A Brief History of Sourdough

By Mena Borges-Gillette, Ph.D.

 Bread SRSLY Sourdough Toast


Hey there! I'm Mena. Thanks for joining me as we journey through time and learn about sourdough. While the history of sourdough bread is not precise due to a lack of written record, I will delve into its historical milestones beginning with a brief mention of fermented foods.  


Historically, foods were preserved through fermentation to be enjoyed when they were not in season and/or during times of food scarcity. An early example of the use of fermentation “was the discovery of clay pots from 7000 BC that were employed to ferment rice, honey, and other foods in China […] it is possible that inadvertent production and consumption of fermented products may have significantly predated this, since meals would have spontaneously fermented while being stored.(1)” 


The First Fermented Breads. Historical record indicates that about 10,000 years ago, the cultivation of club wheat ushered in the era of unleavened bread-making. It is believed by many scholars that the Egyptians were the first to make leavened bread by mixing water with flour, allowing it to ferment and increase in volume before baking with fresh dough for a soft, light bread (2) according to hieroglyphics as well as the analysis of bread from the period (3). In fact, bread was so important in Egyptian culture that it not only became a staple food by 5000-3700 BC, but was also used as currency (4)! It is theorized that Egyptian bakers’ familiarity with fermentation (resulting from the region’s proficiency with beer brewing) led to their experimentation and development of the first intentionally leavened breads in the warm climate where wild yeasts were attracted to the flour mixes (5).


Sourdough bread adoption gradually spread to ancient Greece and the Roman empire where it was no longer used as currency but rather solely as food (6). Circa 2500 BC, sourdough bread was being made in the Mediterranean region as well as in the Middle East. Yeasted bread had become popular in the Roman Empire by 1000 B.C. (7)where professional bakers happened to be freed formerly enslaved people (8), and in Greece via Egypt by 800 BC (9).


Sourdough Bread in Europe. Acidified and leavened bread has been produced for over 5,000 years as seen in archaeological findings of such bread dating to 3600 BC in Bern, Switzerland; to 1800 BC in Austria; and to 800 BC in Quedlinburg, Germany (10). Historians believe that sourdough bread was introduced to Gaul (contemporary France) by Greeks residing in Marseille in the 300s BC and into European cities in the Middle Ages (100-1400 AD) by professional bakers (11).

 Bread SRSLY Gluten-Free Sourdough Value Pack

Between roughly 300-700 AD, the period of the Barbarian migration in Europe, industrial bread-making disappeared as it was not a primary food for the invaders. However, the knowledge of the process survived in monasteries until the 1100s which marked the reappearance of the professional French baker (12). 


While in early Egypt and in the Roman Empire bread had been produced on a large scale, in Europe dough was leavened through sourdough fermentation on a smaller scale until the 1400s when excess brewer’s yeast became common and was introduced into bread-making, especially in northern Europe where “the barm (13) obtained from beer brewing was identified as a substitute for sourdough in the leavening process. (14)” 


Later, during the Industrial Revolution, brewer’s yeast was introduced as a leavening agent in bread-making (15) which not only reduced the dough’s resting time, but it also subsequently required the addition of dough conditioners and enzymes so the bread could retain its characteristics (16) such as the flavor and crumb or texture. This introduction of commercial baker’s yeast almost replaced sourdough because of “its greater suitability for the requirements of modern baking processes, as a rapid and simple leavening process, and the adaptation to mechanized bread production. (17)”


Contemporary Sourdough and the Bay Area. Sourdough was introduced to North America by European settlers and was an important part of pioneer life as well as during the California and Klondike gold rushes because yeast could not be adequately preserved in these situations. Today, sourdough bread is associated with San Francisco “where the tradition and practice of [its] production survived in numerous small-craft bakeries in the century after the California gold rush [and] reemerged in the 1980s. (18)” Sourdough popularity has grown recently “due to increased consumer demand for bread with pronounced flavor, high nutritional value, healthy properties, prolonged shelf life, and less additives. (19)” This is where Bread SRSLY gluten-free sourdough bread comes into the picture.

 Bread SRSLY Classic Sourdough

How is Bread SRSLY different & why choose it? While traditional sourdough bread-making is both time-consuming and labor-intensive when compared to bread made with baker’s yeast, the craft has been preserved by contemporary bakers at Bread SRSLY. The sourdough method yields a stronger flavor profile, increased organic lactic acids and naturally occurring bacteria.  Not only is Bread SRSLY  a yummy option, but is an allergy friendly, gluten-free sourdough that can benefit digestive health  due to its wild fermentation process and lack of additives and preservatives. 


