The Real Bread Campaign, run by Sustain, an advocate for good food and agriculture practices, has stated that a recent document sent to The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is a “cheats’ charter,” as it attempts to legitimize abusing the love of sourdough by hijacking the word. A group of five trade bodies presented Defra with a “UK Baking Industry Code of Practice for the Labeling of Sourdough Bread and Rolls.” The group says that it aims to “clarify the term and prevent misinformation when it is applied to products in the UK bakery market.”
This scheme comes at a time when interest in “real food” and naturalness in ingredients is rising, while fermented products maintain their popularity.
The newly proposed code of practice includes three different uses of the word “sourdough”, and “where space and skills are lacking” would permit the use of so-called processing aids, other additives, baker’s yeast and other leavening agents “that help to simplify the process.” None of the above are used in making genuine sourdough bread.
The Real Bread Campaign has written to Defra, urging the UK government department to reject the proposed code, about which shoppers, consumer organizations and the majority of Britain’s genuine sourdough bakers were not consulted.
To help enable shoppers to make better-informed buying choices, and to create a more level playing field for all bakeries, since 2009, the Real Bread Campaign has been lobbying for an Honest Crust Act. This legislation would include a clear, legal definition of sourdough bread made without any additives and leavened only by a live sourdough starter culture.
“We believe that the industrial loaf fabricators’ proposed code undermines the integrity of the word sourdough with muddled meanings that would make things more, not less, confusing for shoppers. Its adoption would create a sourfaux free-for-all, which would also harm Real Bread bakeries of all sizes that bake genuine sourdough,” explains Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young.
The Real Bread Campaign also believes that “sourdough isn’t a brand, fashion, fad or bandwagon to be jumped upon: it’s the oldest way of leavening dough.”
When crafted well, sourdough bread is aromatic and – importantly – there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that it might offer many nutritional and other health benefits. These can only be brought about through long fermentation of dough by a live sourdough starter culture of yeasts and lactic acid bacteria that occur naturally on the surface of grains and, therefore, in flour.
Fundamentally, for whatever reasons people need or choose to seek out or avoid a particular ingredient or additive, this should be protected by law. People are legally protected from the misuse of descriptors, including wholemeal, organic, high fiber, low salt and low sugar, while the potentially-confusing word wheatmeal was banned altogether. The Campaign believes that people should be given similar protection from misuse of bread/bakery descriptors, including wholegrain, freshly-baked, sourdough and artisan, Sustain highlights.
“We work with hundreds of bakeries that create more jobs per loaf through crafting genuine sourdough and other Real Bread to nourish people in their local communities,” Young continues. “Industrial loaf manufacturers came late to the sourdough game and are now attempting to bully their way in as if they own it. Sidelining the true custodians of the ancient craft, trying to rewrite the rules to suit their own commercial needs, and cashing in with fundamentally different products is just wrong,” he notes.
In November 2018, the Real Bread Campaign secured a commitment from Defra that it would review the use of the term sourdough, and other loaf labeling and marketing legislation after Britain leaves the EU.