Bakers delight Sourdough and Helgas bread.

JohnD's picture

Recently there was a TV program in Australia which aired the issue of whether some commercial sourdough breads were actually sourdough. As ive been writing about this for years I thought id look at two of the loaves involved in the controversy. Helgas were quick to issue statements claiming their bread was a genuine sourdough and Bakers delight followed, with advertisements about how their bread was made with a 200 year old starter, and was authentic sourdough. Of course both of these companies and many others now use the terminology which was effective and meaningful in the before time when I used it, but now is its just laughable jargon.

The word "Traditional" is just a joke now.....they all use it....but really their breads are  "conventional" and bear no realtion to any breads which were actually baked traditionally...was "traditional"white sliced high fibre a favourite of the Australian pioneers? or perhaps of  Renaissance Italy?...ot even of the diggers of WW2? of course not...similarly we are told that Helgas bread is "bread with character"....the milking of gastronomic writing for new advertising terms has just about reached its limit....we hope. Ive got "Fresh" fatigue syndrome, and will have to start using Sanskrit terms to keep ahead of the viral copy writer thieves.

But as there are no legal statutes about what constitutes a Sourdough bread, and what distinguishes it from regular yeast bread, either of these companies and any other can say what they like with impunity....hence Helgas can legally call an obviously regular industrial white yeast bread a "sourdough".and nobody cares....or Bakers delight can claim their Sourdough is made with a 200year old authentic (another word!!) starter.

What is interesting to me, as the first commercial sourdough producer in Australia, with 35years experience in baking ,is the actual nature of these breads from a critical viewpoint. To this end, I have technically and organoleptically analysed them. Organoleptic means sensory criteria...taste/touch/smell and analog flavours as used in assessing wine/cheese or other foods.

The Bakers delight sourdough looks very "ish"....its (shown) dusted with the "sourdough" template in white flour and its crass really, but this will work commercially definitely maybe. On first appearance, it looks really underbaked...theres no "character" here...its a tame clone, light golden colour with some attractive crust cracking, and obligatory leaf-cuts along each side....all very controlled. Their customers may like this, as their formula seems to have gained a following, and its interesting to watch the domestication of the beast...but one wonders how much of the beast is actually in there to lose? Its all about the words.

I reckon the crust is leather/vinyl and not really a crust but a baked skin like a fake sun tan. Aesthetically it rates zilch next to a Fruition stunner for example. But these are different ends of the market and the denizens of Bakers delight might well think a real Melbourne Artisan loaf too alien?

I handed the unwrapped loaf to a friend who`s first comment was that it smelt yeasty upon opening. This is the spectre which haunts the loaf right through the tasting....the flavour of yeast lurks in the background, especially when toasted, which is usually a good guide. Theres acidity, but frankly it tastes like the starter is 200years old. Its really musty/acetic acidity, there are no delicious organic acid aromas or flavours, and no freshness in the acidity, which only just but not always outweighs the yeastiness...and its not sourdough yeastiness which is far more broadly profiled in its flavour/aroma characteristics. Somewhere along the line, yeast goes into this bread, or has been pitched early on in the starter development....and as the label says that it contains natural yeast, its perfectly legal for them to have put yeast in, called it "natural yeast",but still call it a sourdough. On the other hand, Ive always obseved sourdoughs being contaminated with yeast when both are made concurrently as they are at Bakers delight.

 The texture is cake like and really precious....again its all about control, which it has to be when youve got hundreds of franchises making it. It has some of the sourdough characteristic of a creamy mouthfeel but is a little softer, is easily swallowed , but has no real flavour wheaten dynamics for example, which is a characteristic of good sourdough as the inherent flour/wheat flavours are released by the fermentation..Theres no "wild" yeasts in here, theyve been tamed and the texture reveals this. It tastes like its made with really cheap flour, and this is to be expected, but the loaf was $5.50 for 650gms...more expensive than organic sourdoughs...which is really cheeky...and , like the advertising jargon, just milking the market.

One thing which is fascinating about sourdough advertising, is the claim to San Francisco heritage for the starter culture....even some artisans claim this. What characterises San Franciscos original Sourdoughs is the presence of lactobacillus Sanfranciscensis ...bactriologically, this is what distinguishes it from other sourdoughs. It has been shown to have originated in the dental plaque of San Francisans, is in the sourdough because bakers spat in the dough regularly. Why would anyone want to advertise this?? especially Australians who can make pure beautiful starters from nature here. Dont believe the hype.

The only thing going for this loaf is that its  better than the shocking stuff in plastic bags from supermarkets. But as ive said many times before, there is no reason why a chain like Bakers delight cant make a really good sourdough, and other breads, but standards are so low in Australia, that their bread appears good by default.

The Helgas loaves are beyond comment really, and their claims that these are genuine sourdoughs are just laughable....but as there is no statutory definition of a sourdough, for all intents and purposes they are a genuine sourdough!



laurazucchetti's picture
laurazucchetti 2010 August 11

Bakers delight is not to my liking and I've also tasted their apparant sourdough and it was pretty appauling, considering Bourke street bakery (and many others) sell a real tasty sourdough for 50 cents less!


