How on earth are fish guts and sourdough related? Isabel Pasch, a microbiologist, and a commercial baker says the fish microbiome, sourdough bread, the soil, and our own microbiomes, all operate the same way. Understand one, and you can apply the principles to any other.
Loaves and fishes
Isabel’s science background, (MSc in Biology – Specialising in Microbiology), led her into pioneering research into the gut biology in fish. That research opened her eyes to the bedrock of health, and as a consequence, into organics.
“Chemicals have no place in food,” Isabel says, “from the growing to the eating.” (Agrichemicals and unnatural food additives are described in this article simply as chemicals.)
Isabel’s research coincided with the development of many allergies in her teenaged sister. Inga was told not to eat this, that, and the other thing, until after four years on exclusion diets she switched to organically-grown food and thereby cut out the incidental chemicals in her diet. That improved her health much more than eliminating foods had, and led Inga to become a biodynamic farmer.
As a scientist-turned-baker, (and business owner) Isabel says her scientific research continues to be useful.
The Complexity of ecosystems
“The principles of organics support and boost the complexity of natural ecosystems,” says Isabel. ”The more you take out of an ecosystem, the less complex it becomes and the more unstable it will be. If you keep taking things out, the system collapses. The gut is also an ecosystem, and restriction of food types destabilises it. Gut bacteria are important for health.”
Fermentation of food (the breaking down) is carried out by microbes. The principle of microbial complexity applies as certainly to sourdough, as it does to soil, and to intestines. A complex microbial environment is more stable.
Gut biology research is difficult because thousands of species of bacteria populate the gut. Only a small percentage has been identified but it isn’t known how they react with the yet unidentified species, or if the identified bacteria are important ones.
Until the early 2000s it was thought the large intestine only absorbed water, but now we know the greatest concentration of bacteria resides there and the organ carries out an important health function. Bacteria in the large intestine make essential vitamins and minerals available to us and play a major role in strengthening our immune systems. A healthy large intestine is critical to our immune system, and the gut-brain connection.
In every ecosystem, the role of bacteria is to break things down. Fermentation produces acids which promote bacterial growth – in bread, in soil, in guts – in all ecosystems.
Bacteria A produces a product which Bacteria B uses to make another product that Bacteria C then uses and so on, each feeding off the other. In non-organic fermentation where added chemicals are present, bacteria still work. They break everything down, including chemicals.
What happens to fermented chemicals
Chemicals in the gut are difficult to identify because once they start interacting with bacteria, they are altered. For instance, emulsifiers (present in many processed foods and used for different purposes) are large molecules generally classed as inconsequential because it was thought they wouldn’t break down. The role of bacteria however, is to break everything down, including emulsifiers, but what are they being broken down into? It isn’t known, and it hasn’t been studied.
We don’t know what bacteria do to agricultural chemicals in raw non-organic products either, or to anti-caking agents, or ascorbic acid. It’s all broken down, but into what?
“It shouldn’t be in our food if we don’t know what it can do to us – if we don’t know what the microbes do to them.”
“The soil is the gut of the planet. Chemicals destroy the natural biome living in the soil, rendering it infertile, unable to retain water, or feed healthy plants. Humans are no different. Changing or destroying our natural biome makes us sick. We are part of nature, not outside of it, so we must respect the natural principles.
“In an environment of such enormous complexity, we should be replicating nature.”
Bread and butter
In 2010, with her Kiwi husband, Tim, and sons, Emil (14) and Karl (11), German-born Isabel moved permanently to New Zealand, and set up solo as the Paris Berlin Bakery in Auckland. She had worked in her friend’s certified organic bakery in Berlin (Beumer & Lutum), so she knew what she was doing.
Now, as the Bread & Butter Bakery, Isabel is always keen to educate people on the intricacies and principles of all ecosystems, and she teaches a baking class.
“Working with a live organism (sourdough) will be different at home than it is in the bakery,” she says. “The humidity, temperature, water quality, and other factors will be different. Treat it like a pet. You need to get to know your little pet.”
Bread & Butter Bakery & Café breads are made with 100% organic ingredients, but the naughtier pastries and cakes contain only 80% organic ingredients due to an inconsistent organic supply.
The bakery supplies cafes, hotels, restaurants, caterers, its own three bakery cafes, organic retailers, and sells from Farmer’s markets in Grey Lynn and Parnell. The dense, dark classic German rye sourdough is Isabel’s favourite and offers the greatest health benefits of the extensive European breads range. Retail staff are educated in nutrition so they can confidently respond to customer queries.
Naturally fermented foods such as sourdough breads, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and others, replicate nature and benefit the gut. A key factor is the long fermentation time to make sourdough breads; this helps break down complex carbohydrates (like gluten) – which aids digestion – while leavening the dough and enhancing the flavour.
Telling the story of better food is behind every move for Isabel. It’s so important that the organic wheat-to-bread cycle is illustrated on a wall-sized chalk board, providing incidental education even to customers.
Bread & Butter Bakery & Café at a glance
In Business: Since 2010 (first with Paris Berlin Bakery)
Locations in Auckland: Milford, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn
Number of staff: 68 including 7 bakers, 6 pastry chefs
Blog: Chemicals in the Food Chain – https://breadpolitics.com/2019/05/22/chemicals-in-the-food-chain/
Copyright Theresa Sjoquist December 2019
First published in Organic NZ magazine, January/February 2020, Vol 79 No.1