Can Celiacs Eat True Sourdough Bread?

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist August 23, 2011

A 'levain' sourdough bread
Most breads labeled as “sourdough” on the market today are anything but.

These breads typically contain yeast which is the giveaway clue that the bread is a fake sourdough and should be avoided if one seeks a traditionally baked loaf.

True sourdough bread does not contain yeast and instead utilizes a lactobacilli based starter culture.  True sourdough bread is also baked at a lower temperature for a longer period of time which protects the integrity of the cereal grains and preserves the nutritional value.  Not only is the nutritional value maintained, but antinutrients such as phytic acid are eliminated and gluten, that very difficult to digest plant protein, is broken down.

When baker’s yeast was first introduced as an alternative to sourdough starters in 1668 in France, it was strongly rejected because scientists at the time already knew that it would negatively impact people’s health. 

While yeast is used almost universally for baking breads anymore, the skyrocketing cases of gluten intolerance and celiac disease are causing many to look backwards at how nonindustrialized peoples consumed gluten containing breads with no digestive difficulty.

One study that examined how celiacs tolerate true sourdough bread was conducted in Europe.  17 people suffering from celiac disease were given 2 grams of gluten containing bread risen with either baker’s yeast or a normal lactobacilli culture.   13 of the 17 showed negative changes in intestinal permeability consistent with celiac disease.  4 people did not show any negative changes.

Then, the 17 study participants were given true sourdough bread risen with a special lactobacilli culture able to hydrolyze the 33-mer peptide which is the primary amino acid building block that causes an immune response in people with celiac disease.  None showed any negative changes in their intestinal permeability after consuming the bread which was made up of 30% wheat flour and a mix of oat, millet, and buckwheat flours.

The researchers’ conclusions were summarized as follows:

These results showed that a bread biotechnology that uses selected lactobacilli, nontoxic flours, and a long fermentation time is a novel tool for decreasing the level of gluten intolerance in humans.

What I find interesting about the study is that even when the people who consumed the gluten containing bread risen with either baker’s yeast or a normal lactobacilli culture, 4 did not show any negative changes to their baseline values of intestinal permeability.   Did these 4 consume bread raised with a normal lactobacilli culture?  If so, perhaps even a normal sourdough culture would be sufficient for many celiacs to consume.

Certainly, most with simple gluten intolerance would find true sourdough bread to be easily consumed with no digestive distress.

Clearly, more study on this needs to be done, but the results are incredibly promising.

It seems that the noblemen in the court of Louis XIV of France back in 1668 had it right all along.  Abandoning the traditional methods of bread preparation in favor of baker’s yeast would have disastrous effects on people’s health.  Little did they know that their wisdom several centuries later would be termed “novel” by scientists in the biotechnology industry!

Sarah, The Healthy  HomeEconomist

Sources and More Information

Study Finds Wheat-based Sourdough Bread Tolerated by Celiac Patients

Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

 

Comments (98)

  1. Pingback: At the Immigrant's Table: Adventures in sourdough, part I

  2. In AZ/USA Trader Joes or Sprouts have no added yeast white sourdoughs:TJs has cornmeal on the bottom of their artisan paper bagged loaf, in case of people not intaking corn. TJs also have plastic bagged version of sourdough:Some have whole grain. I can’t find a true and white spelt sourdough here in the US since Pacific Bakery’s is’nt anywhere to be found. That was the ultimate in convenience!

    Reply
    • I buy the plastic bagged version of sourdough at TJ’s. It says whole wheat. Does that type have the added yeast or is that the real stuff? Thanks

      Reply
  3. Howard Gray via Facebook April 5, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Those were sensitive to gluten lack the gut bacteria B. lactis, which breaks down and consumes gluten. It’s all about your gut microbiome people…

    Reply
  4. Sonia Johnson via Facebook April 5, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Brittany any sort of inflammation can lead to disease,if your immune system is being constantly compromised by a reaction to gluten it cannot be expected to fight cancer,infections,viruses etc it will be a slow slip into joint pain IBS in my husbands case MS weight gain etc I strongly suggest you read Paleo solution by Rob Wolf,wheat Belly by Dr William Davis and Grain Brain by Dr David Purlmutter it is a very serious condition Gluten intolerance not to be taken lightly

    Reply
  5. Rachel McAtee via Facebook April 5, 2014 at 12:08 am

    My husband either has a wheat allergy or is gluten intolerant. I just ordered 5 lb of eikhorn wheat berries and I’m going to make a sourdough starter from it then try making a long-ferment sourdough bread from the freshly ground flour. That’s the way bread is SUPPOSED to be made. I am so excited and hope that he will have NO reaction to it!

