Sourdough may be the key to better gluten-free bread

University Park, Pennsylvania—Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease triggered by the consumption of gluten that can severely limit a person’s food choices, both at home and when dining out. However, Penn State and Colorado State University researchers may have found a dietary game-changer for people with celiac disease or related gluten intolerances. At the heart of this research is sourdough bread. Why? Sourdough contains less gluten than other breads, making it easier for people with gluten sensitivities to tolerate.

The research team is currently investigating whether the bacteria in the sourdough starter needed to make sourdough bread can help reduce gluten in various other bread products.

Gluten, a protein naturally found in grains including wheat, barley and rye, is known to trigger immune responses in people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten intolerance is generally characterized by adverse gastrointestinal symptoms after eating gluten-rich foods. According to the National Institutes of Health, these diseases are expected to affect about 7% of the U.S. population. One percent of this population has celiac disease. The incidence of celiac disease has increased by 7.5% annually over the past few decades, reflecting the increasing prevalence of autoimmune diseases worldwide.

Now, co-principal investigators Josephine Wee, assistant professor of food science at Penn State, and Charlene Van Buiten, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University, have received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This not only allows them to study whether sourdough starter microbiomes can detoxify gluten in breads – making them safe for people with celiac disease – but also hopes to determine whether food scientists can manipulate them to improve bread quality and safety.

Penn State Summer Research Opportunities Program scholar Maya Tanikawa Brown (left) and food science graduate student Ashley Ostrom study sourdough fermentation. They evaluated the activity of sourdough cultures by observing dough fermentation and bubble formation. Each of these sourdoughs contains a variety of fungal and bacterial species that contribute to unique dough characteristics, such as appearance and smell, and ultimately create a unique sourdough bread. (Photo credit: Jillian Wesner/Penn State University. All rights reserved.)

Professor Huang pointed out that traditional bread dough uses baker’s yeast to replace naturally occurring yeast and bacteria, known as sourdough fermentation.Sourdough bread is made from fermented wild animal dough Lactobacilliaceae and yeast, and fermented with a starter culture or naturally occurring bacterial and yeast communities, distributed and maintained at room temperature through a series of channels. These communities are collectively known as the sourdough microbiome.

Professor Wee said in a media release that research on 500 sourdough starters collected from around the world showed that no two starters are exactly the same and that little is currently known about the capabilities of the sourdough microbiome. few. The results of this work will leverage the whole food microbiome to develop fermentation technologies to meet the next generation of consumer demands for high-quality clean label products with low gluten immunogenicity.

Immunogenicity refers to the ability of cells or tissues to elicit adverse immune responses. Clean label means using as few ingredients as possible to make a product, and making sure those ingredients are products that consumers recognize and view as healthful, or less processed. For example, ingredients they might use at home.

According to Custom Markets Insights, bread production worldwide exceeds 100 million tons per year and is worth $201 billion. However, bread is also a major source of food waste due to spoilage, overproduction and changing consumer preferences. Professor Huang added that current bread production practices cannot meet demand, so innovative approaches aimed at improving quality and reducing waste are needed.

Professor Wee concluded, “With combined expertise in food microbiology and nutritional biochemistry, our team is interested in characterizing the relationship between the sourdough microbiome, bread quality and gluten immunogenicity.” We hope that the results of this study will impact functional outcomes on bread quality and safety.

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