With 1% of the UK population suffering from coeliac disease, what exactly is it about gluten that causes so many people so much difficulty?
Gliaden, Glutenin and Gluten – the three Gs at the root of all the confusion. Gluten (a plant protein found in wheat, barley, rye and various other cereals) is made up of two types of protein: gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is the cause behind gluten intolerance, whilst glutenin is actually harmless.
And this is where sourdough offers itself up as a solution to bread-craving coeliacs. During sourdough fermentation, the dangerous gliadin fractions are broken down into amino acids, making it much easier for our bodies to digest and often rendering it suitable for those with gluten (or gliadin) sensitivity. The natural yeast feeds on the glucose preventing spikes in your blood sugar (which happens with other white breads) and the incorporation of lactobacilli (a friendly bacteria used for digestion) in the slow fermentation process can aid in the digestion of all complex carbohydrates, beans, pulses and vegetables.
All this bread biotechnology can get a little complicated but essentially the traditional method of baking sourdough involves baking the dough at a lower temperature, over a longer period of time. By using a lactobacilli starter culture (or ‘sourdough starter’) this creates a process of natural fermentation – a sourdough starter made from a simple mix of flour and water. It can be kept indefinitely, provided it is fed regularly with fresh flour, and is far less likely to go stale or mouldy than any other standard or artisan bread.
Low in fat and loaded with vitamins and minerals, sourdough is not only the more nutritious choice of bread, but the tastier one. The acidity of the dough creates a pleasing tang and almost sourness to your typical fast-tracked loaf, with a light and airy structure that makes paying that little extra so worthwhile.
A surprising amount of food outlets offer sourdough as standard but be careful with supermarket versions as quite often breads labelled as ‘sourdough’ are anything but. In some mass-produced loaves the lactobacilli starter culture is often replaced with baker’s yeast, replacing the natural slow-fermentation process of real sourdough.
So it is suitable for those with coeliac disease? Unfortunately not – or not officially anyway. Despite multiple studies and research into the health benefits of sourdough, there remains no conclusive evidence as to whether it is 100% safe for coeliacs. However, the majority of people with gluten sensitivities will have no problems stomaching sourdough and even a number of people with coeliac disease have reported being able to eat it with no ill effects. There’s also the option of making a gluten-free sourdough, using rice, corn or gluten-free amaranth flour to create a sourdough starter.
Like this? Why not check out this article on London’s Best Sourdough Breakfasts.