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​Sourdough; A Wheat Bread Tolerated by the Gluten Sensitive?

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When I first heard gluten antigens were “deativated” in sourdough bread I was quite intrigued. After all, it makes sense. Given enough time bacteria and yeast will multiply and eat most of the protein in the process, including gluten.

Full disclosure; it didn't work. My gluten sensitive friends had their normal negative, albeit somewhat diminished, reaction to eating any foods that contain gluten.

Why read on? Some gluten sensitive people can eat a sourdough prepared this way. It certainly had an effect on the dough. The procedure outlined here produced dough completely different in consistency from gluten elastic wheat flour dough.

In fact, there are a few scientific papers that developed a sourdough wheat bread that was tolerated by some subjects with Celiac Disease (CD). They used different combinations of cultured yeast and Lactobacillus sp. bacteria [1,2]. Other studies went a step further by adding fungal proteases to the sourdough mix to chop up the wheat gluten in bread and pasta [3-5]. Protease hydrolyzed sourdough wheat bread was tolerated by most, but not all, of the CD patients.

Being a nature girl myself I wasn't keen on trying out protease as a first attempt. So I stuck with developing a recipe based on naturally culturing bacteria from the air and yeast from the flour.

Start with the starter. The flour on day one should be whole grain because it contains the yeast necessary for a rise. For subsequent days, use the flour you prefer for baking. By feeding your flour to the mix you will select for the bacteria that will efficiently munch the gluten content in your favorite flour.

The water needs to be chlorine free the Lactobacillus bacteria and yeast can thrive.

Day 1:

½ cup whole grain flour

¼ cup water

Mix, stir and cover with a clean towel.

Store in a place with a constant temperature of about 72 or warmer (Top of the fridge always works well).

The remainder can be kept in a jar in the fridge.  Feed weekly to keep it alive.

The remainder can be kept in the fridge. Just feed weekly to keep it alive.

Day 2-5 or more, Daily feeding:

¼ cup flour

¼ cup water

Stir, cover and return to incubation area.

Day 3

Day 3 after mixing in the flour and water.

Around day 3...

You should notice some bubbles and some yeasty and fruity smells. It should look like slightly darker sort of gray flour and water. If you notice any other colors or putrid smells throw it out and start over.

If it is cold in your house you might need to feed your starter beyond day 5 until it is nice and bubbly.

When the starter is bubbling away it is time to make dough:

4 cups whole wheat flour

½ cup olive oil

1 cup starter

1 cup plus of cold water

2 tsp salt

Add first three ingredients to mixer bowl and mix with a dough hook. Add water until dough forms a ball. Add a little more water and continue mixing/kneading for a few minutes. Slather dough ball with olive oil and place in a bowl. Cover with a clean towel and return to incubation area.

You are going to let this dough rise for at least 3 days so the wee critters can munch on that gluten. So everything stays hydrated you want the dough to be a little wetter than normal bread dough. Dough should double in size. After the dough has risen mix in up to a ½ cup sugar or honey, to balance the sour, if desired.

Dough doubled in size.

Since there is little or no whole gluten left the dough is a bit hard to work with. I could not roll it out for pizza dough without it breaking apart during transfer. Instead you have to work the dough into pizza form with your fingers. The loaf spreads out during baking so it would be better to use a bread pan than rolling it into a baguette shape. On the plus side, no need for kneading to work the gluten. Bake bread at 350°F for an hour, pizza bake at 450°F until desired doneness.


The 3 day fermentation makes this dough sour! Some recipes recommend discarding half the starter every time you feed it to keep the acidity down. I decided not to do this because of the long incubation for the dough. I wanted to select for bacteria that could tolerate acidic pH. The discard method may be something worth trying.

Fungal proteases are commercially available in some Proteolytic Enzymes Capsules available on health supplement websites. So it would be possible to experiment with that as well. The paper by Greco et al. (2011) uses a 2 day incubation at 99°F with fungal proteases, Lactobacillus sp. and yeast.

In my journal searches I also came across papers that used sourdough to improve bread made from gluten-free flours [6, 7]. The sourdough method does produce a lovely bubbly dough. So this is the direction I will be experimenting with next...

If you made it to the end of this blog and you are wondering what does this have to do with mushrooms? It is a stretch but yeast are a fungi. The other Microbes, mostly Lactobacillus sp., are something that many of us incorporate into our diets in the form of yogurt. If you are squeemish about culturing what might be in your air you could try a scoop full of your favorite yogurt to create a starter.

1. Cagno, R.d., et al., Proteolysis by sourdough lactic acid bacteria: effects on wheat flour protein fractions and gliadin peptides involved in human cereal intolerance. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2002. 68(2): p. 623-633.

2. Di Cagno, R., et al., Sourdough bread made from wheat and nontoxic flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2004. 70(2): p. 1088-1096.

3. Greco, L., et al., Safety for Patients With Celiac Disease of Baked Goods Made of Wheat Flour Hydrolyzed During Food Processing. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 2011. 9(1): p. 24-29.

4. Curiel, J.A., et al., Manufacture and characterization of pasta made with wheat flour rendered gluten-free using fungal proteases and selected sourdough lactic acid bacteria. Journal of Cereal Science, 2014. 59(1): p. 79-87.

5. Rizzello, C.G., et al., Use of fungal proteases and selected sourdough lactic acid bacteria for making wheat bread with an intermediate content of gluten. Food Microbiology, 2014. 37: p. 59-68.

6. Ternovskoy, G., et al., Application of sour dough in the production of gluten free bread. Acta Scientiarum Polonorum - Technologia Alimentaria, 2013. 12(4): p. 355-358.

7. Campo, E., et al., Impact of sourdough on sensory properties and consumers' preference of gluten-free breads enriched with teff flour. Journal of Cereal Science, 2016. 67: p. 75-82.