Sliced sourdough bread

CALGARY, ALTA. — Research at the University of Alberta will seek to determine whether the process used to make sourdough bread could lead to more easily digested food for people who are sensitive to wheat consumption.

“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that sourdough bread is tolerated by consumers with non-celiac wheat or gluten intolerance, but the science is not available to back up those claims,” said Michael Gänzle, a food microbiologist at the University of Alberta who received a doctorate in natural sciences from the University of Hohenheim in Germany. “We aim to determine whether fermentation reduces or eliminates individual wheat components that are known or suspect to cause adverse effects.”

The project aims to develop more easily digestible products for gluten-sensitive people, but the research will not create products for people with celiac disease that must avoid gluten.

The project is receiving cross-border funding over three years with the Alberta Wheat Commission providing $70,000, the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission providing $57,250, and the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council providing $20,000.

The sourdough bread fermentation process breaks down proteins and carbohydrates in wheat flour that are known to cause wheat sensitivity. The project aims to better understand whether the fermentation process is sufficient in reducing adverse effects. Dr. Gänzle plans to define best practices that will allow the bread to be digested more easily. The project is expected to be completed in 2021.

“This is a unique project that has exciting potential for the baking industry,” said Laura Reiter, chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, Saskatoon, Sask. “We hope the results will lead to products that more people can enjoy while creating new market opportunities for grain farmers.”

The Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, Red Lake Falls, Minn., will partner with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, Crookston, Minn., in the effort, said Tony Brateng, a farmer in Roseau, Minn., and research committee chair for the council.

“When we learned of Dr. Gänzle’s research, we saw tremendous value in the expected outcomes related to the consumption of wheat-based foods,” he said.

Terry Young, director and research committee chair for the Alberta Wheat Commission, Calgary, said, “Wheat is a nutritious ingredient and a food staple for the vast majority of the consuming public. It’s life’s simple ingredient, but for those who cannot enjoy it because of digestion sensitivity, we saw investment in Dr. Gänzle’s project as an opportunity to determine if there is a link to the bread production process.”