A fatal flaw has crept into our understanding of food and food preparation.
While our planet grows an infinite variety of foods that nourish all kinds of beings, some foods require preparing them prior to consumption. These preparation techniques evolved as they became essential and originated out of necessity. From simply just slicing and eating them raw to cooked foods or naturally fermented foods - cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, sauerkraut, and very importantly bread (sourdough bread). What is sometimes neglected, misunderstood, or lost is what function these preparation techniques meant for the health of our ancestors.
In the case of bread, the processes of natural fermenting via a viable bacterial culture have largely been lost. This is what I will further explain to you and refer to as the 'fatal flaw'.
Few animals prepare their foods in ways similar to humans. The only other mammal that devours grass grains like wheat in any quantity is a cow. A cow, however, has a digestive system vastly different from that of a human's. It is the classic archetype of a ruminant: an animal that digests plant-based foods through a cyclical digestive process. Initially, the food is softened within the animals first compartment of the stomach, where the food mass is mixed with bacteria that really start the digestive process. After a short while, the animal regurgitates the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, which it then further chews. This process is repeated a number of times until the food actually gets digested. The process of re-chewing the cud to break down the plant matter is called 'ruminating'.
Let us closely compare the ruminant's stomach to the human digestive system (See Fig. 1 below).
Figure 1: Comparison of a cow's (ruminant) digestive system versus a human digestive system.
Our stomachs lack the large bacteria-filled chamber called the ruminant chamber, which requires the cyclical cud-chewing process to make raw, un-fermented food digestible. In order for humans to digest gluten-containing grains like wheat, we need to find or re-discover ways to help digest these grains. Our ancestors knew the answer: sourdough bread that included a bacterial culture that predigested the grains (during fermentation), to make nutrients available and to aid our digestive systems. Our ancestors essentially copied ruminants with a process that happens outside of our bodies, as we don't have regurgitative stomachs. For us, this stage of pre-fermentation was a mandatory pre-requisite of digesting grass grains.
Systematic agriculture resulted in mankind's ascent from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies. After learning to successfully sow and harvest grains, humans ate and thrived on naturally fermented sourdough bread for thousands of years. If we were able to thrive on these breads for thousands of years, what has that changed? Why are detrimental diseases like Celiac's disease and gluten intolerances on the rise?
The answer to this question is two fold. First, our digestive system is not meant to eat raw grains, or for that matter, flour made from it. And second, we changed or eliminated the fermentation technique of our ancestors.
When we write that our ancestors lived off of bread for thousands of years, it is sourdough bread that we are referring to. Where did the natural fermentation processes go and what were the consequences? To find this answer, we need to look back to the Industrial Revolution, when bread-making processes fundamentally changed. This is where I believe our 'Fatal Flaw' occurred.
Many changes occurred during the Industrial Revolution. The one we are most interested in is the invention of the Baker's yeast, which from then on became mass produced item. It was an easy sell to bakers since it simplified the baking process, ensured a uniform, predictable product, and did not require keeping a sourdough culture alive and viable. This also led to the mass-production of bread, with huge factories supplying a nation's bread ration. This became especially true for North America. What has not been understood is that fermentation does not limit itself to creating the characteristic bubbles in the texture of the bread, but that the full spectrum of the bacterial culture present in a sourdough serves multiple functions, especially starting the digestive process of the gluten (similar to the function the bacteria-filled ruminant chamber serves as a pre-digestion for the cow).
As a sourdough baker for over twenty years, I have been witnessing the rise in people's intolerance of digesting gluten-containing grain products. Countless people have said to me that our bread is the only bread they can and will eat, because they don't get any symptoms of digestive discomfort. Therefore, I have concluded that it is not the grain that is at fault, but the way these grains are predominantly under-prepared today for human consumption.
It has taken several generations for the indicators of this systemic problem to manifest itself and gain attention, but now we're seeing it most obviously. If you understand the above you understand what their causes are. What I think we need to do is return to properly preparing gluten-containing grains again, and avoid any under-prepared foods made from these grains. Evolution in human beings is much too slow to adapt to the rapid changes in food processing, and we might be extinct before we adapt. Therefore, in combating the gluten intolerance epidemic, we have developed another new product line, 'Pasta Fermentata:' that is, pasta made with natural sourdough bacterial culture. This is our contribution to a healthier tomorrow and future generations.
Recent scientific studies have shown that countries that consume traditional rye-based breads (fermented) have far less or no gluten intolerance issues. In general, east and north European countries, show very few symptoms, compared to western European countries and particularly in North America, where it is pandemic. There is a definitive ratio separating those from rye bread eating nations (few sympotoms) to wheat bread eating nations (high symptoms), despite both rye and wheat breads containing gluten.
Please visit our website www.microsour.com for more information, and recent scientific articles that support my conclusions.
Silvio Lettrari , Kaslo, March 2013