Sourdough or Sour”faux”? How to Tell the Real Deal

While we can’t take credit for that bit of clever word play, we can help explain it. In our usual keeping up with the sourdough news cycle — it’s an exciting world out there, people — we came across a Which? investigation and a subsequent BBC report exposing fraudulent sourdoughs across the land. Well, maybe just in Great Britain. But, as it so happens, Britain has been a sort of bellwether when it comes to changes in food and food-related trends. For instance, they report that the purchase of sourdough is up nearly 100% in year-over-year comparisons.

The investigation dug into 19 sourdough loaves from bakeries and grocery stores. They found only four of them to be “true” sourdoughs. By true sourdough, it means a bread that is leavened through the natural yeasts and bacterias in sourdough starter. By sourfaux, they mean breads that might have starter (and in some cases might now) but that are also “aided” by vinegar, commercial yeast, ascorbic acid, and yoghurt.

No Dough Enhancers
You’ve probably heard us say it. It’s part of the recitation when you visit our shoppe: when we say we make sourdough bread with “no dough enhancers,” this is exactly what we’re talking about. We use sourdough starters as our leavening, not commercial or baker’s yeast, not vinegar, not a baking acid additive. Natural starter that we have cultivated ourselves. We do add beer to two varieties of our breads, but it’s a flavor/consistency thing, not a stand-in for leavening. 

Sourdough can be a persnickety set of little fellows — consistency can be difficult to achieve from bake-to-bake for a variety of reasons. Which is one of the two most prominent reasons baker’s and commercial yeasts were developed in the first place. Not only do commercial yeasts truncate the process (what physically takes us 2-3 days to do can be done in 2-3 hours, sacrificing a few things along the way), but they also are monocultured, meaning the commercial process has selected the “old reliable” strains of yeast to produce the rise and crumb in a loaf (instead of the ecosystem of yeast and bacteria that percolate your sourdough friend.) 

What’s So Bad About Commercial Yeast? Nothing. Kind of. 
So, what’s so terrible about a commercial yeast bread? Nothing, really. It may not taste as good and the health benefits may be opposite of what sourdough has to offer, but it did a lot of good things too. The introduction of quick yeast was much like the washing machine or frozen dinners for previous generations of women who were relegated to the home — the quick, consistent nature of it allowed for less time in the kitchen. It also makes bread much easier to produce, providing for more people and at more affordable prices (economy of scale and all that). 

Not Cool, Man. 
What is not cool, however, is masquerading as something it’s not because it’s trendy and popular (pffft, poseur breads < eyeroll of ennui >). Especially when it can mess with peoples’ health. For instance, people with diabetes are advised that most bread should be off limits, with the exception of sourdough because of its low glycemic index and relatively high fiber. People with gluten and wheat sensitivities, too. Worse still is that it cashes in on the trust that food producers like us and other small shops create with consumers, exploiting those relationships and creating an aura of mistrust when it comes to food. 

Next time you’re at a grocery store, take a look at some of the “sourdough” breads and their labels. It’s kind of fun to spot the “one of these things is not like the other” in the ingredients list. 

Anyway, come on in for some of the real deal! We have a great couple of new options for you to explore this week.