For most people, bread is synonymous with gluten. Of course there’s gluten-free bread, but it can be dry, heavy and often doesn’t taste like the real thing. Is sourdough the alternative we’ve been praying for? The old-fashioned technique used to create this distinctive and delicious bread may eliminate gluten, making it naturally gluten-free. We took a closer look at sourdough to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Not all sourdoughs are created equal
Regular bread is made by combining water, flour, yeast and salt. Yeast reacts with gluten which causes the bread to rise, making it ready for baking. Sourdough is more than just a different flavor of bread. It’s is actually created differently, using the process of fermentation. Flour and water are mixed to create a starter. According to Livestrong, this starter sits and ferments for approximately a week until it’s frothy and smells like vinegar. The fermentation process is a much longer process that breaks down starch molecules into sugar and also breaks up the gluten protein in the dough, much like in gluten-removed beer or soy sauce.
So, sourdough is safe, right?
Not so fast. While there is less gluten in sourdough, it is difficult to determine if gluten is completely eliminated. A 2011 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, shared the results of a small study of patients. The study examined whether a certain type of wheat flour in baked goods could be good for people with celiac. The study was short (it lasted 60 days) and had only 13 participants broken into three groups. The study concluded that bread using sourdough fermentation resulted in no gluten toxicity amongst its study participants.
Gluten Free Gigi breaks down the different elements of the study and questions some of the conclusions. With the study groups being so small, it’s difficult to assess the broader impact of different styles of bread. Most importantly, the bread using sourdough fermentation was made using the slower, old-fashioned technique. This process is long and slow, meaning it isn’t likely to be used by mass produced brands or found in grocery stores.
While it’s possible that a small boutique bread maker may use the old fashioned method, it’s unclear whether sourdough bread will be safe for those with celiac.
Gluten-free sourdough bread
The safest sourdough would be the sourdough you make at home or buy that only uses gluten-free grains. According to Livestrong, you can actually make your own gluten-free sourdough bread at home. Instead of wheat, rye or barley flour, you can use gluten-free flour sourced from rice, corn or amaranth. Mix your choice of gluten-free flour with water and let it sit to ferment. Once it becomes bubbly and frothy–usually in about a week–you can make your own bread.
We’re also in love with local San Francisco company Bread Srsly – which makes gluten-free (and vegan) sourdough bread.
So while traditional sourdough bread still might not be safe for gluten-free folks, there are still options to enjoy this tangy, spongy bread!
You can also find more tips on finding and ordering gluten-free bread here!