Robert Ditty, one of the UK’s most respected bakers, is convinced sales of so-called sourdough bread would benefit from a change of identity. This conviction is based firmly on his own experience of baking sourdough bread for his successful shops in Castledawson and Magherafelt over the past two years.
In addition to a standard sourdough, Robert, a UK Baker of the Year, recently launched a seeded variety with a range of healthy ingredients including linseeds.
“While we’ve seen a steady rise in sales in the shops, the big problem for sourdough bread is that many people wrongly believe that the bread is sour, which it doesn’t have to be. The bread should certainly have a distinctively tangy flavour. What can lead to a distinctly sour flavour are the conditions in which the bread is made.
“A change of identity would help move what is essentially a healthy bread beyond foodie circles and trendy coffee shops and into the mainstream. It’s basically a very simple bread that’s made from flour, water, and salt. We’ve added to the health benefits of the bread with our seeded sourdough,” he adds.
Sourdough bread, long popular with foodies, especially in the US, doesn’t contain any fat, oil, sugar or preservatives, unlike many mass-produced breads. What produces the sourness is the production process that’s dependent on a “starter’ , a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing microorganisms, including wild yeast and lactobacilli. The starter produces a vigorous leaven and develops the flavour of the bread.
The starter, however, can be affected by environmental and other conditions within the bakery, which can increase the sourness.
“We’ve worked with starters over the year but found these a bit unpredictable and often unstable,” Robert continues. “What we decided to do to maintain consistency in flavour and texture was to use a liquid sour from IREKS, a leading German supplier of sours,” he adds.
The liquid sour provides consistency and stability with a typical sourdough aroma. Other benefits include constant bread quality with a typical crumb texture. Sourdough bread tends to keep its flavour longer than other breads and is also ideal for toasting and for snacks such as paninis. These features also overcome the problem of people being ‘turned off’ by very sourdough bread.
Another investment in the consistency and stability of the sourdough breads is Robert’s purchase of a sophisticated oven which enables him to produce sourdough on the ‘soul’ of the oven, which ensures a crustier product. The bread is baked slowly on special racks above the floor of the oven. “I believe this is the only way to bake sourdough bread,” Robert says.
A long-standing innovator in a wide range of bakery, Robert recently added to his successful oatcake range, popular in markets beyond Northern Ireland, an Armagh Apple Oatcake using cider from Mac Ivors in Armagh to replace buttermilk. The oats are also sourced from Armagh from suppliers including White’s Oats. His oatcakes are listed by top retailers such as Fortnum and Mason in London.
Another local bakery entering the sourdough market recently was Irwin’s in Craigavon, which also uses a liquid sour. Irwin’s sliced sourdough is low in both sugar and fat and is a source of fibre.
Remaining true to the traditional sourdough approach of using a starter is KraziBaker Mark Douglas from Dromore, who has a successful business griddle baking traditional Northern Irish breads such as soda and treacle farls, potato bread and potato apple at farmers’ markets across Northern Ireland including every Saturday in Newtownards. He also bakes sourdough.
“While I recognise that sourdough starter can be affected adversely by our cold climate, I remain a traditionalist in terms of my focus on baking the bread as it has been produced for many decades. My business is based essentially on a commitment to traditional methods. Weather can impact on how the process and result in waste.
“I bake sourdough for customers because it’s healthy and better for the digestive system and more nutritious. However, sourdough doesn’t appeal to every customer because of its distinctive flavour and aroma,” he adds.
Ken McNaul, who runs Go Yeast in Donaghadee with wife Ann, is another traditionalist. He used heritage flour to create his sourdough which he sells every month at Comber and The Inns markets.
Why the interest in sourdough? Sourdough is regarded as being healthier because it is said to be more digestible. Lactic acids make the vitamins and minerals in the flour more available to the body.
The acids slow down the rate at which glucose is released into the bloodstream and lower the bread’s glycaemic index (GI), so it doesn’t cause undesirable spikes in insulin. They also render the gluten in flour more digestible and less likely to cause food intolerance.