Michael Pollan on Sourdough

On May 3rd there was an interview with Michael Pollan on NPR on his new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

You can read/hear the full article here, but I have cut out the part on Sourdough bread, as I found it great. The part on the subject Gluten is very interesting. Pollan is talking about studies in Italy that have proven that if you use a good sourdough starter with a good colony of bacteria, digesting the gluten is not a problem.

Personally I somehow doubt that if a person is seriously having a gluten problem, not even a good sourdough will save him. However, so many people think they are intolerant to gluten these days and large part of this group could probably work around it by sticking to yeast free sourdough – including myself. I stopped eating wheat bread since I was constantly walking around with a bloated stomach. I have not had that problem one single time since I started to eat purely sourdough bread.

Well, listen/read for yourself. I am looking forward to having time to read his book!

FLATOW: Talking with Michael Pollan, author of “Cooked.” Just a few minutes to go, Michael, but I want to make sure you talk about how you make bread, because the way you get your starter dough going is different than, I’m sure, 99 percent of cooks do.

POLLAN: Well, most people use yeast, and I used to use yeast in the very little – you know, very few times I made bread. But I strongly recommend trying to create your own starter, which is not that hard. Basically, you make a paste of flour and water, and you make it the consistency of, say, pancake batter. And you whip air into it with a fork or whisk, as often as you think of it as you’re going through your kitchen, for several days.

Eventually, microbes, both fungi and bacteria, will find their way into this new habitat you’ve created, and they will colonize it. And it will start bubbling, and you’ll realize it’s alive. And from that point on, you have a starter that you can have for the rest of your life as long as you feed it. You have to feed it every day, or you can, kind of, put it into suspended animation. Like right now, my starter is in the fridge – in the back of the fridge – till I get home from book tour.

And this – if you make bread with this starter, a couple of tablespoons of that, instead of yeast, the results are astounding. There is just so much more flavor. And if you’re making whole-grain bread, it’s just incomparable. You can’t make good whole-grain bread with yeast. It crumbles in the toaster, and it just has very little character.

So learning this little trick of, you know, using the traditional sourdough starter – I mean, yeast is fine, but it’s a monoculture. It’s like this thoroughbred microbe that does one thing, which is add air to bread. But all these other, you know, members of that little sourdough community add so much more, not just yeast. There are yeasts in it, but they add a tang to things and a really complicated flavor.

And they break – they even break down the gluten in ways that makes that bread, for people who have trouble with gluten, much easier to digest. The Italians have done interesting studies to show that if you properly ferment a bread with the sourdough, gluten will not be a problem for you.

FLATOW: People should not be fearful of the stuff falling into the dough as it’s sitting there?

POLLAN: No, that’s bacteria…


POLLAN: …phobia right there.

FLATOW: Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m asking. Yeah.

POLLAN: No. I mean – no. They’re not – I’ve never heard a story of toxins in a sourdough starter. Again, it’s an acidic environment.

FLATOW: Right.

POLLAN: Lactobacillus are central to that ecosystem, and they protect it. These communities can look out for themselves without a lot of help from us.

ElmlidMichael Pollan on Sourdough

One Comment on ““Michael Pollan on Sourdough”

  1. Sasha

    I think that this whole gluten issue is so interesting and it seems bang on that sourdough would be much easier to digest and, therefore, the vast majority of people should be able to eat it without a problem. More points for sourdough!

    This is kind of unrelated, but the mention of Michael Pollan reminds me of an article a friend recently sent to me. I found it to be a very good read and think that you will too: http://www.salon.com/2013/04/28/is_michael_pollan_a_sexist_pig/ The title is a bit racier than the actual article, but I certainly want to read her book.

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