Archived page

Please note that the content on this page has been archived and is not actively reviewed at present.

Sustain / Real Bread Campaign / Archive / Supermarkets

Supermarket 'sourdough'

Seeing loaves marketed as 'sourdough' on supermarket shelves seems increasingly common.

But are their loaves genuine sourdough, or is the a case of retailers seeing the oldest form of leavened bread merely as a bandwagon to jump on by imitation but sell as 'premium' products in order to make extra profit?

See also

Sainsbury's complaint

The following is correspondence between a Real Bread Campaign member and Cardiff Council Trading Standards Service.  He had complained about Sainsbury’s marketing a product as ‘sourdough’, which he believed to be misleading due to the use of baker’s yeast to manufacture the loaf.

Original complaint

Sent to both Sainsbury's Chief Executive and Cardiff Council Trading Standards Service.

July 2013

I wish to challenge the validity of your description of your bakery product 'Stonebaked Sourdough Boule', which I purchased recently in Sainsbury's in Cardiff.

As a sourdough baking consultant and teacher, and former wholesale sourdough baker, I do not believe that this is a sourdough.

The packaging states that the ingredients can be found on your website; but they cannot. I am quite sure that this product is based on a ferment using baker's yeast. It may have been fermented for longer than standard bread but that does not make it a sourdough.

A sourdough is a bread leavened with a sourdough culture, which comprises wild yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria. The process is slow and generally proved at low or room temperature. The slow acting yeasts, consequent long fermentation, and action of the bacteria, create the unique taste of a sourdough bread.

This is not just about taste however. The action of the bacteria transforms the dough in exactly the same way that lactobacilli transforms milk in to yoghurt. This makes the bread more digestible for those with some degree of yeast or wheat intolerance. I have had countless delighted customers report that they can enjoy bread again after suffering the digestive problems associated with industrial bread-making processes.

So will you please confirm the actual ingredients and process? If you are adding baker's yeast, this product is not a sourdough.

I can understand that you would like to sell this as sourdough bread, given the rise in interest in this kind of bread. However, whilst I understand that there is no legal protection of the term 'sourdough', I believe that you may be misleading the public if you are selling something which is not what it purports to be.

Moreover this is not just about taste, as many will buy the bread for health reasons.

Reply from Cardiff Council Trading Standards Service

November 2013

[Cardiff Council Trading Standards Service] Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you. I have recently received a response from the Local Authority that respond to enquiries relating to Sainsbury's[1], regarding your complaint concerning the Sourdough Boule. I have included in their e mail the text of the response as follows:

[Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards] Apologies for the delay in sending this response to you but I have been waiting for some clarification from Sainsbury’s in relation to their response to your referral regarding the composition and labelling of Sainsbury’s Sourdough Boule.

Sainsbury’s have confirmed that the proportion of yeast in the product is 0.18% in the raw product and 0.21% in the part baked product. Sainsbury’s sell two sourdough loaves, both of which contain yeast, and both of which are supplied part baked and finished off in store. I have copied the details relating to Sainsbury’s response below:

Q: Why is yeast added to the recipe?
A: The sourdough boule is made following an industrial process. It wouldn’t be possible to get a sourdough bread with the correct volume without yeast. [2]

Also, the use of yeast in the process allows to get less variation in the final product. The weather, for instance, will have less impact on the baked product. [3]

Q: Is it usual for sourdough loaves to contain yeast?
A: It’s usual to add yeast in the industrial sourdough loaf [4]

Q: What comments do you have about adding ‘with added yeast’ to the label for this product?
A: We would probably not want to state “added yeast” as we only use it as a processing aid [5] due to the manufacturing process. However, we will consider this though when we work through the role of the Food Information Regulation [6] on this range.

[Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards] Sainsbury’s have received an opinion from Campden BRI [7] regarding the addition of yeast to sourdough breads. As there are no legal definitions of sourdough [8], in Campden’s opinion, the only requirement is that the product contains enough sourdough to characterise the bread so that it is distinguishable from a bread without the sourdough ingredients [9]. The addition of yeast in the final stage makes the texture lighter and more open.

I understand that there are generally three types of accepted sourdough [10] produced throughout Europe [11], and Sainsbury’s in store bakery sourdough boule is referred to as Type II. I am advised that Type II is a process that uses identified and selected bacteria that are added to the raw material to ensure that the correct type and level of bacterial grow to produce the correct types of acid for the desirable flavour. This process also takes normally 24 hours for the bacteria to produce the desired taste and textural qualities. This “mother dough” is then normally added at a percentage into a flour, yeast, salt & water (and other ingredient if desired) mix and the second dough is formed, allowed to ferment and made into the final product. There are ways of making a type II sourdough without yeast and this does take longer and requires the microbes present in the sourdough to also produce some gas in order to leaven the dough. The type II is more controllable than the type I and slightly easier to use.

Type I can be made into a bread without the need for any commercial yeast; Type III sourdough breads cannot be made without yeast.

In relation to Sainsbury’s response, it would seem that the yeast in the product is serving a technological purpose in terms of increasing the volume of the bread. I appreciate your comments regarding the name of the food and indicating the true nature of the product, and the requirements of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 which state that the name used for the food shall be sufficiently precise to inform a purchaser of the true nature of the food and to enable the food to be distinguished from products with which it could be confused. However, the addition of yeast wouldn’t have to be indicated in the ingredients list as a processing aid, and is added at very low levels to the sourdough mixture, and it seems it is common for mass produced sourdough loaves to contain yeast. Additionally, the process of making the loaves takes significantly longer than producing a standard non-speciality bread, which helps to develop the texture and flavour of the loaf. I haven’t received any other referrals regarding this type of bread, and Sainsbury’s are not describing this loaf, as far as I know, as ‘Traditional’, which could imply that it was made without yeast.

