Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Whenever I visit an archaeological site such as Three Rivers Petroglyphs in southern New Mexico, which we toured yesterday, I wonder about the inhabitants’ food. Wild animals and foraged plants fed humans for centuries, but settled villages (I’ve read) were something else. Dependable crops were necessary. Of these, one of the most important was some form of bread.

Three Rivers, New Mexico

In the Americas, bread was the tortilla – a notably unleavened product. Other cultures discovered other grains, and used them differently. Europe’s wheat-based (or rye based, or barley based) breads are all leavened.

What is not so obvious is that the nutritional benefits of leavened bread might be so much greater than unleavened breads that the discovery of this technique alone propelled settlements from primitive villages to advanced civilizations. Think about it: can you imagine surviving on corn tortillas alone? Yes, the corn in tortillas paired perfectly with cultivated beans to make an essential protein package, but corn by itself is not as sustaining as a leavened, glutinous-grain bread.

In George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London  ( the bread diet of the British working classes is nicely detailed. Orwell was living at the margins of society. What he mostly ate – and what many of the poor around him primarily ate – was bread.

Of course we celiacs are more limited in our options than Orwell. At the same time the world around us has become much less limiting, so bread is not an absolute necessity. Still I find that eating good bread is fundamentally satisfying. Tens of thousands of years of evolution may have disrupted my genes to react negatively to gluten, but it also has hard-wired me with the desire to eat bread.

Taste-craving, I believe, is the body telling us what it wants. When it comes to bread, craving includes the taste of leavening. To put it another way, we want – we need – a combination of probiotic bacteria and yeast that is the leavening we now call sourdough.

Not everyone is a fan of sourdough. Nonetheless I submit that it is good for us. It doesn’t take much to make my sensitive innards twitch, but one meal I can have that never bothers them is a thick slice of buttered sourdough bread.

The experience of one person does not constitute scientific evidence, to be sure, but I still want to advance the cause of natural leavens. My hopes are two: sourdoughs will improve celiacs’ (a) taste experience and (b) nutritional opportunities.

I’m always searching for scientific evidence of leavenings’ benefits. If any of you, my readers, come across articles about this, let me know and I’ll post the links. In the meantime, bake up something good. I’m still touring New Mexico. More tomorrow.

Today’s tip

Read. And not just what you already believe to be true. We celiacs can learn from every cookbook and every baking school textbook. We only have to substitute one ingredient. When you think about it, that’s a small task.


Danidoodle said...

I wish I'd found your site earlier! It looks like you just visited NM (where I live) and I would've loved to have scheduled a gluten-free sourdough baking workshop here! Please let me know the next time you're in NM!

daniela at danidoodle dot com

Charles Luce said...

Thank you Danidoodle - will do. Alternatively, if you can round up 7 to 10 people who are interested in learning my techniques, and a place to bake, I'll gladly schedule it.