Bread is a staple in many households, including mine, and it’s not always just flour, water, and yeast. Surprisingly, some breads contain unexpected animal products, leaving those on a vegan diet scratching their heads. If you’re breastfeeding a baby with a milk allergy, pregnant and vegan, or leading a vegan family, knowing what’s in your food is essential. That’s why I’ve put together ‘Is Sourdough Dairy Free: The Easy & Quick Guide.’. So, if sourdough bread has caught your eye as a wholesome choice, you might be wondering: Is sourdough bread vegan and dairy-free making it suitable for my specific needs?
Good news up front: traditional sourdough bread is absolutely dairy-free! But there’s more to the story. This easy guide will delve deep into the world of sourdough bread, making sure you’re well-informed and comfortable at the dining table. Whether you’re vegan, or supporting your little one with a cow’s milk protein allergy, i’ve got you covered.
Sourdough breads History
Sourdough has been gracing our tables for centuries. It has a rich history, tangy flair, and that renowned satisfying chewy bite but did you know that it gets its signature taste from the unique fermentation process? Sourdough harnesses the power of wild yeast and friendly bacteria to give it that sour taste.
Our ancestors understood the natural fermentation process by combining a simple mixture of flour and water to create bread. They didn’t have the fancy ingredients we see today; they relied on the natural yeast present in the environment. This carbon dioxide-producing yeast gave the bread its rise and its distinctive tang that we get today with sourdough.
The Ingredients in Sourdough Bread
At its core, sourdough contains simple ingredients; flour, water, salt, and the star player – sourdough starter (a fermented blend of flour and water). This starter is combined with the traditional ingredients to create the dough.
You’ll be glad to know that this starter is an all-natural product that is again dairy-free, making sourdough bread dairy-free. If you fancy making your own sourdough here is a little more about the basic ingredients and why they are included in the bread, plus some ideas for different types of bread.
Flour is the foundation of sourdough bread, providing both structure and nutrients. It’s essential for achieving the right texture and flavour in your loaf. When it comes to choosing the type of flour for your sourdough, you definitely have options.
White bread flour is commonly used but you could also try whole grain flours like rye or whole wheat flour which can give a denser texture and add even more flavour to your loaf.
Some bakers even experiment with specialty flours like Spelt or Kamut for a really unique flavour and texture.
Remember the choice of flour can influence your final product, so feel free to experiment to find what suits your palate and dietary needs best.
Water is another key player in your sourdough. It does more than just moisten the flour; it kick-starts the entire bread-making process. When combined with flour, water activates the enzymes breaking down starches into simpler sugars that the yeast can feed on. This is crucial for both the dough rise and flavour of your sourdough bread.
Additionally, the amount of water you use can impact the dough’s consistency. More water generally makes a softer, airier loaf, while less water results in denser bread. So don’t underestimate this simple ingredient; it’s a powerhouse that helps bring your sourdough to life.
Only a small amount of salt is used in the process but this tiny amount still has a role to play. Salt enhances the flavour but also controls the fermentation by slowing down the activity of yeast and bacteria, it allows for a steady, controlled rise of your loaf, giving a desirable texture. Plus, it strengthens the dough by tightening the gluten structure, which adds chewiness to your bread. So, a pinch or two of salt makes a world of difference in the final outcome.
The magic ingredient is the sourdough starter but what is it?
Sourdough starter: What is it?
A sourdough starter is a live-cultured mixture of flour and water that acts as a natural leavening agent when baking your sourdough. It uses wild yeast and beneficial bacteria (lactobacilli – lactic acid bacteria) from the environment that helps bread rise without the need for commercial yeast that you would use in traditional bread making. Over time, this mixture of wild yeast and bacteria ferments, developing a tangy aroma and the flavour that we know as sourdough bread. The longer you leave the starter to ferment, the tangier the bread will be.
When the starter is added to the other ingredients in your sourdough (flour, water and salt) the yeast in the starter eats up the starch and the sugar in the flour and makes bubbles of gas (carbon dioxide). This is what makes your bread puff up and not be like a flat pancake! At the same time, there is good bacteria in there making the bread taste a bit tangy. To keep your starter happy and bubbly, you just need to give it some more flour and water from time to time. It’s almost like having a tiny pet in a jar that helps you bake delicious sourdough bread!
However, if you would rather you can purchase your sourdough starter online. One of my favourites is by Freshly Fermented
Is sourdough starter always vegan?
Yes, most of the time. Some manufacturers can add the likes of honey to help it to feed and develop but this is quite rare. Remember however to double check this on your ingredient label.
While traditional sourdough’s charm lies in its simplicity and natural ingredients, store-bought sourdough bread often boasts a longer ingredients list. However, as we know, the culinary world loves to innovate, test out new recipes, and add non-vegan products to our traditional sourdough bread. This means that some sourdough may contain dairy products and therefore is not suitable on a plant-based diet.
Walking down the bread aisle, you’ll encounter various bread types. White bread, which many assume to be simple, can contain dairy derivatives. It’s essential to read labels diligently. Sometimes, dairy and animal-derived ingredients hide behind complex names.
Some other names that mean a product has dairy contained include;
- Hydrolysed Caesin
- Hydrolysed whey protein
- Hydrolysed whey sugar
- Skimmed milk powder
- Whey solids
Many breads, including some sourdough recipes, may contain other animal-derived ingredients like the ones below;
- Animal Fats (e.g., Lard)
- Animal-derived Enzymes: Enzymes like lipase may be used for dough stability.
