Fermentation: proving the benefits

By student dietitian Olivia Downie 

Fermentation is an ancient practice of adding microbial organisms to raw materials, originally used as a preserving method, and has now become a common technique used to change the form, taste and texture of many foods into products we know and love today – including sourdough. The art of sourdough breadmaking is thought to have originated with the Egyptians as early as 4000 B.C , however the nutritional and therapeutic benefits are only just being realised1.

Grains are not the only foods which can be fermented, the process is also used in dairy to make products such as yoghurt and kefir, soy products such as miso and tempeh, vegetables such as sauerkraut and pickles, or drinks like kombucha1. The methods used to make sourdough have since been applied to ferment other grain-based foods, such as sourdough pasta.

Many of these fermented products have been gaining popularity in recent years for their perceived health benefits, especially in relation to gut health.

Fermentation is an ancient practice of adding microbial organisms to raw materials

Sourdough vs regular bread – what’s the difference?

Most regular breads use commercial yeast to enable the dough to rise, whereas sourdough varieties use natural lactic acid bacteria2 produced through the fermentation process This fermentation and proving process takes much longer than regular breads, giving it a distinctly different taste and texture.

Sourdough varieties use natural lactic acid bacteria to enable the dough to rise2  

So what are the benefits of sourdough?

The positive health effects of consuming grain and cereal derived foods has been well documented, as they provide dietary fibre and are a mineral rich source of carbohydrates3. However, many grain foods contain the FODMAP family known as oligosaccharides, in particular fructans and GOS, which for people with IBS often triggers intestinal gas, bloating, pain and flatulence3,4. If you’re like many IBS sufferers who avoid bread for this reason, you’re in luck! New research has found that an extended fermentation process degrades fructans and GOS to a level which is tolerated well by most people with IBS4. This means people with IBS can enjoy the nutritional benefits of bread, minimising the gastrointestinal symptoms they once suffered!

Fermentation presents an exciting opportunity for bread manufacturers to create new products which cater for this consumer group, who otherwise may miss out on the nutritional benefits bread can offer5. New research has highlighted the feasibility of a low-temperature long leavening time to create products on an industrial scale, which have significantly lower FODMAP levels than their unfermented counterparts4. This research has discovered the optimal flour, starter culture, time and temperature to produce fibre-rich sourdough breads with a variety of taste and texture profiles. These processes can be used by bakeries to create a range of products suitable for those with IBS5,6.

Low-temperature long leavening can be used by bakeries to create a range of products suitable for those with IBS

The best advice is to understand how your bread is made. Look for whole grain sourdough products, with the lowest sodium possible, especially if you have gut health issues. For personalised nutrition advice, we recommend seeking support from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). Find an APD near you by heading to the Dietitians Australia website.


  1. Farnworth E.R, Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. Baton Rouge: Taylor & Francis Group; 2008.
  2. Menezes Leidiane A. A., Minervini F, Filannino P, Sardaro M.L.S, Gatti M and Lindner J., Effects of Sourdough on FODMAPs in Bread and Potential Outcomes on Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients and Healthy Subjects, Frontiers in Microbiology, 2018, 9, https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.01972
  3. Biesiekierski, J.R., Rosella, O., Rose, R., Liels, K., Barrett, J.S., Shepherd, S.J., Gibson, P.R. and Muir, J.G. (2011), Quantification of fructans, galacto-oligosacharides and other short-chain carbohydrates in processed grains and cereals. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2011, 24: 154-176. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-277X.2010.01139.x
  4. Muir J.G, Varney J.E, Ajamian M, Gibson P.R, Gluten-free and low-FODMAP sourdoughs for patients with coeliac disease T and irritable bowel syndrome: A clinical perspective. The International Journal of Food Microbiology,2019, 290, pages 237-246, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2018.10.016
  5. Loponen, J., Gänzle, M.G. Use of Sourdough in Low FODMAP Baking. Foods, 2018, 7, 96. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods7070096
  6. Pitsch et al., FODMAP Fingerprinting of Bakery Products and Sourdoughs: Quantitative Assessment and Content Reduction through Fermentation, Foods, 2021, 10, 894. https://doi.org/10.3390/ foods10040894




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