Discover more from Brunette Gardens
Having to 'start' over again, and other lessons learned.
By Lisa Brunette
It’s perfect weather right now to start sourdough, and that’s a good thing because I just had to toss the one I’d nurtured for a couple of years.
Much of my motivation for growing, preserving, and preparing our own food comes from the need to navigate a pesky autoimmune condition called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). I react badly to a lot of food additives, especially those that fall under the category of manufactured free glutamates. These MfGs are like monosodium glutamate, but scientists have managed to come up with an even worse incarnation that doesn’t behave the way naturally occurring glutamates do.
When I had a full-blown mast-cell attack after eating my own sourdough bread one day, I was perplexed, as sourdough hasn’t caused me any problems in the past. It’s been a savior, actually, because I love bread but can’t eat any shelf-stabilized loaves, which are loaded with lab-processed ingredients.
Doing my usual sleuthing in these cases, I tracked down the culprit: It was King Arthur’s bread flour. What I didn’t realize is that the company now adds an “enzyme” to it. I contacted King Arthur, and they were both transparent and appreciative of my feedback, which is to their credit.
But I can’t use their flour anymore, and my sourdough, to which I’d fed it, had to be pitched, a loss I felt keenly. If you’re like me and are in the habit of regularly feeding, stirring, sniffing, admiring, baking with, and yeah, even talking to your sourdough, you understand what I felt.
What is this “enzyme”? It’s an MfG. Specifically, fungal alpha-amylase. If you look at the list put together by the Truth in Labeling Campaign, you’ll see “enzyme” under the heading, “Names of ingredients that always contain free glutamates.”
You might be thinking that I’m an edge case with this weird condition, so what’s the big deal?
However, I’m effectively your canary in the coal mine. I can’t even eat this stuff without suffering a range of symptoms that wreck my week. But it’s probably not good for anyone to eat MfGs.
When you buy a sack of flour, you should expect it to contain one thing: ground grain. And that’s it.
Not some fungus processed five ways to Sunday by a bunch of corporate scientists in lab coats.
No additives here! Just whole-grain writing.
In The Perfect Poison: The Story That Big Food and Its Friends at the FDA Don’t Want You to Know1, Dr. Adrienne Samuels argues
When consumed in controlled quantities, glutamate is essential to normal body function as a neurotransmitter and building block of protein. But when consumed in excess, in quantities greater than needed for normal body function, it becomes excitotoxic, firing repeatedly and killing its targeted glutamate receptors.
Samuels links this phenomenon to the obesity epidemic and surges in infertility, neurodegenerative disease, and a whole host of other problems.
I’m neither scientist nor medical professional, but I find the arguments in The Perfect Poison worthy of consideration. The key takeaway here is that our bodies have not evolved to deal with lab-processed fungal enzymes in our flour and elsewhere. Like with the seed-oil problem, we should only be ingesting them in a) trace amounts and b) from natural sources. But we’re not, when they’re in processed food.
Besides, why does flour need an assist from lab-processed additives? I think we’d all be much better off learning the fine art of sourdough baking instead of relying on such things. After all, our ancestors made bread without any of our modern appliances or other conveniences. I think we can manage without fungal alpha-amylase.
While King Arthur’s point person treated my query with respect, it’s really uncool that their flour isn’t what it’s supposed to be. I hope they’ll see the light of day and revert back to offering flour that’s just flour.
Until then, I’ve found two alternative sources:
Janie’s Mill2, over in neighboring state Illinois. They offer stone-ground, organic flour that contains nothing but the ground grain and are a terrific source for ancient grains like emmer and einkorn.
Bob’s Red Mill3, a popular employee-owned company with which you’re probably already familiar. Anthony and I purchase their flours and other products from Frontier Co-Op through a local buying club4. Coincidentally, Frontier now offers wheat instead of just the gluten-free stuff they’ve always had in store, and it’s all on sale right now.
Speaking of gluten-free: If you think you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, just consider that it might not be the wheat causing you problems but the additives in whatever you’re eating, be it bread, cereal, or the like. Unless, of course, you suffer from bonafide celiac disease, and in that case you have my sympathy.
If you’re still hung up with worry about my lost sourdough start, let me assure you that I was able to create another one, my third now in three-and-a-half years of regularly baking with sourdough. I used Janie’s Mill whole wheat, and the first loaf I made with it was spectacular, one of my best (photos on this post).
One note on that point, though: In creating my start, at first I followed the method of a well-known celebrity homesteader, to see if it would work for me, and it did not. She did what a lot of influencers online do and neglected to account for weather and household conditions, whether your windows are open or not, what kind of flour you use, and so on. All of that matters. What’s more important than following step-by-step instructions to a T is gaining an understanding of what you’re doing and why and learning how to notice what’s happening and respond when it’s not going the way you want.
I’ll go more into depth on why and how to start your own sourdough in upcoming posts. Sourdough works great in late summer/early fall weather, when you can open your home’s windows, and the temperature ranges from 75-85° F (or 23-29° C), which is sourdough’s sweet spot.
Happy fall baking, my friends!
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If you’re in the St. Louis area and would like to join this buying club, shoot me an email at brunettegardens [at] gmail [dot] com.