Is Sourdough Bread Gluten-Free?

A freshly baked loaf of bread with golden crust placed on rustic wooden table

Is sourdough bread gluten-free? After all, it is a product of wheat, which has gluten in it. So, why does this bread fare better than other wheat bread types in the gluten department?

This article primarily targets the question, “is sourdough bread gluten-free?” and touches on all other interesting facts about it. So, is this an item that all people with gluten sensitivity can add to their gluten-free diet? Let’s find out.

Is sourdough bread gluten free?

This is one of those questions that still bothers many. The uncertainty around sourdough and gluten confuses many health-conscious people.

Sourdough bread is commonly made from wheat flour, which contains gluten. Hence, sourdough bread is not 100% gluten-free and may not be the best for people with celiac disease.

What is sourdough bread?

Sourdough bread is made by fermenting dough with a starter. A sourdough starter uses naturally cultured yeasts, as well as bacteria, to leaven bread. This process breaks down the gluten in the flour. 

Thus, it makes the bread more digestible and easier to tolerate for people with gluten sensitivities or gluten intolerance. This style of bread usually has a more complex sour taste than the bread produced with commercial yeast, and it also has a longer shelf life.

Grains used in sourdough bread

Traditional sourdough bread is made using wheat flour. Hard wheat flour is usually the best option. It is easy to work with and gives the best bread rise.

Alternatively, sourdough bread can be made from barley or rye as well. Neither of the grains traditionally used for sourdough is gluten-free. This means that consuming sourdough bread might cause you to fall sick if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance. However, the risks are much lower than in the case of other bread types.

Does sourdough bread have less gluten than regular bread?

Yes, sourdough bread has lower levels of gluten than regular bread. The fermentation process of sourdough bread breaks down the gluten proteins in the flour. This makes it more digestible and easier to tolerate for people with gluten sensitivities and gluten intolerance.

As per FDA [1]Whole Grains Council: FDA DEFINES GLUTEN-FREE, all products that are labeled gluten-free must have a gluten content below 20 parts per million (ppm). A study shows that wheat originally has 75,000 ppm [2]Whole Grains Council: GLUTEN FREE WHEAT? Q&A DETAILS INTRIGUING RESEARCH (parts per million) of gluten, however as the sourdough bread went through the process of fermentation, the gluten found in it was only 12 ppm. Thus, as per the new gluten-free labeling laws, sourdough bread can be considered gluten-free.

Benefits of eating sourdough bread

By now, we know that sourdough bread is more nutritious than regular bread. In addition, it is not only easier to digest but also has a lower glycemic index. But that’s not all. It has many other benefits, as listed below:

  • Eating sourdough bread can also help reduce symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in the body. Thus, this aids digestion and improves gut health.
  • All grains and legumes contain phytic acid [3]PubMed: Moderate decrease of pH by sourdough fermentation is sufficient to reduce phytate content of whole wheat flour through endogenous phytase activity, which is known as the “anti-nutrient” and has negative impacts on one’s health. The fermentation process of sourdough bread neutralizes the phytic acid as the yeast pre-digests it. This makes the bread more digestible and makes it easier for nutrients to be absorbed in the body.
  • Fermented bread has a high content of leucine and isoleucine – the branch chain amino acids(BCAA). These are two of the nine essential amino acids which are critical to our health. They promote strong and healthy muscle growth. 
  • The elevated concentration of branch chain amino acids in sourdough also reduces post-meal blood glucose levels by stimulating insulin response.
  • Sourdough bread has antioxidants [4]National Library of Medicine: Metabolic profiling of sourdough fermented wheat and rye bread. Antioxidants are known to reduce blood pressure in the body.
  • Sourdough is also a good source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B and minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and folate.

Who can eat sourdough bread?

People without any wheat allergy can enjoy sourdough bread without hesitating. Moreover, people with fructan intolerances can also enjoy sourdough bread in a limited quantity. The fermentation process also breaks down a carbohydrate found in wheat called fructan. Lastly, it also makes a great vegan option!

Furthermore, we are aware that sourdough bread is not completely gluten-free. Thus, it is not the best choice for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity as they cannot tolerate even a small amount of gluten.

However, a study [5]PubMed: Safety for patients with celiac disease of baked goods made of wheat flour hydrolyzed during food processing showed its effects on celiac patients, wherein the patients ate about 200 grams of sweet baked goods daily. These sweet goods were all prepared by using specially fermented flour. 

The wheat flour used originally had around 10 grams of gluten that had been completely broken down and digested by the “good” bacteria and fungi during the fermentation process. The trial lasted 60 days. The results showed that all the patients completely tolerated the sweet baked goods.

Despite the proof of the study, if you have gluten sensitivity, it is best to try other gluten-free bread alternatives. You may also try your own homemade sourdough bread. 

You can prevent yourself from exposure to gluten if you make gluten-free sourdough using gluten-free flour such as brown rice flour, sorghum, millet, tapioca, potato, etc.

