Sourdough is this interesting little “pet” that you might find helps you feel a little better than when you typically consume bread-based products. That’s because of this little thing called fermentation. The fermentation process activates the natural, good bacteria that is found on the grain, whether that be wheat, rye, barley, rice, oats, etc…then that bubbly bacteria is used as a natural leavener (ie-no commercial yeast needed to rise). But, what do you do if you are gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive, or have Celiac Disease? Well…you set out and make a gluten free sourdough starter, and try your hand at making sourdough that way!
What is gluten?
In order to understand gluten let’s break down the terminology a bit. Gluten is a complex protein structure of hundreds of proteins found in the following wheat cereal grains: wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat. Additionally, einkorn is an ancient wheat variety, but still contains gluten. According to an article published in 2019 by the National Institutes of Health einkorn still contains the primary storage proteins of glutenin and gliadin, but in lower amounts than Durum and Common Wheat. The primary storage proteins of wheat grains are glutenin and glaidin. Secalin in rye, hordein in barley and avenins in oats are similar storage proteins in each grain, that are referred to as gluten. When we talk about cereal grain we are referring to a plant, a grass, that is grown that produces edible grains that are composed of an endosperm, germ and bran, ie – whole grain.
What is bran?
Bran is the outermost layer covering the grain. In many products the bran and germ is removed, leaving only the endosperm. This white-ish, glucose (sugar) laden starch is then ground down to make products like all-purpose flour. Bran is high in fiber. When we consume bran and/or fiber, it slows the breakdown of glucose. A whole grain product contains all three components, endosperm, germ and bran. Further to the outside is often a husk. The husk is not able to be broken down by humans.
What is germ?
Germ is the plant portion of a seed/grain that is capable of producing a new plant. Positioned in the middle of the endosperm, and under the protective coating of bran. The bran protects the new baby plant until it is ready to emerge. If you’ve ever seen a seed coat hanging on a newly emerged plant, this is the bran!
What is endosperm?
The endosperm makes up the majority (83-84%) of the grain/kernel. This is what the plant uses for food/energy. If you’re familiar with hatching chicks, the endosperm is similar to the yolk. This part contains carbohydrates and proteins. The main protein in wheat is prolamin.
Why would you want to make a gluten free sourdough starter?
Not everyone can tolerate gluten. People with diagnosed Celiac Disease are not able to consume gluten. However, research is showing promise with the GAPS Diet to heal your gut, including for Celiac Disease. Or maybe you’re on your way to a cleaner, healthier diet that doesn’t include so many commercially made products.
How to make a Gluten Free Starter
In order to make a gluten free sourdough starter you need to choose a gluten free flour option. Some options may include, but are not limited to (or a blend of these flours):
- Brown rice flour
- White rice flour
- Tapioca flour
- Banana flour
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Spelt flour
- Plaintain flour
- Chickpea flour
- Oat flour
- Millet flour
- Quinoa flour
- Buckwheat flour
- Amaranth flour
The process of fermenting grains to create a sourdough starter is pretty simple. In order to liven the natural good bacteria and yeasts found on the grain you need about 7-10 days, gluten free flour and some water. For a period of a minimum of seven days you will feed equal parts of gluten free flour and water, on the second day you will start discarding half of the mixture, then and add equal portions of flour and water, stir, leave for 24-ish hours, then repeat, until you have a bubby sourdough starter. If you aren’t quite there by the seventh day, continue to day ten with the process. Once you have your gluten free sourdough starter you can use it to make all of the typical sourdough products-pizza, crackers, bread, etc.
Thoughts on using tapioca flour to make sourdough, a gluten free option
In my experience, tapioca flour on it’s own acts a little hydrophillic, and doesn’t want to combine with water. I got tapioca flour mixed together with water the first day, then on day two, I couldn’t get it mixed together. It acted like corn starch and water – kind of like ooblec and would get like a solid if it sat, but a running liquid if stirred with hands. It was quite odd, and hard to work with, so I scrapped it on day two.
