The Truth About Sourdough - Is It Gluten Free?

In recent years, sourdough has become trendy. Besides its more traditional purpose (to make sourdough bread), it’s increasingly used as an additive in chips, crackers, snacks... and even beer! But is sourdough gluten-free? Many people with gluten intolerance have to avoid foods with gluten, including whole grains like rye and wheat. So if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, does that mean you can’t eat sourdough? Those following a gluten-free diet know that there are many challenges to eating correctly when so many foods have gluten as an additive: this article will give you the facts about sourdough and its place in a gluten-free diet.


hands holding bread sourdough gluten free

What is sourdough?

Sourdough is a leaven for making bread. It is obtained by mixing flour and water, and then letting it sit for a long time at room temperature with a culture of bacteria and yeast, a process called "fermentation". Dried sourdough cultures are often used as a leavening agent in baking, and some bakers add them to doughs to create a sourdough flavor. Sourdough is also a common name for the bread make with sourdough leaven. Sourdough bread is therefore a type of fermented bread with a long fermentation process (up to 18 hours); the fermentation process breaks down some of the complex sugars in the flour, making the bread easier to digest. This process also creates a unique, slightly sour taste and a rise that is unique to sourdough bread. This type of bread has been around for centuries; as for the word "sourdough", it is believed to be derived from the British term "Sour Dough", which was used to describe a type of fermented dough, much similar to today's sourdough.



How is sourdough made?

Sourdough leaven is made by mixing flour and water, sometimes with a little sugar, and then letting it sit for a long time at room temperature with a culture of bacteria and yeast. This created a fermenting dough that is then considered the sourdough starter, which can be used to make sourdough bread or to create more sourdough starter.


How is sourdough bread made?

Sourdough bread is the common term to describe bread made with sourdough. Sourdough bread is made by adding a sourdough starter to the dough, which will then make the dough rise through a process that is typically longer than with other types of yeast or rising agents.

To make the sourdough starter, wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria are mixed with flour and water, and then left to sit and ferment. This starter is then added to bread dough to create the typical taste and unmistakable texture of sourdough bread.



Is sourdough gluten-free?

Sourdough is made with wheat flour, so it contains gluten. For this reason, sourdough may not be safe for people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. In fact, many people with gluten intolerance experience gastrointestinal side effects when they consume sourdough. There are, however, conflicting studies regarding sourdough tolerance in gluten-intolerants: some researchers believe that the bacteria in sourdough actually break down the gluten, making it easier to digest. According to this theory, sourdough may be safe for people with gluten sensitivity, especially when it is highly fermented.


How to make sourdough bread gluten-free

If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you should probably avoid sourdough bread. This is because the main ingredient in sourdough bread is usually wheat flour — which contains gluten. However, there are ways you can make sourdough (and consequently sourdough bread) with gluten-free flours, such as rice flour.


Conclusion

The truth about sourdough is that, in its traditional recipe, it contains gluten, so it’s best to avoid it if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. Sourdough bread may be easier to digest for those who have a gluten sensitivity than other types of bread that contain gluten, but it’s not gluten-free. You can, however, make gluten-free sourdough to use as a starter for your gluten-free bread.