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Sourdough research yields sweet results


Edmonton, AB – Researchers at the University of Alberta have found a way to replace artificial preservatives in bread, making it tastier.

After analyzing strains of mould fermented in sourdough bread, Michael Gänzle, professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, PhD candidate Brenna Black and collaborator Jonathan Curtis, a professor of lipids research, were able to isolate natural compounds that can help keep bread fresh without altering its flavour.

Preservatives currently added to store-bought bread are safe to eat and extend shelf life, but change the taste and have a distinctive odour, Gänzle said. “Preservatives invariably alter the flavour and smell of bread in a certain way.”

“The scientific community has always known that sourdough bread has a longer shelf life than conventionally leavened bread, but we weren’t sure why, and this study has been able to uncover a large part of that,” said Black, who led the research as part of her thesis.

The research is the first to link certain compounds — hydroxy fatty acids — to antifungal activity and to show that these compounds are formed in the production of fermented foods. “We were able to put known compounds in quite a new context,” Gänzle said.

The findings also have the potential to be used in replacing or supplementing fungicides used in treating crop seeds and protecting crops. The results appear in the March 6 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Reported by Bev Betkowski