By Leigh Weingus
If you’ve opened your Instagram feed recently, you’ve probably noticed something: Sourdough bread is everywhere. Your mom is baking it, your best friend’s college roommate has mastered the art of the sourdough starter, and people are even leading Instagram workshops on it.
While cooking and baking in the name of improved mental health (also called “thera baking”) is nothing new — and has sound, science-backed benefits — the cult of sourdough bread seems to be coronavirus-specific. So, what gives? Let’s take a closer look.
Sourdough is so popular right now. But why?
When it started to become clear just how serious the COVID-19 crisis was and many states put shelter in place orders in effect, people started panic buying. Toilet paper flew off the shelves at record speed along with eggs, canned and frozen food, and dry yeast. While the first four items are easy to restock, yeast is a little tougher on the supply chain — peak bread-making season is usually around the holidays, not springtime, so manufacturers were less than prepared for the sudden demand for dry yeast.
Without an opportunity to bake a traditional loaf of bread while stuck inside, people started turning to another bread option: Sourdough. Unlike other types of bread, sourdough doesn’t require dry yeast. It requires “wild yeast,” which is present in all flour. When you combine flour with water, you’ve got sourdough starter — and neither flour nor water are going anywhere.
“The yeast shortage has played a role,” says Meghan Splawn, associate food editor at The Kitchn. “But people also want a soothing baking project during quarantine. We’re actually seeing sourdough and banana bread have their own huge moments — as if baking interests are equally split by people who want to finally try their hand at sourdough and those who just want something soothing to bake during the week.”
Splawn adds that she’s interested to see just how long the sourdough trend lasts. “We’ve already seen a bit of backlash against sourdough content at The Kitchn, and I’ve already slowed down on baking whole loaves, instead using my starter for flavoring or enhancing other baked goods—like crackers, biscuits, and waffles instead.”
How Sourdough Nutrition Compares to Other Types of Bread
If you follow popular diet trends, you’re probably familiar with the fact that on most mainstream diets, bread is a big no-no. While moderation is key and you should absolutely be able to enjoy a slice or two of delicious bread, nutrition-wise, bread isn’t exactly bursting with all the vitamins and minerals your body needs — and for those with a gluten allergy, eating a slice of bread can be flat-out disastrous.
Interestingly, sourdough bread is healthier than other types of bread for a few reasons. “Sourdough is a healthier choice than some other breads because the natural yeast — also known as “sourdough starter” — that is used to make it actually unlocks the nutrients in wheat,” explains Sheela Prakash, Registered Dietitian and author of forthcoming Mediterranean Every Day. “It breaks down a substance naturally found in wheat called phytic acid, which blocks our bodies from absorbing many of wheat’s vitamins and minerals.”
Prakash adds that once broken down, we can take in good things from sourdough bread that we wouldn’t get from other bread like potassium, magnesium, zinc, and folate.
People are eating a lot of sourdough bread these days, though — so at what point are they overdoing it? “Just like everything else, the key is moderation,” says Prakash. “If you ate something seemingly healthy like apples for every and all meals, your overall diet wouldn’t be healthy because you’d be missing out on nutrients not found in apples — the same goes for all other foods, including sourdough. Bake it and enjoy it but don’t forget to enjoy other things, too!”
If baking sourdough bread regularly is making your quarantine experience more pleasant, by all means, keep it up. And if you get bored, don’t forget to give the other quarantine bread of choice (banana bread!) a shot.
Read more: What’s So Special About Sourdough Bread?
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