Before we discuss the benefits of sourdough, it seems sensible to take a little time to consider what sourdough is and what it is not. This will be a somewhat contentious topic, since without any regulated definition to guide us, the marketing cache of the name is allowing commercial producers to exploit the appeal of sourdough breads and pass off imitations of it for commercial gain.

As an example, lets have a look at the ingredient list for this “Traditional Sourdough” loaf from a premium Australian brand sold in most supermarkets. Ingredients: wheat flour, water – good so far, but then the claim to “traditional” starts to fall down rapidly – yeast, soy flour, sourdough from fermented rye (how much? – only 3%), canola oil, vinegar, iodised salt, wheat gluten, sodium stearoyl  lactylate, esters of glycerol and stearic acid, diacetyltartaric acid esters of mono and di glycerides of fatty acids, cultured wheat flour, wheat semolina, thiamin, folic acid.

There is so much that could be said about this “traditional” ingredient list. Why is commercial yeast added if the bread is a traditional sourdough? Leavened bread for thousands of years has been the bread that would rise without added yeast. Driven by the fermentation of its own diverse micro-flora, a traditional sourdough does not require commercial yeast. In the case of this bread, so little actively fermenting dough is incorporated that commercial yeast is needed to make it rise, as with any other industrially produced bread. The signature acidic tang from the naturally produced fermentation acids in real sourdough has been compensated for in this commercial loaf by the addition of vinegar.

What about all of those chemical esters and their derivatives? If bakers for thousands of years did not have access to these chemicals, why does a modern day “traditional” sourdough manufacturer require them?

The claim of “traditional sourdough” in this case simply does not pass the “pub test”. Would the average person in the street, given a brief backgrounding in the historical origins of leavened bread consider this bread to be a “traditional sourdough”? I think not. The cynical disdain for traditional bread conveyed by this manufacturer in its marketing is so severe that it is almost amusing. Almost, but actually not. It is this type of marketing, prevalent in the environmental and social responsibilities areas that seeks to endow a brand with credentials it is not worthy of, and through these credentials to drive brand trust and sales. It is remarkable that these strategies work in the age of information, but it is certainly the case that most of us do not have the time to scratch below the surface of the marketing hype.

Now that the words “traditional sourdough” have been tarnished by this and other brands, lets talk about “real sourdough” instead. This is leavened bread that expands in volume naturally as it ferments with the natural micro flora present in added quantities of an earlier fermentation and present on the grain itself. For almost the entire history of bread production, commercial yeasts were not available, and neither were emulsifiers, preservatives and all the other additives that we find in modern bread. Traditional bakers relied on four, water and salt for their product, and it was this way for thousands of years. To me, this is real sourdough, the mainstay of the baking craft since the beginnings of civilisation, and surely this real sourdough is also the “traditional sourdough”.

Next time you buy bread, if it is sourdough that you seek, look at the ingredient list. If it is labelled as “traditional sourdough”, or even just “sourdough”, it should not contain commercial yeast or other additives. It will be flour, water, salt and maybe a little oil.

Categories: Uncategorized


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *