News Real Bread Campaign

Big brand sourfaux exposed

Products manufactured by Warburtons, Hovis, Allinson and Roberts have all failed the Real Bread Campaign’s genuine sourdough test.

Time: The ingredient missing from sourfaux, replaced by baker's yeast and/or additives. Public domain

Time: The ingredient missing from sourfaux, replaced by baker's yeast and/or additives. Public domain

The Real Bread Campaign has found four of Britain’s largest industrial loaf fabricators using sourdough claims to market products made with baker’s yeast and one or more additives.

On 7 May, the Campaign wrote to each company asking:

  • If the product is made using a live sourdough starter culture
  • For how long the final dough is fermented
  • If undeclared ‘processing aids’ are used in the manufacture of the product

Despite repeated requests, none of the companies answered all of the Campaign’s questions, leading us to believe that all four products are manufactured using the Chorleywood Process, not a genuine sourdough method.

Campaign coordinator Chris Young said:

“Real Bread bakers have spent decades building people’s understanding of the delicious delights of long-fermented sourdough and other potential benefits of the oldest way of leavening a loaf. It’s disgusting that companies are undermining this work and the trust of shoppers by using the word to market loaves manufactured using different ingredients by much faster and fundamentally different industrial processes.”

Sourdough vs. sourfaux

Genuine sourdough is made without any so-called processing aids or other artificial additives, leavened only by yeasts and lactic acid bacteria naturally present on grains, and therefore in flour, nurtured to create a live starter culture. This being made the legal definition of sourdough is part of the Real Bread Campaign’s call for an Honest Crust Act.

During the extended time a sourdough starter needs to make dough rise, changes take place that will have a beneficial effect on the flavour, texture and aroma of the finished loaf. Genuine sourdough may stale more slowly, and the process might also have health benefits. Cutting the time by using baker’s yeast will greatly reduce the opportunity for any of these changes to take place and using a dried, rather than live, starter will prevent them from happening at all.

In 2015, the Real Bread Campaign coined the term sourfaux for a product marketed using the word sourdough but manufactured by a different process.

In October 2018, Which? reported that 15 out of 19 supermarket loaves it looked at were what the Real Bread Campaign calls sourfaux.

In November 2018, the Real Bread Campaign secured Defra’s commitment from Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to review loaf labelling and marketing laws after Britain leaves the EU.

The Real Bread Campaign is encouraging all Real Bread lovers worldwide to get ready for this year’s annual, international Sourdough September.



More sourfaux news and information

The following details are taken from the companies' websites and correspondence with the Real Bread Campaign.

Allinson’s: Serious white with sourdough

Ingredients: Wheat Flour (with calcium, iron, niacin (B3) and thiamin (B1)), Water, Rye and Wheat Sourdough (12%), Yeast, Salt, Vegetable Oil (Rapeseed, Sustainable Palm), Soya Flour, Fermented Wheat Flour, Vinegar, Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).

The company’s website claims: ‘This white loaf is that extra bit special because it is baked with sourdough for a distinctive, full-flavoured white bread.’

On 9 May, a consumer care advisor admitted that “it will of course differ from an small-batch, artisan sourdough process.”

Unlike many bakers of genuine sourdough, who take pride in the importance of time in allowing potentially beneficial changes to take place, the advisor drew a veil of secrecy: “As for how long the dough is fermented, we don't ordinarily comment on the secrets of our baking process ?so we'll pass on that one.” She also declined to explain why the company uses vinegar in it.

Warburtons: White with sourdough

Wheat Flour*, Water, Sourdough (14%) (Water, Wheat Flour*, Fermented Wheat and Rye Flour, Salt, Yeast), Wheat Gluten, Dark Rye Flour, Yeast, Salt, Vegetable Oil (Rapeseed, Sustainable Palm). *Wheat Flour [with Calcium, Iron, Niacin (B3) and Thiamin (B1)]

The front of pack label claims: ‘The most important ingredient in this loaf is time. Based on a traditional Artisan process with simple ingredients and our signature sourdough we craft this outstanding loaf.’

On 8 May, the company’s corporate and consumer affairs manager responded: “please can I ask what you require this information for?” but did not reply to three subsequent emails requesting answers to the original questions.

In September 2018, the company also released the Special Edition Toastie with Sourdough Thick Sliced Soft White, manufactured using added yeast, E472e, E282 and E300.

Hovis: White bloomer baked with Hovis signature sourdough

Ingredients: Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Water, Sourdough (Wheat) (4%), Yeast, Vegetable Fat (Palm, Rapeseed), Fermented Wheat Flour, Salt, Soya Flour, Preservative: E282, Emulsifiers: E472e, E471; Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic [acid - list on website ends before this word]

The company’s website claims: ‘Every loaf is baked with our signature sourdough, which uses a traditional sponge and dough process and is slowly fermented for 72 hours to develop a deep and delicious flavour.’

On Friday 24 May, a customer service advisor responded: “As you will appreciate, recipe information is confidential, therefore, we cannot share Hovis' recipe information with other parties. The liquid sourdough used in this recipe is a mixture of cereal flours added to water, which is then allowed to ferment for a minimum of 72 hours.”

This strongly suggests to the Campaign that the final dough is not fermented for 72 hours, only the sourdough starter that accounts for a very small percentage of it. The Real Bread Campaign questions exactly what the company wants to keep confidential from customers and why.

Roberts: Digestion boost bloomers

Heroic wholemeal ingredients: Wholemeal Wheat Flour, Water, Active Liquid Starter (contains: Rye Flour, Malted Wheat Flour, Starter Cultures, Yeast),Yeast, Barley Malt Flour, Wheat Gluten, Dark Muscovado Sugar (contains Sugar, Cane Molasses, Colour: Caramel), Salt, Wheat Flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine), Fermented Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oils ( Palm, Sunflower and Rapeseed), Palm Fat, Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).

Wondrous white ingredients: Wheat Flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine), Water, Active Liquid Starter (contains: Rye Flour, Malted Wheat Flour, Starter Cultures, Yeast,) Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Fermented Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oils (Palm, Sunflower and Rapeseed), Palm Fat, Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Vitamin D Yeast.

Seriously seeded ingredients: Wholemeal Wheat Flour, Water, Seed Blend (13%) (contains: sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, brown linseeds, millet and golden linseeds), Active Liquid Starter (contains: Rye Flour, Malted Wheat Flour, Starter Cultures, Yeast), Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Salt, Wheat Flour (with added, calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine), Barley Malt Flour, Fermented Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oils (Palm, Sunflower and Rapeseed), Palm Fat, Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).

The company’s website claims: ‘Our new Digestion Boost Bloomers are yummy, scrummy and friendly on your tummy. They are packed with fibre and calcium, to complement a healthy gut. They are also lovingly created with organic live ferments, What’s more, they contain no artificial preservatives and we’ve taken out a lot of the additives you’d find in other loaves.’

In addition to the three questions above, we asked: In what ways do these loaves boost digestion and upon what evidence are you basing this claim?

On 16 May, the company’s technical compliance controller wrote: “we do not make reference or inference to sour dough or bulk fermentation so not sure on what basis your question is asked?” She also wrote: “we deal with processing aids in line with the Food Labelling Act 1990.”

We responded, pointing out that Roberts refers to the sourdough starter culture in marketing these products, notably the company’s homepage: 'They are also lovingly created with organic live ferments...' They also use it in PR promotion, including comments quoted by British Baker. We also pointed out that a factor in the ability of a sourdough starter culture, or any other live ferment, used in making dough to have any beneficial effect is the time it is allowed to ferment that final dough.

At this point we asked two supplementary questions:

  • Are these loaves simply made by the Chorleywood process, or variant thereof?
  • What differentiates your wholemeal loaf from any other wholemeal loaf, and your white loaf from any other white loaf that allows you to claim or imply they are better for digestion than other products?

Roberts did not reply to this, or any of our further requests, for answers.

Published Tuesday 28 May 2019

Real Bread Campaign: The Real Bread Campaign finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Whether your interest is local food, community-focussed small enterprises, honest labelling, therapeutic baking, or simply tasty toast, everyone is invited to become a Campaign supporter.

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