Nutritional Benefits of Sourdough. Bread SRSLY is a gluten-free bread that is a throwback to breads made before the introduction of commercial baker’s yeast where fermentation process breaks down phytic acid –an antinutrient that binds to nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc preventing their absorption in the small intestine– making the bread’s nutrients bioavailable. Baking the fermented dough further breaks down antinutrients “such as protease inhibitors (peptides or proteins inhibiting the digestive actions of enzymes such as pepsin or trypsin, thereby restricting protein digestion) (20)” where the outcome is a more nutritious and more easily digested bread.


Is all sourdough gluten-free? Conventional sourdough —made with wheat, barley or rye— is not safe for those with Celiac or gluten sensitivity because although the bacteria and yeast do break down carbohydrates and proteins and may degrade some gluten, the gluten is not completely removed and is therefore not safe for those with Celiac, a gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity. 


I have Celiac, can I enjoy Bread SRSLY’s gluten-free sourdough bread? Yes, all Bread SRSLY gluten-free sourdough rolls and bread are certified gluten-free by GFCO.  Bread SRSLY also regularly tests for the presence of gluten in their facility. Additionally, the fermentation process breaks down the carbohydrates which can make the bread easier to digest than bread fermented with bakers’/brewer’s yeast. By choosing Bread SRSLY gluten-free sourdough, those who are allergic or sensitive to gluten benefit not only from avoiding gluten and other top allergens, but also by enjoying a tasty bread that creates less digestive stress and promotes gut microbiome health. For more on the benefits of gluten-free sourdough bread, see Michele Dwyer’s article found here.



Mena Borges-Gillette is a Holistic Nutritionist, Herbalist, Health & Wellness Coach, Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, Adjunct Professor, Cookbook Author, and the Founder of FlowHer Power Teen Summit—an educational program that seeks to empower teens and their parents so that they may make the best choices for their wellness journeys while having fun.  Mena Borges-Gillette, Ph.D.

Mena’s areas of specialty include medically restricted diets, autoimmunity, iron deficiency and cacao/chocolate. She works with Mamas & families dealing with chronic illness. On her own journey, she has learned to thrive as a person who lives with Celiac disease, a corn allergy, and autoimmunity by combining a nutrient dense dietary approach, herbal remedies, movement, and a positive frame of mind. Her mission is to help others thrive by combining education and support so that they feel heard and can adopt a sustainable and personalized approach to their wellness journey. 

Her cookbooks—Confections of a Chocoholic, Pizza. Noodles. Sweets. Oh My!, and Theobroma Cacao: An Illustrated Guide to All Things Chocolate are available for purchase. Her recipes have been featured on Singing Dog Vanilla’s blog as well as that of Bare Life Hot Cocoa

Mena works with clients both locally and across the country in her virtual clinic. More information about her services can be found at www.HolisticWellnessWithMena.com

Email: thrive@HolisticWellnessWithMena.com

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1)  Shah AM, Tarfeen N, Mohamed H, Song Y. “Fermented Foods: Their Health-Promoting Components and Potential Effects on Gut Microbiota”. Fermentation. 2023; 9(2):118. https://doi.org/10.3390/fermentation9020118

2) Galanakis, Charis M., editor. “Chapter 6 Sourdough.” Innovations in Traditional Foods. “Woodhead Publishing, 2019.

3) Gänzle, M.G. “Sourdough Bread.” Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology (Second Ed.). 2014.

4) Franklin, Peter S. “Bread.” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. Ed. Solomon H. Katz, vol. 1. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2000. Ed. Solomon H. Katz, vol. 1. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, pp. 235-241.

5) Franklin, “Bread.”

6) Cumo, Christopher M. “Bread.” Foods That Changed History: How Foods Shaped Civilization from the Ancient World to the Present, ABC-CLIO, 2015, pp. 28-34.

7)  Franklin, “Bread.”

8) Catzeddu, Pasquale. Flour and Breads and their Fortification in Health and Disease Prevention, 2011.

9) Galanakis, “Chapter 6 Sourdough.”

10) Galanakis, “Chapter 6 Sourdough.”

11) Galanakis, “Chapter 6 Sourdough.”

12) Catzeddu, Flour and Breads

13) Barm is defined as “yeast formed on fermenting malt liquors” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bar 

14) Catzeddu, Flour and Breads

15) Gänzle, “SourdoughBread.”

16) Smith, Jim Q. (2004). Technology of reduced additive foods (Second ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Science. p. 204.

17) Catzeddu, Flour and Breads

18) Gänzle, “Sourdough Bread.”

19) Catzeddu, Flour and Breads

20) Bescherer Metheny, Karen and Beaudry, Mary C., eds.  Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Incorporated, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central.