Perceived as healthier than regular loaves, sourdoughs’ recent popularity means bakers are now having to become increasingly creative to make theirs stand out

Sourdough and rye loaves have helped drive the surge of interest in artisan bread, but risk becoming victims of their own success.

Once offering craft bakers a real point of difference from more mainstream retailers, they have become ubiquitous. Setting aside the argument about what a ‘true’ sourdough or rye loaf is, products labelled as such can be found in bakers and retailers of all sizes from c-stores to hypermarkets.

In this market, craft bakers must work harder than ever to make their offer stand out from the crowd, and interesting flavours and good looks present big opportunities.

 “We produce basic sourdoughs made with a wheat starter, but what we enjoy doing is creating sourdough breads with new flavours such as quinoa and chia,” says Melissa Sharp of Modern Baker, which also puts sauerkraut and other vegetables in breads to boost its flavour and looks.

Baltic-styled business Karaway Bakery in East London, claims to produce the widest range of rye flavours in the UK. “There are a variety of flavour profiles that appeal to British consumers,” says owner Nadia Gencas, adding that her Lithuanian scalded rye contains caraway seeds.

“We always tend to add caraway as that gives it an extra bit of punch and enhances the natural rye flavours,” she says. “These are unusual flavours, but people love them.”

Ingredients supplier Bakels suggests rye breads styled after those from Scandinavian and Germanic countries can add value and offer a different appearance and flavour profile. The business has launched a Country Oven Rye Bread Concentrate that is inspired by Nordic and Germanic rye breads.

“We know consumers across the UK have a diverse variety of tastes,” says Bakels marketing manager Michael Schofield. “That’s why we have created a versatile concentrate, which bakers can use to produce rye breads to suit local palates.”

While the term ‘sourdough’ is often synonymous with rye, other cereal sources result in interesting flavours, according to supplier Lesaffre. “Sourdough can be used in wheat breads to create more subtle and delicate flavour profiles that may be more appealing to consumers who are still relative newcomers to sourdough,” explains technical manager Sara Autton. “Sourdough can add a new dimension to the flavour of sweet, yeast-raised products: brioche and panetonne are two typical products that often use sourdough, but fruit breads, teacakes and other sweet goods are all candidates for flavour enhancement by sourdough.”

Aryzta Food Solutions recently rolled out a spiced fruit & nut sourdough loaf described as offering a “subtle flavour, open crumb texture and crisp rich crust”.

Another big supporter of the opportunities presented by new sourdough flavours is chef Damian Wawrzyniak, who has been working on a visually striking potato bread. “My goal was to achieve a completely black bread, but to not lose

the colour during oxidation,” says Wawrzyniak. “Once we started serving this black potato bread, it became a sensation on our tasting menu.”

Also guaranteed to catch the eye is his latest sourdough, which is completely covered in savoy cabbage leaves (pictured p31). “This is something visually attractive but it originated in old Polish recipes many years ago,” says Wawrzyniak.

While a large loaf can catch the attention of customers, he adds that smaller products also have a role to play. “Baking  a few smaller versions in shapes of round or mini loafs are very attractive to our clients, and also visually attractive. A mini loaf can be served with selections of pickles, while the larger bread would be perfect when accompanied with bone marrow fat spread or various jams.”

Gencas at Karaway Bakery also produces mini loaves, which she says work well as a canapé base when sliced. And the bakery uses four types of malt to give its loaves a different colour. “Our rye breads tend to be much darker, sometimes as dark as a chocolate colour,” Gencas explains.

“We experiment with toppings and seeds and have one rye loaf that is covered in oats – an almost black loaf  with white light oats does stand out. We also use different shapes, including breads baked in panettone tins to create round slices that can be used for open sandwiches.”

In addition to having a role to play in the appearance of a loaf, ingredients can also be used to drive marketing messages.

 “Use them as part of the brand, tagline or descriptor,” says  Edme sales director Mike Carr. “Concepts such as malted rye flakes, naked barley flakes and sprouted rye grains send positive cues to consumers – particularly when used in conjunction with sourdough and rye breads.”

Wawrzyniak also stresses the role of recipes and ingredients when marketing sourdoughs. “I have spent over three months selecting flour with the perfect percentage of ash. Recipes must be adapted and be very flexible regarding temperatures,” he explains.

“Those factors are important to address to customers and explain how much effort has been placed in each recipe, and what ingredients we are using. Local and sourced from friendly neighbourhood suppliers would be most appreciated by each buyer.”

Finding a common language that is helpful to consumers is key, says Lesaffre, which has developed guides featuring terms designed to bridge the linguistic barriers between consumers and bakers.

“So far, lexicons for crusty breads, croissant and sandwich bread have been created,” adds Autton. “Terms are divided into flavour types that are commonly found in all kinds of baked products. These lexicons have been developed in collaboration with industry and are a useful tool for communicating flavour descriptions to consumers.”

Gut instinct: sourdough plays the health card

Gut health has become a key focus for many consumers of late and has already been flagged up as a major bakery trend for 2018.

 “Sourdough is generally perceived to be better for your gut because the mother dough has a wild yeast rather than actual yeast,” says food industry expert Jane Milton. “The process of making sourdough bread means the wild yeast neutralises phytic acids in the bread, which makes it easier to digest.”

“It also means you get more minerals in these breads because, normally, phytic acids would stop your body absorbing them. So there are many reasons why certain breads are good for you.”

Educating customers about the health benefits of sourdough and rye bread is one way to help products stand out, says Puratos.

“Consumer knowledge is still lacking; while only 35% of UK consumers know that bread contains fibre, for example, 66% believe it adds to ‘healthiness’,” says Puratos UK marketing director Francesca Bandelli. “In the case of sourdough, the current consumer interest in gut health means the fermentation process is a particular point of interest. Adding extra ingredients to both sourdough and rye breads is another way to boost vitamin, mineral, protein and fibre content.” 

AB Mauri also believes sourdough is well-placed to tap the health and wellness market.

“Bakers can take advantage of this opportunity, particularly when utilised in combination with seeds, ancient grains, selected fruits or wider inclusions, such as olives,” adds AB Mauri managing director Andrew Pollard.

Rising to the free-from challenge

While demand for gluten-free baked goods continues to rise, producing free-from sourdough presents technical challenges.

 “These mainly centre on aeration and texture as gluten provides both of these charac-teristics by stabilising the air bubbles during baking, as well as providing elasticity and firmness in texture,” says Professor Kathy Groves, head of microscopy at Leatherhead Food Research.

“Ingredients to replace wheat and other gluten-containing starches don’t give the full textural properties consumers like, often producing dry, crumbly textures.”

However, Groves says a blueprint of the product can help developers create a gluten-free sourdough bread. “Blueprinting is a science-based approach, that creates a map of the product, showing the ingredients, their state, how they are distributed throughout the product and which ones are responsible for the product’s properties,” Groves adds.

“Armed with this knowledge, manufacturers can evaluate the effects of different ingredients and processing technologies on a product, enabling them to create a gluten-free sourdough bread that closely matches the properties of a regular sourdough loaf.”