The Green Mill is an artisanal sourdough bakery that makes real bread slowly and naturally. We are proud to be able to raise awareness and provide our community with natural sourdough bread; not only for its many health benefits, but also for its great taste, texture, and aroma.
The Green Mill concept started with one simple question. How can we make bread healthier and taste better?
Over many years of tasting different breads in different countries and in different bakeries, there were some breads that were in a class of their own; they had amazing taste, smell and texture….. and they were easy to digest. What kind of new breads were these? As it turns out, they were not new at all, but rather they have been around for thousands of years.
These breads became unrecognizable to us because of the invention of commercial yeast and mass production a few decades ago, which changed the most important food in all our recorded history beyond any recognition.
Sourdough bread is very different from what mostly passes as bread these days. In fact, it is the antithesis of the industrial factory loaf — that soft, structureless, flavor-lite bread that is produced in such huge quantities by the big brands or supermarkets. Sourdough, by contrast, is bread with immense character, with presence — bread with a point.
But just what is sourdough? Is this the original risen loaf? For several thousands of years after the first farmers planted the first fields of grain. These grains were eaten crushed and mixed with water into a simple porridge, or else baked as flatbread on a hot stone. And then some baker, somewhere, around 6,000 years ago, noticed that the flour and water mix he’d left lying around forgotten was doing something odd. It was bubbling, fermenting and expanding. He or probably she, stuck it in the oven nonetheless — waste not, want not — and became the first human being to sniff that wonderful aroma: the smell of baking bread. The taste and texture were different too: his bread was chewier, it had a more interesting flavor. Perhaps he began experimenting himself; maybe he told other bakers. But however it happened, the new baking technique caught on, was developed, and gradually spread all around Europe and the Middle East.
This is the process known today as sourdough, in which a “starter” of combined flour and water is fermented over several days with regular additions of flour and water by the wild yeasts and lactobacilli naturally present in ground grain: this starter is then added to the baker’s dough, which is left to rise for several hours, and produces delicious bread full of holes, with a firm springy crust. The secret of this transformation? Gluten, a protein found in all forms of wheat, rye and barley.
So satisfying was the new-style bread that over millennia it gradually took on quasi-religious status, a metaphor for nourishment, for harvest, for money, for life itself. Bread-making became an intrinsic part of village or small-town life, just as a wind- or watermill was a part of the local landscape. The farmer took his grain to the miller, who supplied the baker, who made the bread. Once the bread was baked, his big ovens were open for common use — a tradition that persists to this day in rural communities.
By the 20th century, the writing was on the wall. Reliable readymade yeast was now available for large-scale commercial baking. In early 1900s, scientists developed a new industrial process for the speedy mass production of bread. In the huge factories using it, bread could now be churned out in just three and a half hours flat, from flour to wrapped loaf, the long fermentation process cut to the bare minimum, to produce soft pappy bread with almost indefinite shelf-life.
In order to produce an acceptable loaf in the minimum of time, a whole arsenal of additives is necessary: among them extra yeast, extra gluten, fat to improve crumb softness, reducing agents to help create stretchier doughs, soya flour to add volume and softness, emulsifiers to produce bigger, softer loaves and retard staling, preservatives - to extend shelf-life, and any of a wide variety of enzymes, legally defined as “processing aids” which do not have to be declared on the bread label.
Large commercial bakeries transformed the production process but also drastically changed the quality of bread.
Is it gluten or the unfermented gluten people are now consuming, unmodified by the long fermentation process of traditional bread making, that are responsible for all the health problems arising from commercial bread?
“Lacto-fermentation is all about the Lactobacillus bacteria, which feeds on sugars to create lactic acid. Aside from acting as an agent that preserves food from harmful bacteria, it also protects and even enriches the vitamins and enzyme content of food. When the right kind of bacteria are present in your body, not only are you able to digest and metabolize the foods that you chew, but your body is also better able to extract the nutrient content from those foods.”
And what’s beyond doubt is that when people switch from supermarket to sourdough bread, they’re often delighted to find they can eat it without bloated belly discomfort.
In the long slow fermentation that produces sourdough bread, important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb. Diabetics should note that sourdough produces a lower surge in blood sugar than any other bread: in a 2008 study published in Acta Diabetologica, subjects with impaired glucose tolerance were fed either sourdough or ordinary bread: the sourdough bread produced a significantly lower glucose and insulin response. In the sourdough process, moreover, gluten is broken down and rendered virtually harmless. In one small Italian study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, in January 2011, coeliac patients fed sourdough bread for 60 days had no clinical complaints, and their biopsies showed no changes in the intestinal lining.
So why is Sourdough bread healthier than ordinary bread? So why can we digest Sourdough bread, but not ordinary commercial bread? There are many reasons, and the answer for each person is different. However research, often linked with IBS, indicates that the principal storage of phosphorus in seeds is found in the bran part of wheat and is called phytic acid can be a cause for digestive discomfort and bloating. In humans, and animals with one stomach, this phytic acid inhibits enzymes which are needed for the breakdown of proteins and starch in the stomach. It is this lack of enzymes which results in digestive difficulties. Ironically, commercially produced whole grain bread, generally perceived as “healthy,” is often the worst thing a person with wheat intolerance should eat. Luckily we have an ally, sourdough. The wild yeast and lactobacillus in the leaven neutralize the phytic acid as the bread proves through the acidification of the dough. This prevents the effects of the phytic acid and makes the bread easier for us to digest. These phytic acid molecules bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, which make these important nutrients unavailable to us. Long slow fermentation of wheat can reduce phytates by up to 90%. There is an interesting study that compares the effects of different leavens (yeast, sourdough, and a mixture of both) on phytic acid degradation which assessed the repercussions of phytic acid breakdown on phosphorus and magnesium solubility during bread‐making, that showed Sourdough fermentation was much more efficient than yeast fermentation in reducing the phytate content in whole wheat bread. The lactic acid bacteria present in sourdough enhanced acidification, which lead to increased magnesium and phosphorus solubility. Simply put the phytase enzymes released by the yeasts as the dough acidifies effectively pre‐digests the flour, which releases the micronutrients and in turn reduces bloating and digestive discomfort.
Sourdough is also a prebiotic, which helps to support the gut microbiome.
Just flour, water and salt — all the other unnatural ingredients that commercially produced bread include are eliminated. Cheap, industrially manufactured, processed bread relies on enzymes, preservatives, emulsifiers and improvers to bake bread at speed. These additives are also to blame for some people’s wheat intolerance.