Rise of the Sour-Faux

The unprecedented rise of fermentable foods among foodies and even non-foodies alike has surprised even industry experts, with a new gut-friendly launch almost weekly. A unifying trend emerging from a diverse range of countries such as Germany, Korea, Russia and China; the last two years has seen the trend take the grocery world by storm. 

However, the shortfalls of a popular, booming industry are starting to show, and it hasn’t taken long for the fermentable phonies to emerge. An investigation by Which? recently has revealed that Sourdough, one of the true heroes of the gut-health trend, has fallen victim to an influx of spurious loaves being sold as authentic. So how did we get here? 


bread with knife and chopping boards

Emerging from the Middle East and hugely popular in countries such as Germany, (as well as in every trendy UK café) Sourdough is a bread made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobaccilli and yeast, with a mildly sour taste. 

It’s versatility has made it the hero of the fermentable movement, with Waitrose sales from May to July 2018 jumping by 45%. This isn’t a Waitrose-exclusive phenomenon either: in Tesco, sourdough boasts the fastest-growing bread sales, bolstered by the launch of their own label loaf in March. 

But, are these sales genuine? 

Which?’s shocking survey revealed that a meagre 4 out of 19 sourdough loaves sold in supermarkets are made through the authentic fermentation process. Just Gail’s White Sourdough Bread, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Multi-seed Sourdough, Waitrose 1 White Sourdough and Waitrose Wheat and Rye Sourdough were made with a genuine starter culture. 

The offending faux-loaves were found to have used artificial flour treatments to speed up the process from several days to a few hours. Luckily for clued-up consumers, phony loaves are possible to identify on supermarket shelves. Rogue-ingredients such as vinegar, yeast, yogurt and ascorbic acid (E300) are the giveaway, as these either speed up the rising and therefore the volume of the final loaf or, even more shockingly, simply provide an artificial sourdough-like taste. 

This is particularly alarming for health-conscious consumers, as Sourdough bread has, like other fermentable foods, been hailed as a ‘gut saviour’. It is higher in nutrient value and more easily digestible than standard bread, those with gut issues can even rely on sourdough in place of standard bread to help aid digestion and ease their symptoms. Some diabetes sufferers also choose to eat sourdough as it is thought to help control blood sugar levels, although admittedly it is a food product and cannot be treated as a medication in itself. Nonetheless, it renders the sudden influx of spurious Sourdough even more shocking. 

So how does this happen? Like many food products, Sourdough does not have a legal definition and therefore the correct recipe is not a protected term. Therefore, it is easier than it perhaps should be to get away with producing ‘sour-faux’, but still charge the associated price premium. 

Without an awareness of the difference in ingredients consumers are being misled. This is particularly concerning in the case of those who purchase Sourdough for its nutritional benefits above its taste, as the ‘Sour-faux’ alternatives are much nutritionally weaker, and in some cases yield none of the nutritional benefits associated with authentic sourdough at all. The responsibility therefore lies with producers and retailers alike to highlight on-pack or on the ticket whether or not a product is genuine Sourdough, or simply ‘Sourdough Style.’ 

The term ‘sour faux’ was devised by Chris Young, the coordinator of The Real Bread Campaign. To find out more about how they are campaigning for a legal definition of sourdough visit: https://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/sourdough/ 

Can you taste the difference between sourdough and sour-faux? Contact Roseanna at roseanna@hra-global.com or call us on +44 (0) 1803 203387 

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