Types of gluten-free sourdough bread

Although traditional sourdough bread is made of wheat which has gluten, there are many types of gluten-free sourdough bread available on the market. These are made with gluten-free sourdough starters and gluten-free flour.

Some of the popular types of gluten-free sourdough bread are:

  1. Buckwheat Sourdough Bread
  2. Brown Rice Flour Sourdough Bread
  3. Garbanzo Bean Flour Sourdough Bread
  4. Teff Sourdough Bread
  5. Quinoa Sourdough Bread
  6. Pure Oat Flour Sourdough Bread
  7. Almond Flour Sourdough Bread
  8. Arrowroot Flour Sourdough Bread
  9. Tapioca Flour Sourdough Bread
  10. Potato Flour Sourdough Bread
  11. Coconut Flour Sourdough Bread
  12. Sorghum Flour Sourdough Bread

You can bake your own sourdough bread at home by using the above-mentioned variety of gluten-free flours. If you do not like to bake at home, you can purchase gluten-free sourdough bread from reliable bakeries or stores.

Tips to know if the sourdough bread is authentic

If you haven’t experienced making your own sourdough bread or have always used the store-bought one, then you may have not truly eaten authentic sourdough. The tips mentioned below would allow you to spot a real sourdough so that you know what to look for the next time you purchase one.

When purchasing sourdough bread

  • Ensure you check the ingredient list. A true sourdough bread should only have flour, water, salt, and starter culture. Watch out for labels that read “bleached” or “bromate.” Bread that has been treated with bleaching agents is not sourdough. Bromate is a cancer-causing chemical and is banned in many countries.
  • Ensure that the sourdough bread does not have any sugars or any instant/dried yeast added to it.
  • If the sourdough bread has a short expiry, it is probably faux.
  • If you are purchasing pre-sliced sourdough, make sure that the slices are not too thin. This is an indication that the bread has been over-processed.

When eating at restaurants

  • Check if the bread is made in-house. If not, ask where they source their sourdough from and how it is prepared. If the restaurant serves you a very soft and fluffy sourdough, it is most likely not the real deal. A good sourdough should have a crusty exterior with a soft and chewy interior.

Make gluten free sourdough bread at home

If you’re on a gluten-free diet and looking for gluten-free sourdough bread, your best bet is to look for a bakery that specializes in gluten-free baking or make your own at home using a gluten-free starter culture and flour.

Homemade gluten-free sourdough bread is the best way to be sure your bread is truly gluten-free. You can control every ingredient that goes into it, and you’ll know exactly what’s in your bread. Plus, it’s really easy to make!

Let’s dive into the art of making bread with the recipe for regular sourdough bread to know the basics and then proceed to a gluten-free sourdough recipe.

Wheat-based sourdough starter recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (130 grams) whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup (240 ml) water at room temperature

Instructions:

  • In a large bowl (nonmetallic), whisk the flour and water together until there are no lumps.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or a piece of cheesecloth.
  • Set it in a warm place where the room temperature is about 70°F to 75°F.
  • Allow the mixture to sit for 12 to 24 hours until it is bubbly and doubled in size.
  • Once the starter is bubbly, whisk it again to deflate it. Now store it in a covered container.
  • On day 2, feed the starter again with the same amount of flour and water as you did before and follow the same process. (You may continue the same process for 3 to 5 days as per your preference)

Sourdough wheat bread recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (240 ml) water, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (130 grams) sourdough starter
  • 3 cups (390 grams) of bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon honey

Instructions:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the water, starter, and honey.
  • Add the bread flour and salt
  • Stir until the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  • Knead the dough with the dough hook attachment on low speed for about 5 to 7 minutes until it’s smooth.
  • Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes.
  • Lightly oil a large bowl.
  • Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat it with oil.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or a piece of plastic wrap.
  • Now, set it in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours until the dough doubles in size.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, shape it into a loaf and place it on a lightly floured baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Cover the loaf with a clean kitchen towel or a piece of plastic wrap again.
  • Set it in a warm place for 30 minutes to 1 hour until it doubles in size again.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Bake the bread dough for 35 to 45 minutes until it’s golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 190°F (88°C) on an instant-read thermometer.
  • Remove the baked bread from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Note: If you do not have a baking sheet at home, you may also use a dutch oven. Avoid using metallic containers and spoons while fermenting the dough as it will react with the sourdough.

Gluten-free sourdough starter and bread dough recipe

To make the gluten free sourdough starter and bread, the only ingredient you need to substitute is wheat flour with gluten-free flour. Later, you can follow the same instructions as above mentioned to make your gluten free sourdough bread at home.

Conclusion 

To sum up, this culture of leavened bread has traveled and spread through the world – from Egypt to Mexico to Europe and beyond. Although it was introduced to Americans in the 18th century, it has been a staple ever since. This sourdough bread is not completely gluten-free. 

However, if you wish to consume a gluten-free version, look for bakeries that specialize in gluten-free baking or bake it at home using a gluten-free starter culture and flour. With the right recipe, you can easily make a delicious and nutritious loaf of gluten-free sourdough bread.

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