If you are going gluten-free or just hosting some gluten-free friends, you might be wondering: is sourdough bread gluten free? Can I eat it and can I serve it to my GF friends?
Part of the curiosity might stem from the recent Cooked show on Netflix. They recently did an entire episode on the history of bread called Air.
In it, they discuss the history of wheat and bread and the changes to both over time.
One key point they made is that traditional bread is healthier and simpler than modern bread. For example, traditional sourdough has 3 ingredients whereas most store-bought white-bread has around 30 ingredients.
They suggest that traditional methods of making bread, which is basically sourdough bread, might not cause as much digestive stress to people who can’t eat gluten. Notice, they did not say Celiacs!
And there is another study that showed traditional lactobacilli fermented sourdough did not cause a reaction in celiac patients, though this is a small study and needs to be further investigated before celiacs start eating sourdough.
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Sourdough and Gluten-Intolerance
There are hundreds of people with a gluten intolerance, and we aren’t quite sure why. We do know the number experiencing gluten sensitivity increased over the last 50 years and now 1 in 200 people have issues with gluten.
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There are several theories on the reason gluten intolerance increased, including:
- overuse of antibiotics negatively impacting the microbiome
- increased use of gluten and decreased fermentation in processed foods
- antibacterials including antibiotics and antibacterial soaps and lotions and
- modified grains that now have increased levels of gluten
Making sourdough bread in the traditional way would allow for the grains to be fermented. That breaks down the bran so it is easier for your stomach to digest nutrients from that grain.
The bran is where the protein lives. Without fermentation, we would not be able to absorb and use that protein. So, sourdough bread could potentially help alleviate some signs of non-celiac gluten intolerance, at least according to the makers of Cooked.
While the answer to “is sourdough bread gluten free?” is no, it still might be better for those with gluten sensitivity that modern bread.
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Why might traditional sourdoughs be better for us than modern wheat bread?
The way we make and consume bread and the way we grow gluten has changed incredibly over the last few decades.
There is speculation (but no convincing research as of yet) that these changes may be responsible for the large number of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Some of the changes to bread and wheat that could cause increased gluten-sensitivity:
The transition to making bread quicker
- Traditional bread making required long fermentation without added leveners such as yeast or baking soda or powder. This longer fermentation broke down the what bran into more digestible and bio-available nutrients.
- Traditionally one did not add yeast, so the bread used naturally present lactobacilli similar to lacto-fermented vegetables.
- Industrialized bread uses yeast for rapid fermentation which reduces the nutrients and causes other potential problems. The use of bakers yeast dates back to less than 150 years.
- In addition to faster baking times, we want longer shelf stabilization. This lead to additional ingredients and preservatives in our bread.
Transition of wheat
- Higher concentrations of gluten protein glia-α9 in today’s modern wheat, which is a dwarf-wheat with shorter stems, higher yields and lower concentration of nutrients link zinc.
- Mainstream wheat farms use glyphosate which can harm our microbiome which could play a role in digesting gluten proteins as celiac patients have unique gut microbiota.
- GMO modern wheat along with advanced milling practices means there is a lower bio-diversity and higher gluten content in most wheat we eat
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Is Gluten Free Sourdough Bread good for Celiacs?
For celiacs, Gluten Free sourdough bread made in the traditional methods are still better than regular Gluten free bread, for the same reasons listed above.
Regardless of gluten content, grains need to be fermented to make the nutrients bio-available and reduce inflammation. Natural fermentation is better than yeast fermentation and traditional bread has fewer ingredients.
And there is some preliminary research that different types of wheat like the Einkorn strain and traditional lacto-fermented sourdough could be non-symptomatic for Celiacs.
However, don’t go eating regular sourdough. It isn’t inherently gluten free! And more research needs to be done.
So is Sourdough bread gluten free?
Only if it is specially made with gluten free flours and labeled gluten free.
I’ve found a few brands that sell gluten free sourdough, but the best way to have sourdough is fresh baked.
I’d recommend making your own from home with a homemade gluten free sourdough starter, because that is where the true health benefits are. Allow natural fermentation to break down the grains into digestible proteins.
Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in learning how to make sourdough from scratch and I’ll post a recipe! 🙂
Otherwise, find a gluten free bakery, or an awesome gluten free friend whose also a baker.
Interesting, it kind of goes in line with how some folks who eat bread in other countries don’t have the same problems eating wheat products as they do in the U.S. All about how we have lost our traditional ways of making our food.
Exactly! My mom had no symptoms when she ate bread and wheat products in Africa. Potentially for this reason.
It gives me hope for if I ever travel abroad in Europe, for example, and long to sample some fresh pastries!
Careful about Western Europe… they are as bad as us. I was ok in Croatia last year. 🙂 and it was soooo goood!
Good to know. I hope to travel to the outskirts of France and possibly Turkey in the somewhat near future. Hopefully there won’t be too much Western influence!
I’d skip the bread in France and lookup if Turkey imports wheat from the US or other GMOd countries 🙂 that’s usually one of my tests before I try something
Thanks for the tips!
This is really informative! I would love to have a good recipe for a traditional gluten free bread. Dreaming of a leftover turkey sandwich on sourdough!!
Yum! That sounds delicious. I’ll work on perfecting one for you. Don’t think I’ll have it ready for this year’s leftovers tho. 🙁
I would love the sourdough bread recipe! Also wondering what you think about organic Einkorn flour? I have gotten some from Young Living (I am a member) and the gluten level in the flour is very low compared to modern white flour. I gave it to my daughter in law who is gluten sensitive and am still waiting to hear how is worked for her.
Great! I’ll work on perfecting one and post it for you 🙂 and I’m really excited about the possibilities with Einkorn flour but also really nervous about trying it. I think we just don’t know enough from a medical standpoint to say one way or the other. And I know for celiac testing you have to really push the levels of gluten. So to know for sure I’d have to eat it regularly and then get a colonoscopy to see if there was damage. But if I could eat it every once in a while and not feel sick? Would I really need the colonoscopy to confirm? So many questions! Let me know how your daughter in law does with it!
Great article, Alicia! I do believe the traditional way of baking bread could be the answer to our prayers – well, to the gluten-intolerant at least. I’m from Brazil and eating bread is a staple food part, always present on our breakfast table (not milk and cereal). We buy bread every morning from local bakers as the bread goes stale overnight. Probably because city people don’t have the time to buy bread every morning before going to work, packed bread loaves have taken over. That happened to me when I moved to New Zealand where one can’t really find freshly baked bread without much effort. A least not the type of bread I grew up eating. Its recipe is like what you said in your article: three ingredients only. About a year later I started developing all the symptoms of gluten intolerance, which were highlighted by a friend who had been diagnosed celiac then. Following her recommendation, I stopped eating supermarket bread for a week and the improvement in my health was obvious. But, like I said, I am a Brazilian who loves her bread for breakfast. Since establishing my residency here in New Zealand, I have been looking for ways of avoiding prepacked, supermarket foods as much as possible. And one thing I noticed is that I don’t get sick after eating my homemade bread. Following the traditional ways, I seem to have dodged that gluten intolerance I had developed some 4 years ago and now I can enjoy my every-day scrambled (free-range) eggs on homemade bread.
That’s great news! I wonder how many people could have the same experience if they catch it early enough. I share a similar story as I felt better going gluten free but then as soon as I started eating packaged “gf” breads I started feeling worse again. I dream of a day when people make food in the traditional methods as the norm!
Do you use a special flour when making your own bread? I think the change in wheat quality has a large impact as well as the process so curious if you are careful to find heritage wheat?