Sourdough Part 1: What is it? & Fermentation

Fermentation and an unseen army

The past two years have been our family’s years of fermentation (both with learning, as discussed below, and in taking time to develop and grow our own family culture). It has been amazing to better understand the tiny world God created of good and bad bacteria, yeasts, and other microbes living in our environment. This tiny, unseen world, has an amazing power to give us an army to help us fight disease and prevent and cure a wide variety of health issues. 

To quote the BBC  (not my recommended news source), “Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists.” That other 57% is other microbes. They are also everywhere around us, in the air we breathe, the food we eat, on things we touch, everywhere.

This unseen world causes many to run to antibacterial soaps and antibiotics, but when this world is treated well, and fed the right things, they are our friends and powerful allies. To kill them all (both good and bad) comes at a great cost, and the bad bacteria can come back faster once the good army is destroyed. (My youngest knows “999 NOT good”, to look for on most “soaps” in public places, referring to “Kills 99.99% of bacteria”.) (A friend recently taught us how to make our own bar soap, which has been another fun adventure.)

On the other hand, when we can promote good bacteria, we feed, strengthen and train a powerful army that God gave us, for our benefit and health.

Fermenting in its various forms, does just that. It promotes the good bacteria and strengthens it to fight outside invaders including bad bacteria, mold, viruses, etc.

Clarification: A friend of ours mentioned that there is a place for antibacterial cleansing in special situations. We agree there can be a place to create a super sterile environment at times. Our point is that in most daily situations, and for regular use, antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, which destroy both the good and bad bacteria, can cause much disruption to this important line of defense in our immune system.

A beautiful thing about how God created the body to work together with beneficial microbes is that there are a LOT of them. If you use antibacterial soaps, etc. on a regular basis, it can disrupt this important balance. On the other hand, if you use them very rarely, in special situations, you will kill the bacteria in one area (good and bad), but the body overall has a good balance and can quickly repopulate the good army.

Personally, we have a bottle of Organic Grain Alcohol (over 190 proof) in the house for if there was a special situation (which we bought when COVID was just starting to spread and we didn’t yet know what was coming), but it’s been sitting there for years unopened. (Organic Grain Alcohol is a more natural way to go over the chemical sanitizers.)


This time, we are going to look at Sourdough.

Unfortunately, many sites and videos that discuss making sourdough bread take it VERY seriously. It should be cooked in cast iron, and carved with a knife to have the traditional sourdough look, and so on. Yes, if you are going to participate in a professional sourdough competition, these will be expected, but to just make delicious and very healthy sourdough bread, it makes it way too complicated.

Cooked in an Instant Pot – Not traditional… but still delicious… and easy!

What is sourdough?

I like to say that sourdough is bread dough made with just flour and water (no yeast!). Simple! 

However, that isn’t really true. It is made without ADDING yeast. God takes care of it with natural, wild yeast!

Actually, sourdough is how most bread has been made since bread has been made. The idea of adding commercial yeast to bread is a relatively new idea that came with the call for greater convenience (replacing greater health). When you read of bread in biblical times it was always sourdough bread. (Unless of course it was unleavened bread, which would have been made quickly, say for example for a quick escape out of Egypt, and wouldn’t have had time for the dough to ferment and rise.) (Note: Commercial yeast can sometimes be used alongside of sourdough if you need the bread to be ready more quickly. Sourdough needs time for the good bacteria culture to grow.)

Sourdough starts with just flour and water. Good bacteria thinks of this as a buffet and starts eating. As you feed it daily with more flour and water, it attracts healthy bacteria and yeast from the air. This process can take from a week to a month to get a good healthy sourdough that is full of good bacteria and natural yeasts. (Note: For sourdough, the two most important microbes are yeasts and lactic acid bacteria.)

This time is fun as you see it start to bubble with happiness and grow as it is fermenting. It is much like taking care of a pet and many people name their sourdough “pet”. (We named ours “Bubbles”, or “Dongdong 洞洞” in Chinese.)

Fortunately, once you have this starter dough created, as you add more flour and water it keeps multiplying so you can give it away. Unless you want to see the process from beginning to end (as we did), you can just get some sourdough from a friend and you are good to go for life. It will keep multiplying and you can keep using it! I have heard that at an Amish wedding one of the traditions is to give the new couple some of the family sourdough as they start their new life and family. This same sourdough can be passed on for generations.

When making bread, you would use the sourdough much like the yeast in a modern recipe. (There are many recipes, etc. online for making sourdough bread, pizza crust, rolls, etc. so we won’t go into tremendous detail here. However, as mentioned, many of these recipes seem to assume that you are going professional, so we will give a very basic, flexible sourdough recipe below.)

Sourdough Pizza Crust (3rd Culture Yummy!)

Photo Credits: We rarely think to take pictures, so these are random pictures of our regular baking, likely taken by our children for fun. :o)

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