Baking, sourdough, & croissants.
Growing up as a Korean-Canadian, those are 3 words I never thought would have such an impact on my life.
I have learned a lot about nutrition, food, and healthy eating habits as a Naturopathic Doctor, but surprisingly my sourdough journey began even before I became a Naturopath. Having a background in science and research, the more I learned about sourdough bread, the more it made me question and re-evaluate how I thought about food in general. After benefiting personally from beginning to bake more with sourdough, I really wanted to share what I have come to realize with others.
First of all, they are delicious. But that's not really the reason I got into baking with sourdough (although it's probably one of the reasons I kept baking!).
I was lucky enough to stumble onto a sourdough course where I learned all about the health benefits of baking sourdough bread. After doing some of my own research, I was amazed at what was actually happening while I was baking a loaf of sourdough bread, and why it was so different from the typical commercial baked goods I would typically eat.
I grew up with rice being a staple food in my diet, and I never really considered bread as a staple food as it is in many countries and has been throughout history. But there is definitely a reason it has been for so long, even though modern bread may have tarnished it's reputation a bit!
There are 2 huge overarching themes when it comes to food and health that I learned from sourdough baking. They are regarding:
Ingredients & Processing
Honestly, there is so much to unpack here. The food that goes into your body are the building blocks to your health. They provide the nutrients your body needs to perform the various functions that keep us alive and healthy. But if you break it down even further, none of this matters if we cannot digest the food and absorb it. If food goes into our mouths but passes right through us, then did we really "eat" it?
What actually makes up the food that we're eating? On a chemical level, what actually gets into our blood and into our cells?
Is all flour the same? Is all rice the same? Is all milk the same? If not, how are they different?
When I was volunteering on an organic farm in Korea, I noticed that the milk there tasted different and did not give my any digestive issues, which was opposite to a lot of the milk I drank in North America. Also, I was able to digest and feel great after eating the bread that I bought from a bakery in Germany, whereas much of the bread here made me gassy and bloated. They looked the same and were called by the same name, but the final product was obviously not reacting the same in my body. As I reflected on these experiences, sourdough finally gave me some clarity as to what might really be going on.
Example of ingredients found in store bought croissants vs. homemade sourdough croissants
Keypoint # 1: Ingredients
When I bought a croissant from the store, I never used to question what it was made of, or how it was made. But after looking at a label of some storebought croissants, I saw that there were a lot of ingredients added to it that I definitely did not use when I made it at home myself. Maybe it isn't so much that all of these ingredients are necessary bad for you, but it was eye-opening to see and become aware of what it is that I was actually eating.
As I delved deeper into it, these labels didn't give me the full picture as to what ingredients were being used. Just as something that is called "bread" or "milk" may look the same on the outside, what made up those specific breads or milk products may be totally different. There are so many different types of foods out there, so many different farms that grow different varieties of foods in different ways, that when I saw this label of "flour" or "oil," I realized I didn't really have an accurate picture of what I was eating at all.
Were they whole grain, or white flour? Was it bleached or not? Organic or non-organic? What types of grains were used? Was it freshly milled? How long did it sit on the shelf for before it was used? Does the environment that the ingredients are grown in affect the final product nutritionally?
There is so much to unravel when it comes to learning about the ingredients that go into your food. But the keypoint I want to emphasize is that the ingredients that make up your food - whether it's the inclusion/exclusion of ingredients or the quality/constitution of the ingredients can definitely impact the final product that we eventually eat.
But it didn't seem like that was all there was to it. It is not just about the base ingredients that make up the food, but how those ingredients are used. You cannot survive on flour and water itself, but you can survive on bread which is made up of flour and water, so what was the difference?
Keypoint #2: Processing
When I first looked into how to make bread, I quickly realized that commercially, using baker's yeast was the most common. There was a whole process that used instant yeast to quickly make the bread rise, so they could bake in a couple hours. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that some people spent 48-78 hours to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. Why did people put in that much time, and did it really make a difference?
That is when I learned about fermentation. What a concept. Through fermentation, the bacteria and yeast found in a culture of sourdough starter went through a complex process of breaking down the nutrients found in flour and pre-digesting them into smaller, easier to digest components. It lowered the glycemic index of the final bread, made it more digestible by breaking down things like phytic acid, and made new nutrients bioavailable for our bodies to absorb. It also made the bread taste very different (in a good way!), allowed the bread to rise, and so much more. But basically, leaving those microorganisms to ferment the flour and break it down through this process of fermentation changed those ingredients into something that was completely different from when it started.
When I baked sourdough croissants, I thought about this process as well, and about how storebought croissants were made. Did they go through this process of fermentation? Were they using instant yeast to quicken this process and just get it to rise? Were these microorganisms given enough time to pre-digest and break down the flour? I don't doubt that there was probably a reason why this came about, as commercially made foods being produced provided a huge amount of relatively safe food to meet the demands of the growing population. But by speeding up this process, and skipping steps, getting away from how food was traditionally made, we also lost this important process of fermentation.
I later learned that much of the bread made in that bakery in Germany was made the old fashioned way with sourdough. So, maybe the process, the way that they made the bread and allowed it to ferment contributed a lot to why I was able to digest it so much easier.
