European Bakery Innovation Centre


Sourdough breadmaking cuts gluten content in baked goods

Celiacs and gluten avoiders have a new way to enjoy a slice of bread. The demand for gluten-free products continues to grow and sales are expected to double by 2017 in Canada.

The anti-gluten trend is fuelled by the belief that, even for people not suffering from Celiac disease, wheat can cause health problems.

A handful of recent studies have some good news for those trying to reduce the amount of gluten they eat — old-fashioned sourdough baking techniques significantly cut gluten content in bread.

Byron Fry runs a wood-fired sourdough bakery in Victoria, B.C. The fermentation process starts here with nothing but freshly ground wheat flour and water. The rest is up to the various yeasts that are floating around us that make themselves at home in the bubbling dough.

The result is a slightly sour loaf with cavernous holes throughout and before the advent of commercial yeasts, this was how bread was made.

"We're starting with a long overnight sourdough fermentation that's really full of lactic bacteria, that starts to break down and enrich the flavours of the bread and also break down the gluten and give a battery of enzymes and sourdough activity," Fry explains.

"In the end, it's airy and bubbly and then we craft those into loaves. They rest for even longer... and then they go into a 500 degree oven and bake for an hour and then they're pulled out, allowed to cool... and then its food."

This is all without that trusty jar of yeast that has become ubiquitous in modern bread baking. Most packaged supermarket loaves go from flour to plastic bag in a matter of a few hours.

But that quick rise doesn't allow time for fermentation and that means the gluten isn't processed by that community of microbes living in the dough.

An assortment of breads on offer at Fry's Bakery. (courtesy Fry's Bakery)

A team of Italian scientists led by Luigi Greco at the University of Naples authored a 2010 study that showed significantly lower levels of gluten in sourdough made according to old methods.

The difference was so stark that celiacs in the study were able to consume the sourdough with no ill effects.

That's something Byron Fry sees in his bakery every day. He says the vast majority of his customers are people who were previously gluten-free.

The return of sourdough baking techniques isn't only a boon to people who have trouble with gluten. It also means a return to the idea that bread from different places should taste different.

A sourdough starter made on the shores of Vancouver Island will be home to a different ecosystem of microbes than one in Montreal or Italy — which may lend some credence to the idea that the famous and historic San Francisco sourdough can only truly exist in San Francisco.

Source: Khalil Akhtar, 11 November 2013, CBC News


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