    Reply
  6. Rebekkah you mean for celiac people or people in general? I’ve never heard of gluten causing these things in a “normal” person. I have a gluten sensitivity which is a new thing to me, just recently figured out the source of my stomach problems so your comment are interesting to me.

    Reply
  7. Rebekkah Smith via Facebook April 4, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    It’s not worth it, if you have celiac disease. One crumb is enough to trigger a reaction. I’m not going to risk my kid getting cancer, thanks. Because that’s what happens when you allow traces of gluten. Cancer. Or diabetes. Or neurological problems. Not even going there.

    Reply
  8. Lydia Kou via Facebook April 4, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Interesting post. This is something that I have thought and wondered about.

    Overall, I don’t think that a blanket statement applies. I think it strongly depends on the type of issue that the person has — as well probably as whether or not they have been able to heal the gut.

    I have a severe wheat sensitivity/intolerance and I cannot even have wheatgrass which has been shown to contain no gluten. It’s not always a gluten issue. I believe that, once a person develops a sensitivity to a certain type of food, the body can often still recognize it even if it’s properly prepared. I think the ideal is for everyone to be properly preparing food in the first place to minimize the chance of developing food sensitivities.

    Reply
  9. Since I was a young child, I could never digest anything made from flour. Many visits to hospitals and not one diagnosis. Wasn’t until my mid 20′s that after eating a piece of pizza, I had to visit a doctor, and she said I could be Celiac and did a blood test. when the results came in,, I was told that I have a high probability of being Celiac, and wanted me to have a biopsy done, Which I have not done. Pretty sure I just have a severe intolerance to gluten.
    I have always avoided heavily floured foods, but I can tolerate some gluten, in small doses.
    I have avoided all floured foods for many many years now. I have tried gluten free bread.. but… really??? OMG disgusting!!!

    One day, my man had been shopping and brought home some sourdough. I looked at the ingredients, it showed that it contained wheat and everything else. But then showed ” 2 % or less of wheat gluten”. AH HA! So I tried half a slice… and didn’t have a problem. OMG…. I was sooooo happy, not only could I eat it, it tasted AWESOME. Don’t be fooled by fake sourdough!!! Many companies use commercial yeast and add a type of acidity to scrupulously make it sour. and call it Sourdough.

    So I looked into “How and Why” I could eat true Sourdough, but “why not other breads/flour based foods”. I did an in depth study. Came to understand the full process of making true sourdough and what Lactobacilli does.
    So I began the process of making my own sourdough culture. I have made many dozens of loaves and have not had one issue!!! I can eat a piece everyday, with no problems. I have also made pancakes, muffins, cakes and pizzas.

    I do not however recommend anyone to go ahead and try it. Unless you understand the whole process of sourdough bread making with a culture, What correct flour to use, and how to make it in the way that makes it safe to eat.
    I learned that I have to proof my dough for at least 19 hours in the fridge ( a slow ferment to break down the gluten) before bringing to room temp to bake, any earlier and I then have some symptoms.
    It took me quite awhile to get the whole process right, right for me to eat without any issues.
    Everyone who has tried my true Sourdough, LOVE IT and want MORE LOL,

    Reply
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  13. All sourdough bread contains yeast. The bacteria are NOT the rising agent, they simply flavour the bread. Sourdough is just the ancient way of making bread with wild yeast (they are everywhere), which is what makes the bread unique to wherever you live … so you’ll never get true SF sourdough if you don’t live there :) And the moral of the tale is don’t take medical advice from the internet, especially if it’s dated 1668.

    Reply
    • Sourdough culture ( Lactobacilli) do not simply flavor the bread. The Lactobacilli (wild yeast) feeds off the gluten, which breaks it all down into tiny pieces, which makes the bread rise.

      Reply
    • Distrust of the Internet is irrational. It’s just another medium for communication. You should be questioning of all sources including books, magazines, papers and ” experts” .in the long run all educated sources are just informed opinions.

      Reply
  14. Just realized the Cultures for Life has great videos on making sourdough, but I am still wondering what type of flour you recommend and if I have to use a bag of Bob’s Red Mill, should I sift out the germ and bran, if possible?

    Reply
  15. Sarah, If you ever find it possible, please consider making a sourdough video. Please include info. on the best type of sprouted, milled, flour to use (and if we should remove the bran and germ), etc. Thank you! If you already have this and I missed it-sorry, do you have a link? TIA

    Reply
  16. Pingback: Jen Neitzel » Fit-tastic Update: Flour Power and Working as a Diciple of the Church of the Gluten-Free

  17. I tried a fermented sourdough by a baker specializing in long fermentation to eliminate the gluten problems. He has been written about in many publications and blogs, including Mark’s Daily Apple, where I read about the bread. Nice man, he warns that this bread won’t work for everyone (and nobody should use raw flour to dust pan, boards, hands, anything…).

