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Is Sourdough Vegan?
We’ve Got the Answer

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: April 6, 2021

Global lockdowns have pushed people to make their bread, and many are knee-deep in trying to keep their sourdough starter alive and beautiful.

But, as the new food trends rise, further questions surface.

This time vegans ask if this delicious type of bread is vegan-friendly. Let's find out together!

What is Sourdough?

A top view of a sourdough bread

If you know about different types of bread, then you've undoubtedly heard of sourdough.

Rather than using packaged yeast, sourdough grows and rises due to wild yeast. Sourdough is a thick batter made of flour and water.

Sourdough Starter

The magic of sourdough may start with flour and water, but yeast spores and lactobacilli from the flour and environment help the sourdough start growing.

The yeast feeds on available sugar and starts fermenting and multiplying. The process also creates alcohol and acid that bubble away into gasses.

After feeding the mixture for about a week, you should have a yeasty, fruity, part boozy, and part sweet-smelling thick batter.

If you take good care of it, the starter can last you indefinitely.

Ingredients

Sourdough starter in a container

To avoid confusion, let's clear one thing: sourdough is not the same as sourdough bread. Sourdough is something you add to bread.

Historians believe sourdough starter dates back more than 5000 years [1].

Modern-day "baker's yeast" is only around 200 years old, so all bread was technically sourdough bread for a very long time.

The basic ingredients — flour, water, salt, and sometimes oil are the same in almost all sourdough recipes. The flour-water mixture works with virtually any bread flour.

The yeast feeds on available sugar and starts fermenting and multiplying. The process also creates alcohol and acid that bubble away into gasses.

After feeding the mixture for about a week, you should have a yeasty, fruity, part boozy, and part sweet-smelling thick batter.

If you take good care of it, the starter can last you indefinitely.

Is It Vegan-Friendly?

Yes! Sourdough is vegan-friendly! There are no animal ingredients whatsoever. Sourdough is entirely 100% vegan.

Sourdough indeed grows with the help of living bacteria, but let's get into more detail here.

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” — Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society and coiner of the word vegan.

So, even though bacteria are living organisms, they don’t have a central nervous system and can’t feel pain. This makes them technically vegan-friendly.

Is Sourdough Bread Vegan?

Half sliced sourdough bread

While all sourdough is vegan, not every sourdough bread is.

Sourdough bread is made from a vegan sourdough starter, but it can contain some non-vegan ingredients.

Most store-bought sourdough bread is cross-contaminated with dairy, milk, butter, eggs, and other non-vegan ingredients, but the batter itself can also contain animal-derived ingredients.

Even though this isn’t the norm, you should always be careful when buying vegan sourdough bread and read the ingredients list carefully.

Sourdough Bread Ingredients

Sourdough bread with flour surrounding it

of bread. Usually, vegan sourdough bread contains:

  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Oil (usually olive oil)
  • Flour (usually wheat flour)
  • Sourdough

Even though these are the most typical ingredients, different recipes may require some other non-typical ingredients.

3 Non-Vegan Ingredients

Close up image of a sliced sourdough bread

Even though sourdough bread is made from plant-based ingredients, vegans should be mostly concerned with non-essential and often non-vegan ingredients added to the dough to enhance its taste.

The safest way to avoid this is to make the bread at home.

But, if baking isn't your thing or you want to try out different store-bought sourdough bread, here's what you need to pay attention to before grabbing a loaf.

1. Starter Feed

Before we even get to the dough, you should examine the bread starter.

To get a nice dough starter, it needs to be fed to grow. The feed is traditionally simple — water, flour, or a mix of both. However, some breads might be made from starters fed with processed sugar, honey, and milk, making the loaf not suitable for vegans.

2. Sweeteners

An occasional sourdough recipe will require sweeteners. However, read the label carefully and make sure the included sweetener isn’t honey or white sugar processed with animal char bone.

Breads made with these types of sweeteners aren’t suitable for a plant-based diet.

3. Dairy and Milk Products

Luckily, dairy and milk products are much easier to spot.

There are tons of cheese-based sourdough breads, such as cheddar sourdough bread, garlic and cheese sourdough bread, cheese and chive bread, and lots of other breads made with milk products.

Many bread makers also add pancetta, bacon, butter, dairy, eggs, and other non-vegan, animal-derived ingredients.

These added ingredients should always be noted in the ingredients list, so be sure to pay special attention to them.

  • Milk — some cafes and restaurants make sourdough breads with milk but don’t note that in their menus. That’s why I recommend you either ask the staff or the cook about all ingredients added to the dough.
  • Eggs — the same recipes may have added eggs for a softer texture, which isn’t good news for vegans. My advice is the same as with dairy products.

Is It Always Vegan?

Sourdough bread is usually vegan, but not always. An occasional store, cafe, or restaurant recipe will require ingredients such as milk, eggs, butter, and honey, so be sure to always ask for the details.

Is It Healthier than Regular Bread?

A sourdough beside a regular bread

Sourdough bread is often considered a healthier alternative to regular bread.

There's an ongoing debate, but researchers have discovered that sourdough bread may be slightly better for your health.

  • Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index score than other loaves of bread, and paired with other whole-grain bread; sourdough bread can improve glycemic homeostasis [2].
  • Sourdough bread is often easier to digest compared to other breads because of its prebiotic content.
  • Sourdough bread is less processed than the typical bread and also has less additives.
  • Sourdough bread made from whole grain flour is considered one of the healthiest breads.

Quick Homemade Recipe

Half sliced sourdough bread on top of a chopping board

If you like baking and want to make your sourdough bread vegan, here’s a simple recipe I love.

You’ll need:

  • 3.9oz sourdough starter
  • 12.3oz + 2tbsp room temperature water
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 ¾ tsp fine salt

Instructions:

  1. Add the starter and water to a large bowl and whisk them together until you get a smooth, lump-free texture. The mixture should look frothy and milky. Leave it for some five minutes to thicken.
  2. Next up, add the flour and salt, and incorporate them well with a spatula until you combine them well and there's no longer dry flour. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to incorporate everything.
  3. Then, cover the bowl with a damp clean dish towel or a lid, and let it sit for about an hour. The dough will be sticky, so mist it with some water or wet your hands.
  4. Give the dough a little knead, shape it into a loaf, buns, or whichever shape you like. Place the dough on a baking tray, put in a warm place, and leave it there for 12 hours.
  5. When the dough has doubled in size, preheat your oven to 350℉.
  6. Bake the bread either for 50–60 or until the surface becomes golden brown and crispy.
  7. Still, you can also give it a little poke with a needle. If the needle comes out of the bread clean — it's done.
  8. Let it cool for about half an hour before serving.

Things to Look Out For

Sliced sourdough bread on top of a chopping board

To sum it up, if you want to be 100% positive your vegan bread is indeed vegan, you need to pay attention to the following things:

  • Enriched bread may contain ingredients that aren't vegan, such as eggs and butter.
  • Bread tins may be greased with non-vegan oils and animal fat, so pay attention to the label.
  • Be wary of sweeteners like processed sugar and honey, as they’re not vegan.
  • Some starters are fed non-vegan foods like milk, processed sugar, and honey to boost their activity.
  • Pay attention to the four used if you have a wheat allergy.

Are Sourdough and Sourdough Bread Vegan?

Yes, vegans can enjoy this bread, but you need to be careful and choose the ones made only with vegan ingredients.

Share your favorite recipes and vegan brands in the comments!


References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/sourdough-bread
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3317179/

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