Angry bakers ‘dismayed’ lack of action on sourdough imitations

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Eva-Katalin
Image: Getty/Eva-Katalin

Related tags: Bread, sourdough

Artisan bakers in the UK are complaining that supermarkets are continuing to sell incorrectly labelled sourdough bread.

According to the Real Bread Campaign, ‘genuine’ sourdough bread is made using a live sourdough starter culture, while relatively low levels of naturally-occurring yeast means that dough takes longer to rise than if made using usual amounts of baker’s yeast.

Big grocery chains, however, are misleading consumers by selling fake or ‘sourfaux’ bread at a premium over standard loaves but made via a different process which lacks the taste and nutritional benefits of the real thing.

The government meanwhile is refusing to review loaf labelling and marketing laws, despite promising to do so back in 2018.

On 27 August 2022, the Campaign exposed more than 20 examples of what it calls sourfaux. Current regulations are allowing retailers to sell unwrapped bread without displaying full lists of ingredients and any additives used, it revealed. Manufacturers also need not declare additives deemed to be ‘processing aids’ even on wrapped loaves, though residues and by-products are permitted to remain in the finished product. Companies meanwhile are able to market re-baked products as ‘freshly baked’, ‘baked in store’, ‘baked every day’ and similar, even if they were in fact made and first baked in a factory elsewhere - even overseas. The process uses around twice as much energy as baking once, and results in products that stale very quickly, increasing the risk of food waste.

It further complained that undefined terms including wholegrain, sourdough, artisan and heritage/ancient grains are used to name and market substantively different products.

“Some industrial loaf fabricators and other crafty bakers want a slice of the sourdough market but don’t want to invest the extra time, knowledge and skills necessary to create great, genuine sourdough bread,”​ said Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young, adding: “How can companies justify charging premium prices for products manufactured by standard processes? Why is more not being done to protect shoppers? Someone trying to pass off vodka with a drop of scotch in it as single malt whisky would be stopped. Why is this sourfaux free for all being allowed to continue?”​ 

The Real Bread Campaign’s Sourdough September is continuing to lobby for a change in legislation to force all bakeries and sandwich sellers to display full ingredients lists for all loaves.

It claims this move is supported by more than 150 bakery owners and workers who signed a recent letter to Defra​ and by more than 1000 people who wrote to their MPs.

The government, however, stated that existing legislation ensures that food is “labelled effectively to enable consumers to make informed choices on the food they buy and consume”.

Young said: “We believe that current regulations are not fit for purpose, do not support small bakery owners and do not protect shoppers adequately. As the majority of people buy products sold as bread, we believe that ignoring their needs is an insult to practically everyone in the UK. Combined with the absence of adequate intervention and support in the face of skyrocketing costs, it feels like the government has chosen to abandon the owners of small Real Bread bakeries that help to keep our high streets alive.”

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