We sat down with Aimee from Boston Sourdough to talk about functional sourdough, adaptogens, botanicals, and biodiversity.
All images courtesy of Boston Sourdough
What is special about sourdough?
As a baker and a consumer, I’m interested in investigating health and nutrition. Understanding old world knowledge about food and environment has been an interest for a long time and I've always craved knowledge about the things that our current society is out of touch with. I was raised to lead with curiosity about food. I started 20 years ago when I became interested in herbs and diet. I stayed up all night reading Back to Eden: The Classic Guide to Herbal Medicine, Natural Foods, and Home Remedies by Jethro Kloss, and I realized everything I know about food is wrong and it was an awakening for me. I developed a new appetite for learning and looking at the ways people can eat and also impact agriculture and the world around them. I love the new curiosity that people have for artisanal and process-driven items, adaptogens, kombucha, mushrooms, etc. For me, working with sourdough, whole grains, and regenerative agriculture was a natural way to not take it all at face value and consider how I can actively affect my regional economy, where local farmers are trying to convert from a roundup method to a regenerative way of growing.
I mill my own flour and source grains from local farmers. I add adaptogens. We have monocrops and fields that have one thing in them but there might be some clover, wildflowers growing in there that increase biodiversity and I put that in the bread. These additions also pack more of a punch with color and flavor and it’s easy to do. I use dehydrated mushroom powders and I also buy mushrooms and botanicals from local farmers and foragers and dry them, grind them in my spice mill and add them to the flour. I also like to add prebiotics and probiotics and get some healthy fiber in there. I’m also a plant based eater. Cultivating gut health helps with overall health--including brain health.
What does “functional bread” mean?
There is such a spectrum with sourdough. From homemade sourdough made with a starter culture to store-bought with added yeast, you can see a huge range in taste and texture. The starter culture contains a community of microbes made up of yeasts and bacteria, which ferment the carbohydrates in flour and produce the carbon dioxide gas that makes the bread dough rise before baking. I don’t use any commercial yeasts. For me, and I may be a purest, for it to be functional it needs to have some benefit to the microbiome--even if it’s a white flour loaf. I’ve never made a completely white sourdough loaf because I always want to add some diversity and botanicals to elevate it nutritionally. It’s great that people are becoming connected to the idea of food being functional. I don’t think many people realize that bread can be good for you!
Let’s talk microbiome. As previously stated, there are microbes in sourdough and they are derived from the starter. There are plactates in grains that are hard to the break down, the fermentation in sourdough makes those things more digestible. Sometimes without the microbe communities, the grains can be a challenge for some people to digest. This can lead to allergies and other problems.
It’s important to have the right flora to help digest food properly. With sourdough, you have the fermentation process --the more fermentation, the more digestible the food becomes. A healthy flora helps pre-digest the foods we eat so that when the yummy bread arrives in the gut it’s more digestible and we’re better able to absorb the nutrients. The right bacteria helps produce healthy flora in the gut.
James Nester wrote a book called BREATHE about breathing. In it, he talks about how nowadays (compared to thousands of years ago) foods are so soft and overly processed that the human skull is actually physically changing and our mouths and nasal passages are shrinking in size. The mouth and palette become smaller, teeth get crowded. He talks about how it’s bee documented that when Indigenous cultures become industrialized, they develop dental problems and asthma cases go way up. The crust on a good loaf of sourdough, like one made in the Fourneau Grande for example, gets you chewing. That’s another benefit.
What are you favorite things to add into your sourdough dough?
Since the beginning of Covid, I’ve been adding hibiscus and elderberry, which gives a tartness and has immunity benefits. I will pick flowers and dry them myself or I like to use the dried flowers by Frontier, and I put them in the mill and grind them up.
I usually add an adaptogen, chaga, reishi, or a mushroom blend. You can put more in and play with how it changes the color of the loaf. I think about the time of year and ramp up the immunity if needed. Lavender flowers or wildflowers are fun to play with. I’m looking forward to developing an immunity loaf to share this winter.
When do you put the botanicals and adaptogens into the dough?
I’ve found the timing in terms of when to add these ingredients to be really forgiving. I’ve ground them right into the flour or added them in later on. It doesn’t impact the spring in my experience because you're not adding huge quantities. I’ve added stuff in after autolyse--you can experiment. You could roll it in later like when you include olives.
There is a learning curve with sourdough. If you’ve got your sea legs then playing with these additions is a good next step. I wouldn’t let it intimidate you if you’re a beginner though, do what you want!
When I mill in botanicals, I probably grab a good handful of it. Maybe a ¼ or ⅓ of a cup per 1000 gram recipe. With mushroom powder, it’s closer to a teaspoon or two per 1000 gram recipe as a middle ground. Experiment with it like a seasoning.
Thank you, Aimee for spending time with us talking loaves. Fourneau readers, check out her work at Boston Sourdough on Instagram and happy baking!