They should not be allowed to do this. What a shame... :(

Hazel 2019 November 24

The sourdough sliced bread has a stale bread taste to me.  I don't like it so won't buy it again.  

rossnroller 2010 August 11

I saw the ad you're referring to, John, in Australian Gourmet magazine - got a free sample issue (he added quickly to head off any accusations of being a foodie tosser). It made me sneer as I read through it. What a load of cobblers! All that crap about the 200 year old starter sourced from SF, as if they have some arcane connection to the Authentic. And what about the impression they give of how exacting the science of SD bread baking is...and of course, only THEY exercise the extreme diligence and temperature controls that are essential for their special starters. Pah!

Had a chuckle over your claim as to the origin of lactobacillus Sanfranciscensis. Wonder why there's nothin' 'bout that in their ad?

Tell ya what, though. I haven't tried their SD bread and don't see any reason I would, but I'll bet a bundle it's better than MacDonald's 'sourdough' roll that comes with their Angus burger, or whatever it's called. I made a point of trying it when it first came out - unbelievably bland and it could NOT be sourdough with the soft wimpy tasteless crumb it has.

As you say, there's no way this misleading stuff about faux-SD breads is going to cease without a valid industry standard being enforced through appropriate regulation. I notice even bloody Woolworths and Coles are now advertising their own line of SD breads, 'artisan' bread...and batards!! Stee-rewth - this artisan bread thang must be catching on.


Stefen Tradtion... 2011 August 26

This is part of the reason why we need enforceable legislated National Standards on bread and all bread product labelling, ingredient list's, point of sale & media advertising, we need to be able to tell Read Bread from Crap Bread. And consumers have a right to know and make a judgement in full knowledge of what they are buying/eating. 

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 August 11

 200 year old starter from San Francisco?  That seems to be a fact that they have distorted.  The San Francisco sour dough is traced back to the miners who came to California durning the Gold Rush of 1849.  There really wasn't much happening in California before that.  I'd say their years are off by 40 years.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2010 August 12

Thanks LeadDog, of course...hilarious....140 yr old starter...tastes like it, but its probably even younger (if its true at all).... ,as I understand it, SF was where the goldminers settled when the gold ran out, so the bread started to be made much a commercial and then popular item.

Wannabee 2010 August 19

Hi John interesting reading, especially your blog on the old varities of wheats.

I have long been tempted to try baking sourdoughs at home but I dont know where to obtain the starter culture, and I dont want to have to resort to the 'sourfaux' breads from Bakers Delight and the like.  I am also keen to find out how I go about making an organic sourdough banana bread for my kids, can you recommend any recipes?




Shirlene Blok 2021 October 18
Google sourdough starter recipe should just be flour and water that you let ferment. You keep some for the next batch.
Jeremy's picture
Jeremy 2010 August 29

You always make me laugh John! Spitting in the dough had me on the floor, lol! When my brother worked with some French bakers who had amazing skills, but were neanderthals on harley's, I was shocked to find them smoking cigarettes while they shaped loaves! My brother used to always say, "ash content!"

That loaf looks like a football, American or Australian you decide, a rubber stenciled piece of shite, and I haven't even tasted it!





JohnD's picture
JohnD 2010 August 29

yeh well a piece of shite is a piece of any language... anywhere...glad i can make you laugh....proves its laughable "bread"....

kvanderaa 2010 September 27

Very sad when a supposedly reputable business spoils it for themselves by attempting to make a bad version of counterfeit sourdough, I hope that they just stick to making empty cottonwool from now on like they always have

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 September 30

Ditto that!  Nothing like a bit of spit and ash in the bread!  Great conversation gentlemen.  Bakers"Delight" for who exactly I wonder?

eateng 2011 July 31

I'm currently living in Korea and I'm having trouble finding real sourdough bread. I've tried all the European bakeries that claim to have sourdough bread but they've all failed my taste that was trained in Australia. I've tried to make sourdough twice but failed on both occasions whether it was because of the quaility of the starter I used or the flour.

I had to get my favourite bread from Bourke St bakery posted to me in desperation, but then I thought it was ridiculous so I stopped. The experience made me consider opening a bakery just to make people more aware of sourdough bread.


I've enjoyed your articles and I will follow up on more to come. Thank you.

Paul Jones 2020 April 1

I found your post cause I just had Helga's Sourdough!!! and wondered if anyone else noticed.

It is not sourdough, its nothing like sourdough!

QMT 2021 November 22

I know this is an old post, but lest anyone really believe that spit is the source of San Francisco sourdough's flavor, I wanted to share this article. Not saying there's never been a baker who spit in the dough, repulsive though he must have been as a human being. The bacteria has its origins in the intestinal tract of grain insects. It arrives in the dough from their "frass". Not any better from a modern perspective, but far more common and innocent.

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