    The bread tasted good, I was fine for about an hour and happy to be able to eat true sourdough, but then I spent the next 18 hours with severe diarrhea. So be very careful.

    Reply
  18. One thing I’m not clear on from the article is the difference between the bread raised with normal lactobacilli culture and that raised with the ‘special’ lactobacilli culture. It does not explain the difference. We make our own sourdough bread just with flour and water, having made our own starter. Does this mean we have the ‘normal’ or the ‘special’ culture???

    Reply
  19. Thanks for the article, it’s not dangerous to publish these findings, I think it’s dangerous not to, as you said, more work needs to be done, but it’s encouraging – we need hope and solutions beyond the grocery store or the M.D’s. I believe there’s a nutritious way to consume grains because God told Joseph to store grains for 7 years of famine – which saved their lives. Hopefully, we can heal our guts and again enjoy grains in some manner, yes, processed grains have in part devasted peoples health, but perhaps with brave studies like this, we will uncover lost knowledge and learn a way they actually contribute to our healing. Times are tough, getting tougher. Our bodies are resilliant and God gives many ways to nourish them, if even for a limited time -

    Reply
  20. Pingback: Celiac sourdough | Jakzodiac

  21. One thing to remember here is that the research shows that the bread contains only 25-30% wheat. Using other grains cuts down on the amount of gluten involved. The other part to remember is that the bread needs to sit on the counter to rise for at least 12 hours to allow the Lactobacilli to build up do it’s digesting work. This is also what gives sourdough it’s sour taste.
    Spelt could be a good option as it is much lower in gluten than wheat.

    Jessie Hawkins at Vintage Remedies will be coming out with a bread book next spring that focuses on sourdough and it’s history. It will discuss the gluten intolerance/Celiac issue and include gluten and gluten-free sourdough recipes.

    Reply
  22. Thanks for all you do Sarah in educating people about real foods.

    This is an interesting article, and of course, many of us that are gluten free would love to go back to eating crusty sourdough bread… but is trying it worth the risk? Thomas O’Bryan, MD (thedr.com) describes cases where people who were gluten-free went back onto gluten just to be officially tested for Celiac and then had major health setbacks with irreversible damage.

    A big problem is that wheat has been hybridized to contain a LOT more gluten than it did 2000 years ago.

    Gluten “intolerance” is not milder than Celiac or less sensitive to gluten, it is just manifesting in other ways. The immune system might not be attacking the gut, it might be attacking the thyroid, the brain, or the skin. And many Celiac’s do not have gut symptoms. For more info, check out the web site I mentioned above. Dr. O’Bryan is gluten intolerant.

    Reply
  23. I would love to believe that sourdough gluten bread is safe but, as a celiac myself, I’m not sure I want to find out the hard way. Some celiacs have silent symptoms that don’t affect the bowel but create severe fatigue over time and I don’t want to go back there. :0)

    Reply
  24. I”m sorry to say that this piece is dangerous. From the comments it already appears that people are going to try eating sourdough bread if they have celiac.

    I can’t say this clearly enough: even if made by a sourdough starter, bread made from wheat flour still contains wheat. It contains gluten. Sourdough bread will make someone with celiac sick.

    A study of 17 people (17 people?!) is not nearly big enough to be statistically accurate for anything. Please, please don’t post something like this unless there is solid science.

    Christy, you said that kneading the dough for 20 minutes “develops the gluten.” You’re right. It develops the gluten. Gluten.

    It’s possible that those who are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive might have fewer reactions to bread that is made from sourdough. However, for those who have celiac, only 1/8 of a teaspoon of gluten is enough to damage the intestines and set off the autoimmune reaction. And there are many with celiac who don’t have big outward symptoms. They could now go out and buy sourdough and be making themselves sick after reading this article.

    Reply
    • Exactly! It’s not something you play around with! The reason most celiac cases are undiagnosed is because many have NO DIGESTIVE SYMPTOMS! It’s not a great indicator of what’s going on with your autoimmune responses.

