The row erupted after a group of five trade bodies attempted to get the British government to introduce a baking code of practice, called ‘UK Baking Industry Code of Practice for the Labelling of Sourdough Bread and Rolls’, which would officially decree what constitutes sourdough bread.
The group – made up of the British Sandwich and Food To Go Association, Craft Bakers’ Association, Federation of Bakers, and the Pizza, Pasta and Italian Food Association – said it was aiming to “clarify the term and prevent misinformation when it is applied to products in the UK bakery market”.
But the Real Bread Campaign, which is run by food and farming charity Sustain, complained the group was trying to create “a cheats’ charter that attempts to legitimise abusing people’s growing love of sourdough by hijacking the word”.
Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young said: “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 have a negative impact on Real Bread bakeries of all sizes that bake genuine sourdough.”
The Real Bread Campaign has written to Defra, the UK government department responsible for food standards, urging it to reject the proposed code.
Amoung its objections were that the code would permit ‘where space and skills are lacking’ the use of so-called processing aids (which would not appear in ingredient lists), other additives, baker's yeast and other leavening agents ‘that help to simplify the process’. “None of these is used in making genuine sourdough bread,” it said.
Since 2009 the Real Bread Campaign has been lobbying for an Honest Crust Act. This would update the current loaf labelling law in the UK to include what it called “a clear, legal definition of sourdough bread as made without any additives and leavened only by a live sourdough starter culture”.
‘Sourdough is not a bandwagon to be jumped upon’
Real Bread Campaign stressed that sourdough ‘isn’t a brand, fashion, fad or bandwagon to be jumped upon: It’s the oldest way of leavening dough’.
“When crafted skillfully, sourdough bread is aromatic, delicious and - importantly - there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that it might offer a number of nutritional and other health benefits,” it said.
“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.”
Consumers in the UK, it added, are legally protected from the misuse of descriptors including wholemeal, organic, high fibre, low salt and low sugar; while the potentially-confusing word wheatmeal was banned altogether. As such, it said “people should be given similar protection from misuse of bread/bakery descriptors including wholegrain, freshly-baked, sourdough and artisan.”
Young added: “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. 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.”
Gordon Polson, Chief Executive of the Federation of Bakers, confirmed a draft code of conduct had been presented to Defra.
“A draft of the Baking Industry Code of Practice for the Labelling of Sourdough Bread and Rolls has been presented to Defra. We look forward to discussing it with Defra as an important step in helping with labelling sourdough following guidelines which have been established in other EU countries.”