Secrets of the Sourdough: Why this old favourite keeps evolving

Sourdough loaf in a basket
Sourdough loaf in a basket

As a French native, you won’t be surprised if I tell you I LOVE bread! And since I have been working for over a decade in the industrial fermentation sector, I have tried quite a lot of baking products. I have developed a fondness for sourdough bread. 

“Sourdough September” led by The Real Bread Campaign, a Sustain project prompted me to write about this fascinating topic.

Sourdough, an old “new trend”

Although an old tradition in bakery, sourdough bread has become quite trendy. According to Mordor Intelligence, the global sourdough market is forecast to hit a compound annual growth rate of 6.9% through 2023, with North American and European regions together accounting for more than 50% of the total market.

It is interesting to note how fermented products are growing in popularity, fed by the “all natural” and the healthy trends. Sourdough bread is at the intersection of these trends, satisfying consumers seeking both simpler and more authentic products.

What is sourdough?

It is not rocket science:

  • The recipe includes a very simple list of ingredients that you can find at home: flour and water.
  • Sourdough is alive because flour is naturally colonised by wild yeasts and lactic bacteria. This is where the fermentative power comes from.
  • Cultivate these microorganisms 7 to 10 days with the right temperature and oxygen conditions, regularly adding flour and water, and you are good to go.
  • Baking bread with sourdough instead of commercial yeast involves a long fermentation and results in a thick, low volume crusty bread with a lot of flavour and a shelf-life that would make any other bread jealous!
Rye sourdough starter and sourdough baguettes
Rye sourdough starter and sourdough baguettes

This is traditional sourdough. Here is a good place to start if you want to bake your own at home: https://www.sourdough.co.uk/a-sourdough-recipe/

Bakers also have access to less traditional solutions such as sourdough starters or ready-to-use sourdough. ‘Purists’ would argue that this is not true sourdough. I hear them. I understand their love for sourdough and the heated debate about sourdough and “sourfaux”.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I appreciate both methods of making sourdough bread. Both require long fermentation and result in great products (if you have the right breadmaking skills). However, I am more interested in scientific proof that traditional sourdough is more beneficial than more ‘manufactured’ options.

So, what does the science say about the benefits for your health?

Sourdough is full of surprises

Sourdough bread has been thoroughly researched and some of the nutritional benefits of sourdough fermentation include:

  • bio-availability of micronutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, especially when made with unrefined flour (1) (2)
  • control of satiety (feeling full) due to a low glycaemic index (3)
  • reduction in acrylamide, a carcinogenic product found in some toasted and oven-baked products, (long fermentation can reduce levels of the amino-acid asparagine that is a precursor of acrylamide formation) (4)
  • better digestibility for the non-coeliac, gluten-sensitive population. Sourdough lactic bacteria can modify gliadin and glutenin protein (gluten components) in wheat flour, making it more digestible (5)

Sourdough is such an interesting scientific topic that we can expect researchers to continue to study it and make more amazing discoveries!

Make tradition looking new

Sourdough is also very versatile. You can use it in lots of applications, from croissant to brioche, pizza, and even bagels. What better than a bagel to reconcile traditional fermentation and trendy baked goods. If that’s your thing, you may want to try the latest sourdough bagels from Marks & Spencer.

Our NEW range of sourdough bagels are total breakfast 'bae goals'. With sourdough, cinnamon & raisin, and sesame…

Publiée par Marks and Spencer sur Mercredi 25 septembre 2019


It’s not only about baked products. There are a million ways to personalise sourdough. You can keep things interesting by feeding a it with honey, beer or even kombucha, the fizzy fermented tea that is currently gaining in popularity.

Kombucha. Again, a traditional fermented product. But bakers are experimenting with this too. Proof lies with the latest from Lovingly Artisan who has received the “Baking Industry Awards’19: Bakery Innovation” for its kombucha sourdough loaf.

By the way, Kombucha has become so popular that a Kombucha Summit has been held on 5-6th October in Berlin.

Curious about Kombucha tea? We discuss the Kombucha trend and health claims on our blog.


References:

(1) Leenhardt, F et al, Moderate decrease of pH by sourdough fermentation is sufficient to reduce phytate content of whole wheat flour through endogenous phytase activity, J Agric Food Chem, 2005; 53: 98-102.

(2) Lopez, H W et al, Making bread with sourdough improves mineral bioavailability from reconstituted whole wheat flour in rats, Nutrition, 2003; 19(6): 524-530.

(3) De Angelis, M et al., Sourdough fermentation as a tool for the manufacture of low-glycemic index white wheat bread enriched in dietary fibre, Eur Food Res Technol, 2009; 229: 593.

(4) Fredriksson, H et al, Fermentation Reduces Free Asparagine in Dough and Acrylamide Content in Bread, Cereal Chem, 2004; 81(5): 650-653

(5) Gänzle, MG et al, Proteolysis in sourdough fermentations: mechanisms and potential for improved bread quality, Trend Food Sci Technol, 2008; 19: 513-52

Another scientific expert to follow if you are interested in sourdough science: Marco Gobetti

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