This post is an important beginning for your health. While I realize that there are some people who genuinely need to avoid gluten completely (celiacs, mainly), for the rest of us it makes sense to ferment the wheat (or other grains) before eating. It’s true that grain in its natural form really isn’t great food for humans. It’s coated with phytic acid and many other anti-nutrients. But, with the brains that we have, humans have learned over the millennia how to make that grain more digestible by fermentation. Fermentation is almost like a second stomach for us, predigesting and adding all kinds of beneficial bacteria for us before we even put it in our mouths! Amazing!!!
I’m going to show you how to make sourdough starter, which will be a basis for every single wheat flour recipe that I make from here on out. I put sourdough starter in everything, from pancakes to tortillas to naan. Once you get this sourdough starter going good you’ll be able to make all sorts of healthy and yummy bread things!
I’m not going to lie, the absolute best way to get a sourdough starter going is by getting a spoonful of starter from a friend. Then all you have to do is add a little flour and water to it and it will continue to be awesome. A little bird gave me some sourdough starter from the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite (I have some inside connections :), which is older than than the hills. It smells and looks amazing, like a loaf of fresh baked sourdough.
All you really need is flour and water and time. A warm room helps, and so does adding a few organic grapes as the bloom on their skins adds some of the beneficial bacteria that is wanted.
I started here with 1/4 cup of flour, a little more than 1/4 cup of tepid water and 3 organic grapes. I want to mention your flour and water sources for a minute here. Unbleached white flour is best (King Arthur brand works well). Whole wheat flour can be added after your starter is going good, but for now you want to use unbleached white as it’s less prone to spoilage. Regular tap water can also be problematic as it usually contains some amount of chlorine which can inhibit fermentation. My water is (luckily) pure and clean from a well. If you’re on city water you’ll want to filter it before using (a Berkey water filter works great!).
Cover the starter loosely with a towel and leave it in a warm place, like the top of your fridge. Feed it a spoonful of flour and a little warm water every morning and night. Stir it up vigorously, a whisk works well, to distribute all of the wild yeast that is forming.
My starter was bubbling a little after a day or so, but I read that smashing the grapes helps even more by giving the yeast a little sugar to eat. Here is what it looked like after I did that.
Nice bubbles! I definitely recommend smashing the grapes as I saw a huge increase in bubbles after I did that. Continue to feed your starter every morning and night, and don’t worry about how it smells. It may even smell slightly alcoholic, but that’s ok… That means it’s working! You may get a layer of liquid on top like this.
It’s ok! After a couple of days with the smashed grapes you’ll want to fish them out. Your sourdough may take a few weeks to really come into its own. Feel free to discard some of it as you’re feeding it. As long as it’s bubbling you’re doing things right. Just follow your nose and continue to smell it. As soon as you get that wonderful sour smell (you know what I’m talking about!) you’re good to go! Once it’s ready you can keep it in the fridge, but remember to pull it out and feed it at least once a week.
If you’re having trouble getting your starter to bubble, there is a trick, although I like to leave this as a last resort. You can add a teensy, tiny pinch of regular bread yeast. As long as you let it sit out on your counter and continue to feed it with flour and water it will still be sourdough. Don’t feel bad if you have to do it, I’ve done it on numerous occasions, but I always like to try to get it started with wild yeast first.
Once you start using your sourdough starter regularly you might find that you need to keep it out and continue to feed it so that you have more! As long as you have a little bit left in the jar you can always add more flour and water and it will sour right up. So easy and so healthy!
Now you probably know what’s coming next… Amazing sourdough bread!!!