      Reply
  25. Pingback: What I’ve Learned Wednesday: Links from Real Food Blogland 8/24/11 | Butter Believer

  26. Thank you for this article, Sarah! I used to make the Nourishing Traditions sourdough with Rye and Spelt ages ago. For about 2 years, I only made that bread, it was so easy. Then I transferred to all spelt. I wanted variety so began sprouting and making regular breads. Since then I have become gluten intolerant and never even thought about trying sourdough again! The key with sourdough is to make sure you wait until the starter is bubbly to use it in your baking. Timing is so key. Do not let it bubble and then go flat again. If you do, you need to feed it again, but don’t make bread with flat starter or else it will not rise. I got rid of all my wheat grains but I still have a huge bucket of spelt so I will incorporate this again! If anything, I remember sourdough being so easy, and I am the only GF one in the family, so at least so the family can have “normal” bread again! :)

    Nickole

    Reply
  27. I learned how to make a starter and bread from a great online course at GNOWFGLINS.com. The subscription is good for a year and she really explained everything in detail with video demonstrations and the science behind it. You have to pour off some starter in the beginning so that the colony of yeast get’s stronger and the yeasts proliferate. I just divided mine and kept a few going at the same time. There were great recipes on the website for using your starter to make cakes and potpies, traditional pita, cookies, etc… There are also other lessons on traditional food prep. That you have access to with the subscription. It really helped me hone my kitchen skills. I bake fresh sourdough bread every week now. It’s delicious!
    Good luck out there. It’s worth the effort to figure it out.

    Reply
  28. Monica de la Rosa August 23, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    My sourdough bread recipe is to mix 1 cup of sourdough starter with 1 cup of water. In another bowl combine 2 teaspoons of salt with 3 cups of flour. Combine the two. Cover the bowl and let rise for 8 – 12 hours. Preheat a covered pot in a 350 oven. Grease pot and add dough. Bake for 30 minutes covered and then 30 minutes uncovered.

    Reply
  29. I’m lazy and don’t want to bake my own bread. I’ve been eating Berlin Bakery’s Old Fashioned Sourdough Spelt Bread. The only ingredients are whole spelt flour, water, and sea salt. Sarah, do you think this qualifies as a true sourdough?

    Reply
  30. My mom has gluten issues and recently began making sourdough. She can only eat it without trouble if she kneads the dough for at least 20 minutes. It has something to do with developing the gluten. I’m sorry I don’t have a reference but she read an online article about it.

    Reply
  31. Pavil, the Uber Noob August 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    The sourdough starter looks like a variation of soaked flour. Wonder what would happen using whey and flour?

    Ciao, Pavil

    Reply
  32. There is no recipe for sourdough starter. It’s flour and water. Period. It sets on the counter until it bubbles and then you feed it again, and it sets for a while longer and then you feed it again. I keep mine in the fridge when I know I’m not going to be using it for a while and I’ve never had a problem yet. It is sometimes in there for two-three weeks between feedings. I never throw away starter either – I use it for biscuits or pancakes or something.

    Here’s a web site with some good information, although it is not the one I usually refer people to. I can’t find my information on that other one right now! If I find it, I’ll post it later. But this one has pretty decent advice: http://123basics.com/bread/starter.htm

    *Hint: Sometimes I take advice from one site and combine it with info from another site, too. Such as take the recipe from one site and then the storage and use information from another. Make good use of all those blogs out there, ladies!

    Reply
  33. I second the cautious approach that Rachel mentions. However, I’m celiac and I personally have been able to eat true sourdough (meaning traditionally prepared, not with yeast) SPELT bread; even though that contains gluten, it’s not wheat and is an older grain. Now, I have only eaten a couple of pieces at a time, and only on a couple of occasions (once was at the WAPF conference) but did not notice any troubles at all with it. No digestive upset, pain, autoimmune issues, etc. I have done a lot of work on my gut, though, and do tolerate more foods than I used to. I still think most grains need to be avoided for a while to allow the gut to heal (a la GAPS) but that traditionally prepared (soaked, soured, fermented) grains CAN be a part of a healthy diet for most people. (Modern grains that lack proper preparation are NEVER a healthy part of anyone’s diet in my opinion)

    Reply
  34. I think it’s important to point out that the bread that caused no reaction was made with special culture that I’m assuming isn’t easily available and only contained 30% wheat, which was combined with gluten-free grains. This is great and a very positive finding for those who suffer with celiac or gluten intolerance, but it is NOT a green light to safely start eating gluten-containing sourdough bread. For those with gluten damage, even a small amount causes more damage and for those who have healed, they may not see side affects of damage for a while. I guess while this is exciting news, I’m also cautioning those who have been concerned about possible gluten sensitivities of one form or another (and if you have a compromised gut, gluten is going to be harmful whether you have the genes for celiac or not) to not rush out and start making or buying sourdough without first carefully considering the risks.

    Reply
  35. Jackie Fisher via Facebook August 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Yes, we’d love a good, trusted sourdough starter/recipe as well. You’re full of wonderful information Sarah, continual thanks!