Steps to create a gluten free sourdough starter in seven to ten days
- Day 1 – Combine 1 cup gluten free flour with 1 cup water in a 1 quart mason jar, stir well and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 2 – Discard about half of the mixture. I pour into a half gallon jar, and save everything throughout this process. Add 1 cup gluten free flour and 1 cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 3 – Discard about half of the mixture into your discard jar. Add 1 cup gluten free flour and 1 cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 4 – Discard about half of the mixture into your discard jar. Add 1 cup gluten free flour and 1 cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 5 – Discard about half of the mixture into your discard jar. Add 1 cup gluten free flour and 1 cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 6 – Discard about half of the mixture into your discard jar. Add ¾ cup gluten free flour and ¾ cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 7 – Discard about half of the mixture into your discard jar. Add ¾ cup gluten free flour and ¾ cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it
- Day 8-10 – Discard about half of the mixture into your discard jar. Add ¾ cup gluten free flour and ¾ cup of water to your starter jar, stir well, and put on a loose fitting lid, or tea towel with a rubber band around it through ten days, if necessary, to obtain a bubbly gluten free sourdough starter.
At the end of the 7-10 days of growing your gluten free sourdough starter you can make some gluten free sourdough crackers with some fresh herbs, spice, butter, and cheese, if you’d like.
With your bubbly gluten free sourdough starter you can make some gluten free sourdough bread.
However, this is where my journey is still developing and working. My first trial of making sourdough bread ended up with a wet, very dense product that could have been used to club someone over the head and kill them. No joke. This, almost the weight of a cinder block, but the size of a brick “loaf of bread” had a nice crumb, browned pretty well, took for.ev.er to bake and was almost too sour to consume on its own. I made a mistake I think in letting it sit in the fridge overnight like my typical sourdough bread. If I wouldn’t have done this I bet it wouldn’t have gotten so sour. (Yes, I understand it’s called “sour” dough.) I do think it was over-fermented.
I used a brown rice gluten free flour from Bob’s Red Mill to create my first gluten free sourdough starter. By about day eight I had a bubbly starter to work with. The consistency of it was about like wet kinetic sand, and not like a typical sourdough starter that has quite a bit of stretch to it. In my Registered Dietitian brain, and background in food science, I know this is because gluten is what gives bread its elastic properties and its structure. So, by having a gluten free product you are left with something that isn’t going to hold together in the same way.
This is where our story of making gluten free sourdough products ends…for now. I am going to continue to work on making gluten free sourdough products, but I’m going to tell you, this trial of gluten free sourdough bread did not go well.
Gluten free sourdough starter is finicky
My gluten free sourdough starter made of brown rice flour is also super finicky. It doesn’t like to be too hot, I know this from leaving it on the counter while I made regular sourdough pizza. After I made the pizza (using the cast iron skillet and 450 degree oven) I had a layer of hooch on top. Hooch is that layer of watery substance on top of the fermented flour mixture. Also, it was not bubbly after that. I fed it another two days before making bread with it.
I wanted to share this post with you to educate you a bit about what it means on a label to be gluten free, and how it can affect an end product, and why someone might choose the gluten free route, or simply cannot tolerate gluten. I also wanted to show you that I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect everything you do on your homestead journey is going to be perfect either. It doesn’t hurt to try something new. By trying this new method of making a sourdough starter, I now understand how expensive it is to use gluten free products, but also, it allows me to be creative in the kitchen. Just because this trial didn’t work this time into a nice product, it showed me that I need to think more outside of the box, and that this cannot be treated like a regular sourdough starter.
Why would we treat it like the regular sourdough starter, when it is not even the same thing!? That would be like treating the interior of a clementine like an apple. They’re just not the same! Even though they are both fruits.
Anyway, I hope you have more success with your gluten free sourdough starter than me, and that you’ll share your successes! I will keep posting when I do.
This is the start of something good, in the future, maybe!
You’ve got this. I’m cheering you on!