Sourdough or Sourfaux: Do You Really Know What You're Eating?

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A true sourdough has only three ingredients. Any more than that and it's a fake.

Sourdough bread has surged in popularity in recent years. Many people enjoy its tangy taste and chewy texture and find it easier to digest than breads made with yeast. But if you've ever shopped for sourdough, you may have noticed the enormous discrepancy in price. A loaf can cost upwards of $6 at an artisanal bakery, but half that in the supermarket. So what's the difference?

Which? magazine investigated and found that people are often getting sourdough-flavoured bread, instead of actual sourdough made in the traditional way, with only three ingredients -- flour, water, and salt. Of 19 loaves tested in UK supermarkets, only four met true sourdough standards. The others contained additives such as ascorbic acid (to increase rising speed and volume of final loaf), yeast (to speed up rising process), yogurt and vinegar (to increase acidity and add a sour taste). From the report:

"‘Sourdough’ is not a protected term, which means that, as Chris Young from The Real Bread Campaign told us, ‘There’s nothing to stop manufacturers using that word to market products that are what we call sourfaux’."

The added ingredients in sourfaux are not necessarily bad, but there is something obviously wrong with misleading consumers through inaccurate labeling. It could be harmful to people who choose to eat sourdough because they find it's easier to digest and minimizes the blood sugar spike that accompanies the consumption of refined carbohydrates. It's also not fair to the bakers who labor for several days to craft authentic sourdough loaves and deserve fair payment for them. As sourdough expert Vanessa Kimball told the BBC,

"It's absolutely scandalous. I believe manufacturers have a responsibility to define if the sourdough refers to the process or if it's the flavor. Tell people if it's the flavor."

Shoppers can take responsibility for it by reading the ingredient list on bread or speaking with a baker before buying. If there's anything more than flour, salt, and water, it's not a true sourdough.