    Reply
  36. Michelle McGuffin via Facebook August 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Tested and didn’t work for me (mental health issues with gluten consumption – not confirmed celiac). I didn’t make it myself though, so perhaps… perhaps. I do better without eating “bread” on a daily basis though, so I’m not too eager to leap into it. One of these days maybe. Options are nice to have…

    Reply
  37. I found out last summer that I am sensitive to gluten AND yeast, so sourdough seems to be a win-win option, I just haven’t had the guts to try it yet. I am planning on ordering a starter, though, and trying it with spelt. Luckily my hubby loves sourdough, so he doesn’t need convincing. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  38. Fascinating to learn that traditional sourdough does not include yeast. It seems the further we get from the traditional food wisdom of our ancestors, the more trouble we get in.

    The natural, traditional foods are the best.

    Reply
  39. This is a very interesting article because I follow the Know the Cause (Doug Kaufmann, The Fungus Link) diet to eliminate fungus and yeast as the cause of inflammation/disease in the body. The first phase eliminates ALL grain, but eventually you can have true sourdough bread. I’d always wondered why that type specifically was recommended and how to know if it was “true” sourdough or not. This article really clarifies it for me! I’m with all the previous comments that are asking for a recipe for how to make this. If anyone can share this, I’d be most grateful!

    Reply
  40. True sourdough bread starter does not use yeast. You can catch the wild yeast by using a starter made from whole wheat flour and water. There are some great recipes for both starters and bread online just be sure the recipes do not use yeast :)

    Reply
  41. I’ve had a difficult time maintaining a sourdough culture — seems the recipes always call for all of my starter and I have a hard time continuing after that. Like others have said — I’d love a recipe for starter and bread.

    Reply
  42. Okay, so I have a question–as I’ve researched breadmaking throughout history, the sourdough that I’ve found (this is only going back to the 1700′s, mind you) is created from wild caught yeast from the environment, rather than any lactobaccilli cultures. So, the question: Where can I find some info on the history of this “true sourdough” that you’re talking about? I’m extremely interested!

    Reply
    • This point confused me as well… “didn’t sourdoughs use natural yeasts?”

      Indeed: “Sourdough is a dough containing a lactobacillus culture, usually in symbiotic combination with yeasts.” What’s important is giving the lactobacillus time to deactivate the nasties. :)

      You can buy “San Francisco Sourdough Starter” online, which is a powder with lactobacillus and San Francisco’s native yeasts, or just make your own starter using whatever’s in the air. I think /Nourishing Traditions/ has directions.

      -james

      Reply
    • Sorry- I noticed that the original recipe does ask for yeast- I just leave it out, and my sourdough is fantastic :) I also halve the recipe:

      1/2 c sourdough starter
      1 1/2 c water
      3 c flour
      1 t salt

      Mix and let sit overnight 12-15 hours, covered with damp cloth.

      Flip with floury hands in morning, then let rise another 2-4 hours in a greased bowl.

      Pour into pre-heated baking dish with lid (400 degrees F) and bake for 30 min with lid ON
      Bake for additional 15 min with lid OFF.

      Done!

      Reply
      • This sounds easy and simple. I will try this one! Do you mix it first by hand or mixer. i have a Bosch and would love to use it more esp for breads like sourdough. Also what kind of flour do you use for this? Have you tried the 100% hard whole wheat? What is the texture like?

        Reply
        • Spelt works great, but whole wheat gives a really dense loaf! Thanks for the advice, Sarah, I’ll give it a try and see how the finished product compares.

          I mix it by hand using a wooden spoon. There really isn’t much mixing to do! For the second mixing/flipping, you just use your hands :) Oh, if you do make it with a mixer, be prepared for the clean-up- it’s really sticky!

          Reply
  43. Howard C. Gray via Facebook August 23, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I always make it a point to confront “artisan” bakers and question how they make sourdough (or any bread for that matter).

    Reply
  44. Amethyst Dowdell via Facebook August 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Sarah, I would SO APPRECIATE a recipe of the kind of Sourdough that Celiacs can eat! I MISS my sourdough!!! <3

    Reply
  45. Erin Boyd Odom via Facebook August 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for posting this! My daughter is having some issues, and she is currently dairy free (but it doesn’t seem to be helping). She has some symptoms of celiac (praying not!) and her doctor said removing gluten is the next step.

    Reply
  46. I love sourdough but have never had good success with baking it myself. And as stated in your article, most sourdough bread you buy is not real sourdough. Anyone out there have a good recipe for sourdough dummies like me?

    Reply

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