Sainsbury’s have committed to review this label in this respect when they look at implementing the FIR’s on this range, so it may be that changes are made to the labelling at this point. However, I don’t believe that this will be needed under the FIR’s as I don’t feel that the absence of the indication of the presence of yeast will mislead the consumer.

[Cardiff Council Trading Standards Service] I hope this comprehensive explanation addresses any issues that you had regarding this product. As a result of the response from Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards this department will not be taking any further action. I would like to thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

The Real Bread Campaign's notes

[1] As noted in our A Wholegrain of Truth? report, companies whose businesses cross local authority boundaries have the option of establishing a statutory Primary Authority partnership with a single local authority. According to the government’s Better Regulation Delivery Office website, ‘through Primary Authority your business has access to a reliable source of information that draws on a detailed understanding of your operations. It prevents inconsistent interpretation of regulations and applies regardless of where stores, factories or offices are based or products are sold.’ ‘Tailored advice is available from your Primary Authority with the assurance that it is respected by all local regulators. This ‘provides a secure basis for investment and operational decisions’ and allows ‘the business to operate with assurance and confidence.’

[2] The Real Bread Campaign disputes this statement. There are many, possibly hundreds of small, independent bakeries around the UK making genuine sourdough Real Bread – i.e. without adding bakers’ yeast. Furthermore, sourdough loaves sold under The VillageBakery brand are made on an industrial scale without  the use of bakers’ yeast and we know of at least one other supermarket chain that sells own-brand sourdough loaves that are made without added yeast.

[3] One might question the sourdough baking skill of the bakers producing loaves for Sainsbury’s if, unlike many of the aforementioned Real Bread bakers, they are unable to get reasonable consistency in their loaves without falling back on bakers' yeast.

[4] Is it? We would be interested to see Sainsbury’s evidence for this statement, listing manufacturers they know to be marketing commercially-yeasted loaves as sourdough.

[5] Yeast is not a processing aid, it is an ingredient. As such the law demands it be declared on product labels, except for loaves that are sold unwrapped or are ‘prepacked for direct sale’ i.e. the baker/manufacturer him/herself is selling them from a site other than at which the loaves were produced. We question whether Sainsbury’s is the manufacturer of all of its in-store ‘bakery’ loaves or if they are in fact manufactured for the company by a third party supplier. Our call for an Honest Crust Act includes the requirment for a full list of ingredeinst and artificial addtiives (including those currently deemed 'processing aids') to appear on bags/wrappers, or be displayed at the point of sale, for all loaves.

[6] Implementation of Regulation (EU) 1169/2011, the new Food Information to Consumers Regulation, could help protect customers from being misled by previously part-baked and frozen loaves from being marketed as ‘freshly baked’. It will also bring about changes to the way that allergens will have to be declared on food labelling. Yeast is not one of the 14 allergens that will have to be emphasised on product labelling or point of sale information.

[7] Would guidance from a governmental agency such as DEFRA or The Food Standards Agency not be more appropriate than an 'opinion' from a commercial organisation, the membership of which is dominated by companies with interest in industrial food manufacture?

[8] A legal, meaningful and fully-enforced definition of sourdough bread is one of the demands in the Real Bread Campaign’s call for an Honest Crust Act to protect people in Britain from misleading labelling and marketing.

[9] Perhaps more useful definitions would be from would be those found in the legislation of countries with long-established traditions of sourdough making, for example the German Leitsätze für Brot und Kleingebäck of 1993 and the French Décret n°93-1074 du 13 septembre 1993 pris pour l'application de la loi du 1er août 1905 en ce qui concerne certaines catégories de pains

[10] Summarised on this website

[11] As noted above, certain European countries also have laws to control what legally can be marketed as sourdough.

Tesco complaint

The following are copies of three emails forwarded to us by someone who had complained about a product marketed by Tesco as ‘sourdough’.

Response from Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service

21 November 2012

I write regarding your recent complaint regarding Tesco sourdough.

Since we previously corresponded, I have referred the matter to the local authority liaison officer for Tesco for their information. Due to the fact that there is no legal definition for Sourdough, I have also contacted the Public Analyst to determine whether, in their opinion, they would consider the name of the food (i.e. Sourdough) misleading to consumers given Tesco's method of 'preparation'.

I have received a response from the Public Analyst who have confirmed that in their opinion, they do not consider the name misleading, even with the addition of regular yeast to the 'natural sourdough culture'.

I have also discussed the matter with the liaison officer who has contacted Tesco for comment regarding the method of preparation of the sourdough bread. Tesco have explained and provided details surrounding the 'production' process, and explained why 'regular yeast' is added at the latter stages.

Taking all these factors into account, this service cannot take further action on this matter.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention

Response from complainant

Would it be possible to forward Tesco's explanation of the production process? I would be interested to know why, and how much, yeast is added.

I guess what's needed is a legal definition of sourdough bread.

Many thanks for your help with this matter.

Response from Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service

22 November 2012

Unfortunately i will be unable to send you details of the production process as Tesco detail specific figures and percentages used, which this service regard as sensitive information.

I concur with you regarding the legal definition. There are legal compositional standards set for certain foods at present, namely certain meat products, jam, marmalades and similar products, time will tell whether sourdough will benefit from the same legal definition.

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.

Ways to support our charity’s work

Join today Buy gifts Make a doughnation The Loaf Mark

Real Bread Campaign
C/o Sustain
The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

The Real Bread Campaign is a project of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming.

© Sustain 2023
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies


Real Bread Campaign