ABIM’s definition of sourdough has already come under fire

Sourdough or ‘sourfaux’? It’s a conundrum artisan bakers have been imploring the industry to tackle for years, as bakery behemoths market mass-produced loaves, made to a range of specifications, as the real McCoy.

Last week, the Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers (ABIM) sought to settle the matter with the first-ever sourdough code of practice.

So will the guidelines clear things up?

Contentious definition

A major point of contention is the code’s definition of sourdough, which permits bread made with up to 0.2% compressed bakers’ yeast. Real Bread Campaign co-ordinator Chris Young condemns this allowance as an “insult to bakers who make genuine sourdough and to people who hand over their hard-earned cash”.

The code also allows products made without live sourdough as the principal leavening agent to be labelled as ‘with’ sourdough or sourdough ‘flavour’.

The inclusion of yeast in these ways is a cop-out, say critics, allowing manufacturers to “still get the s-word on pack, without having to invest in skilled staff”, as an industry source put it.

They also call into question the objectivity of the five-year exercise, with the likes of Warburtons and Jacksons helping to draw up the ABIM code.

Warburtons was named as one of the worst-offending bakery brands in a 20-strong list of prolific sourfaux offenders published by the Real Bread Campaign in August 2022, with three of its lines falsely marketed as sourdough under its own definitions.


Bertinet Bakery’s Anomarel Ogen sees the code as at least a ‘good first step in the right direction’

Among retailers, Tesco and Waitrose were also singled out on three own-label loaves.

Warburtons says the names of its products already comply with the code, adding that confusion may have arisen from descriptions on retailers’ websites, which vary. Tesco says its products are labelled clearly and in line with the code. And Waitrose notes all its bread is “clearly labelled in accordance with the UK Bread and Flour Regulations”.

Despite this, the Real Bread Campaign has only awarded two brands its official Sourdough Loaf Mark to use on pack: Bertinet Bakery and Celtic Bakers. According to Bertinet Bakery executive head Anomarel Ogen, ABIM’s new guidelines raise “red flags” for genuine sourdough manufacturers, with “any inclusion of yeast” a non-starter “so far as sourdough bread is concerned” he says.

But Ogen also sees the code as a “good first step”, as it clamps down on the use of improvers: “things that give the flavour and appearance of sourdough”.

And he knows of no other country that has “done this well” in setting sourdough ground rules – not even France, where there are “a lot of holes that can be exploited”.

“What I think about the code really depends on whether this is where it stays,” he says.

Modern Baker co-founder Leo Campbell also thinks ABIM deserves credit. “No other industry body is offering a better solution. Solving the sourdough squabble is an unenviable task. No side will ever be satisfied, but all credit to the ABIM for having a go.”

Campbell argues the dispute is distracting from “much more important issues in bakery, not least last week’s publication from Imperial College which adds to the growing evidence that mass-produced breads are likely to negatively impact our health, including the risk of cancer”.

Brands should focus on creating nutritionally superior options “the public are crying out for”, adds Campbell.