I also tested out this theory at home once I started baking with sourdough. If I used the same ingredients, but changed the way I processed and allowed one to ferment longer for example, I found that it resulted in a change of how I felt I digested the food. I was less bloated, less tired, did not have any skin issues or spikes or crashes in energy when I allowed the sourdough to ferment.
So that brings us to Sourdough croissants. I've always been a fan of croissants, but I never felt great after eating them. But after learning about sourdough, when I paid attention to the ingredients I put into it, and the process in which it was made, I thought that this croissant that I had made was nothing like the ones that I had bought from the store.
My first impression was that croissants are not healthy. They're not good for you. They're loaded with butter. They're a dessert, and so they're meant to be enjoyed sparingly. Obviously I'm not claiming that these croissants should become a staple food in your diet and you should be eating them everyday, but there's so much more to it than that. And when we extrapolate these concepts into all the foods we eat and incorporate into our diets, I think that we can drastically change our preconceptions about how food
At first glance, they're pretty simple. It's essentially just a few ingredients: flour, sugar, milk, butter, and water. But when you take that from a macro level down to a micro level, there are so many questions: What are the ingredients being used? What about the make-up of those ingredients? How was it processed? Was it allowed to ferment? Etc.
I believe if we can be more aware that our definitions of food may not really be giving us a clear picture, we can make more informed decisions as to what we put into our bodies.
For example, how many of you questioned what type of butter I was referring to? Just as bread and sourdough bread are so different, butter and cultured butter also differ tremendously. One is fermented while the other is not.
So, I hope you can see how, through baking sourdough croissants, I learned to look at what was going into my food, how it was being made, how it was processed, and ultimately changed my whole perception of food!
Are you having digestive issues? Book a visit
Sourdough Croissant Recipe:
Yield: ~7-8 Croissants
100g Sourdough starter (mature starter, use once peaked after feeding)
250g flour (I used Einkorn, Red Fife and Kamut, but you can adjust according to the flour you have)
25g softened butter
140g roll-in butter
Mix everything except the roll-in butter in a medium bowl. Mix until roughly incorporated and all the flour is incorporated into the dough. Cover and let rest for 30-60 minutes.
Take the dough out of the bowl and knead for 5-10 minutes or until the dough holds together and is somewhat smooth. You can also use a stand mixer instead. Once kneaded, cover with wrap and place the dough in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
Before you take the dough out of the fridge, shape the roll-in butter into a ~8"x8" square. To do this, cut parchment paper and fold the edges into a 8"x8" square. Then put the butter inside, and roll out the butter in between the parchment.
Once you have the 8"x8" butter square, take the dough out onto a floured surface and roll it out into a 12"x12" square. Then place the butter inside, and fold over the dough to encase the butter inside. *Note: You should be able to get a good feel for how quickly your butter melts and softens here. This will help guide you to when to put it back into the fridge so the butter does not melt when rolling it out.*
Roll it out horizontally to a 8"x24" rectangle. Then fold of the sides 1/3 of the way, and fold the other side on top (like a pamphlet). Place in the fridge and let it rest for 1 hour.
Take out the dough, and repeat rolling and folding 2 more times, placing it in the fridge for an hour each time.
Rest it in the fridge for 90 minutes after the last fold. Then take it out and roll it out to roughly 10"x20" (~1/4 inch thickness)
Cut into triangles (3.5" base)
9. Roll the triangles starting at the base towards the tip. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover with a plastic bag. Proof for ~18-20 hours, or until 2-3x the size and jiggles slightly when shaking the pan.
10. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Brush the croissants with egg wash and bake for ~20 minutes or until golden brown.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!
Dr. Daniel Min, ND
Arora, K., Ameur, H., Polo, A., Di Cagno, R., Rizzello, C. G., & Gobbetti, M. (2020). Thirty years of knowledge on sourdough fermentation: A systematic review. Trends in Food Science & Technology.
Chavan, R. S., & Chavan, S. R. (2011). Sourdough technology—a traditional way for wholesome foods: a review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 10(3), 169-182.
Corsetti, A., & Settanni, L. (2007). Lactobacilli in sourdough fermentation. Food research international, 40(5), 539-558.
Yildirim, R. M., & Arici, M. (2019). Effect of the fermentation temperature on the degradation of phytic acid in whole-wheat sourdough bread. Lwt, 112, 108224.
Katina, K., Arendt, E., Liukkonen, K. H., Autio, K., Flander, L., & Poutanen, K. (2005). Potential of sourdough for healthier cereal products. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 16(1-3), 104-112.
Gobbetti, M., De Angelis, M., Corsetti, A., & Di Cagno, R. (2005). Biochemistry and physiology of sourdough lactic acid bacteria. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 16(1-3), 57-69.
Najafi, M. A., Rezaei, K., Safari, M., & Razavi, S. H. (2012). Use of sourdough to reduce phytic acid and improve zinc bioavailability of a traditional flat bread (sangak) from Iran. Food Science and Biotechnology, 21(1), 51-57.
The content written in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be substituted or interpreted as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health concern. Please book a consultation with me or a qualified healthcare professional before acting on any information presented here.