- Bone Char: This is often used in the processing of some sugars, which might be added to feed the yeast.
- Casein or Caseinate: These could be used as stabalisers or emulsifiers in some commercial (shop bought) bread products.
- Cream or Ghee: to add fat which can increase the richness of the bread.
- Eggs: Both egg whites and yolks might be added for richness and structure, particularly in enriched sourdough breads like brioche.
- Fish-derived Omega-3s: While unlikely in sourdough, some commercial breads add Omega-3s for their health benefits.
- Gelatin: Although rare, it could be used as a stabiliser or gelling agent in some commercial (shop bought) bread products.
- Honey: might be used for sweetness and to feed the yeast in some sourdough recipes.
- L-cysteine: Sometimes used as a dough conditioner, making the dough easier to work with and improving the texture of the final bread.
How to check for vegan sourdough bread
The best way to check your sourdough is vegan and dairy free is to read your ingredients list. Below is an example of a sourdough from the UK that isn’t vegan and one that is.
Sourdough manufacturing processes
If you are eating out and follow a vegan diet then you need to double-check that the bread you choose doesn’t contain any non-vegan ingredients. One thing you might not have thought of is the cooking process, more specifically the tin that the bread was cooking in.
Make sure you ask if the tin was greased with vegan ingredients and not those containing dairy or animal products.
Is sourdough healthier than normal bread?
When it comes to nutrition, sourdough bread brings more to the table than just good taste. For starters, it’s rich in nutrients like B vitamins, which come naturally from the fermentation process.
But what makes sourdough particularly interesting is its impact on phytates.
Phytates are compounds found in grains and seeds that can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium which we don’t want. The fermentation process in sourdough helps to break down these phytates, making it easier for your body to absorb the minerals in the bread and the foods that your pair with your bread.
This is especially beneficial if you follow a vegan diet as plant-based foods often contain phytates that can limit nutrient absorption. Plus, sourdough’s lower glycemic index compared to regular bread makes it a better choice for steady energy levels. So, the next time you reach for a slice, know that you’re getting more than just a tasty treat—you’re opting for a bread with nutritional advantages.
Local Bakeries: A Treasure Trove
Your local artisan bakeries can be a goldmine of information. Engaging with them can offer insights into their baking methods, and many are more than happy to share their sourdough recipes. Local bakers can also create custom breads tailored to your specific needs and they may have some amazing vegan-friendly options.
How to make sourdough at home
The beauty of making sourdough at home is that you know everything that you put in your bread so that it is safe for you and your family. You can decide the type of flour and whether you want to add vegetable oil and vegan butter to give it that extra richness. Plus, there’s something incredibly satisfying about nurturing your own sourdough starter, watching it bubble and grow, ready to use in your home made sourdough.
Here’s one of my favourite sourdough bread recipes from Little Spoon Farm
Branching out: What about a Different Type of Bread
You may also want to try other breads that aren’t sourdough but again just make sure you double check your labels and make sure there are any hidden additional ingredients.
- Whole Wheat Bread: Often vegan, but some recipes might include honey.
- Rye Bread: Typically vegan, but some variants can contain added fats.
- Ciabatta: Its chewy texture often comes without dairy, but again, reading labels is crucial.
- Baguette or French bread: Generally vegan but can be brushed with butter in some recipes.
- Focaccia: The olive oil variant is vegan, but some have dairy toppings.
Wrap up: Making Sense of Sourdough
So, there you have it! We’ve journeyed through the world of sourdough in, ‘Is Sourdough Dairy Free: The Easy and Quick Guide. From its origins, it’s simple ingredients to the unexpected places where dairy and animal-derivatives might hide.
I hope you now feel as confident as I do about bringing home the perfect loaf that everyone in your family can enjoy. Remember the questions we started with? Is sourdough dairy free. Well yes , most of the time.
Whether your breastfeeding your little one with cows milk protein allergy, navigating vegan pregnancy, or just making better-informed choices for your vegan household—knowing is half the battle. Just like we discussed in the beginning, traditional sourdough bread can be a dairy-free lifesaver! So go ahead, remember to check that ingredient list, enjoy your sourdough, and you might even want to give it a go and make your own at home.
Let’s make mealtimes fun!
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Hannah is a respected figure in the field of nutrition. Renowned as an expert dietitian, captivating speaker and sought after media spokesperson being featured in esteemed publications including the Sunday Times, Independent and Huffington Post.
Explore Hannah’s inspiring journey as a mum of two, overcoming her own nutritional struggles. Discover how she empowers fellow mums with valuable nutritional knowledge, ensuring balance and offering support on their personal journey.
Hannah is an Expert Registered Dietitian specialising in Vegan Family Nutrition and Cows Milk Protein Allergy.
She is a respected figure in the field of nutrition and a captivating speaker and sought after media spokesperson being featured in esteemed publications including the Sunday Times, Independent and Huffington Post.
- Registered Dietitian
- First Class Degree in Nutrition
- Over 15 years experience working in the field of nutrition
- Respected Media Spokesperson both in the UK & USA; quoted online, TV and in local and international news
- Writer & Researcher, supporting the BDA and PEN Nutrition