lead to common symptoms such as: discomfort, bloating, nausea, indigestion, etc. Sound familiar? If so, please give sourdough a shot. The fermentation process sourdough bread products undergo allows the gluten to be “pre-digested”. Imagine little gremlins in your sourdough starter chewing, swallowing, digesting and then spitting up the gluten in your sandwich bread or cinnamon rolls. By the time it hits your digestive tract, the fermentation process has already done some of the digestive work for you.

NOTE: It does NOT completely break down or get rid of the gluten. If you are a person with true celiac disease you will NOT be able to consume sourdough bread products.

Fourth, sourdough helps to stabilize your blood sugar. Personally, this is my favorite sourdough benefit. Well, perhaps tied with increased nutrient absorption. Do you know that feeling you get when you’re hungry? You become shaky, weak, panicky, maybe you even start sweating or feeling faint? That means your blood sugar is low. It is NOT NORMAL to be that affected by simple mid-day hunger. It is a testament to how nutrient-poor our food is that we cannot sustain normal homeostasis for more than a few hours. Sourdough helps with this. To explain, I like to compare it to normal white bread. When we eat a piece of store bought white bread it turns to sugar right away and when that sugar hits our blood stream our pancreas immediately responds. This quick “come and go” response is not helpful or healthy for our pancreas, an organ you absolutely want to protect. Sourdough acts very differently. “…they discovered that fermentation using natural yeasts and lactic acid bacteria resulted in a loaf that was digested more slowly and caused less of a spike in blood sugar levels when it was eaten.” (2) To infer that sourdough is digested slower also means the sugar is released into the bloodstream slower, more gradually. This provides a steady supply of sugar versus the quick and sudden spike in sugar from the white bread that eventually results in the shaky, hangry feeling. A steady and gradual supply of sugar means you feel good and normal and only when that sugar supply begins to taper off are you given signals that perhaps a refuel is in order.

Fifth, sourdough is a great source of prebiotics. Prebiotics act as a food source for the “good” bacteria living inside your gut. Cheap sugars and processed foods (such as store bought bread) do the exact opposite and instead feed the bad bacteria living in your gut. A proper balance of these bacteria is absolutely essential to healthy living. If at any point the bad bacteria begin to overtake the good, results can range from vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, diarrhea, obesity, and inflammation to cancer and other severe illnesses.

Create a Healthy Relationship with Bread

Sixth and last, sourdough allows you to have a healthier relationship with bread. I get it, I’ve been where you are. Buying the “diet” bread from the store touting 90 calories or less, limiting the amount of bread I could consume, and feeling bad about it every time I did eat it. It does NOT have to be this way! Sourdough bread fuels your body in a way non-sourdough never will. Not only can you consume it guilt free, I actually look for ways to consume more of it. Sourdough cookies, muffins, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, sandwich bread, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, sub rolls, I want it all! Pair that with freshly milled flour and you have a power food!

I didn’t realize how much control, how much food freedom, I had given up by believing the lies being told about bread by the companies profiting off of our guilt. They don’t want you kneading healthy, delicious loaves of sourdough bread at home. They want you to feel ashamed and dependent on their 90 calorie slices of garbage bread. Don’t fall for it friends. God describes Himself as the bread of life. He is not a cheap, processed piece of diet bread. He is a hearty, healthy, life-giving bread and He wants to help break the chains of your food-bondage today.

For recipes using your sourdough starter, CLICK HERE!


(1) Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010, July). Free radicals, antioxidants and Functional Foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/#:~:text=Free%20radicals%20damage%20contributes%20to,or%20by%20promoting%20their%20decomposition.

(2) Crossland, I. (2022, August 1). Sourdough and digestibility – sustainable food trust. Sustainable Food Trust – A global voice for sustainable food and health. https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/news-views/sourdough-and-digestibility/#:~:text=In%20sourdough%2C%20the%20lactic%20acid,easy%20for%20us%20to%20digest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *