Despite its origins dating back to Ancient Egyptian times, sourdough is having something of a moment right now. While bread has often been vilified when going gluten-free is the prerogative, sourdough is currently the zeitgeist, possibly because of its impressive health benefits.
While many breads have hidden oils, sugar and preservatives in their ingredient lists, this variety is naturally low in gluten and simply contains flour, water, salt and naturally occurring live or wild yeast (instead of typical baker’s yeast). The dough goes through a long fermentation process before baking, which means a slice stacks up very nicely against conventional white bread in terms of protein, vitamin and mineral content, as well as the presence of probiotic properties that aid digestion.
According to the World Bread Awards, where the sourdough category is the main attraction, there are five different criteria to consider when judging a good loaf: appearance, crust and bake (does the bread have an even crust? Did it rise evenly?), texture, aroma and flavour.
Dubai may not be famed for its fluffy, floury loaves when compared to Paris’s boulangeries or New York City’s delis, but if you’re in the market for the perfect sourdough, this is where you should go.
While the name would suggest sweeter stuff – and there is certainly an impressive range of sugary baked goods here to entice your sweet tooth – Vanilla Sukkar is for sourdough fanatics. The home-grown gem on Al Thanya Street is run by Emirati mother and daughter duo, Dr Kaltham Kenaid and Fatma Saifan, and the pair are passionate about experimenting with sourdough starter, offering a range of exceptional loaves in eclectic flavours. This includes cheese and chilli, zataar, turmeric and black sesame, multi-seed and milk toast variants. The plain and multi-seed varieties are both crusty on the outside, but hide soft and bouncy bread with a slight chewiness inside – everything you'd expect from an artisan offering. The only drawback here is a price tag of Dh35 each, but, if you're looking for a five-star loaf, it's money well spent.
Known for its excellent coffee and all-day breakfast menu, the highlight at Neighbors Cafe on Al Thanya Street is their imaginative sourdough varieties. Starting from Dh25 each, all are made from a five-year starter dough with flavours including turmeric, beetroot and a spongy lavender-hued butterfly pea tea variety (butterfly pea tea is a purple-flowered tea used for its healing properties in South-East Asia). Each loaf has a thick, crispy crust encasing chewy, flavourful bread inside just begging for butter. They’re baked every morning on site, so it’s best to show up early and nab one straight out of the oven. If you dine in, you can try one of each, served with home-made peanut butter, berry compote and a tasty dukkah spice mix.
For The Love of Bread Organic Bakery
Rami Badawi and his home-grown Al Quoz bakery, For The Love Of Bread, kneads two impressive sourdoughs – country and wholewheat – both made from 100 per cent organic stone-ground flour imported from France that is naturally low in gluten. He adds water and Italian sea salt and nothing else. Baked fresh every day before being distributed to select Spinneys and Waitrose supermarkets across the UAE, Badawi's loaves are served in plastic bags, which knocks it off the "artisan loaf" shelf, but this is intentionally done so his bread fits in with its peers on the shelves. While both taste very similar, for a supermarket buy and the lack of nasty ingredients, at Dh14 each, they offer the best value for money in the region.
Available at select Waitrose and Spinneys across the UAE
La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie
La Serre's bakery on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard serves truly excellent sourdough straight from the oven every morning and we'd expect nothing less from one of the UAE's best restaurants. Customers can handpick their loaf before it's slotted in to a brown paper bag to take away. This is as close as you're going to get to a boulangerie experience in Dubai. The beautiful, crusty loaves are dusted with flour and are delicious, although they do come with quite a lot of large holes throughout, a sign of too much yeast in the dough. The holes don't affect the subtly sour taste or bouncy texture, however, and at Dh21 a loaf it is also more reasonably priced than many other offerings.
Not every French Bakery branch across Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be fully stocked with fresh sourdough on any given visit, but when you find either the nutty loaf or sourdough rye that both retail at Dh14, you will find they are worth the hunt. The breads are weighty and packed with seeds, so not necessarily the type of bread you'll be lightly toasting and spreading marmalade on, but good choices for anyone who likes a dense slice. They're par-baked at the central kitchen (which means the raw dough is baked normally but halted at about 80 per cent of the normal cooking time) and then transported to each outlet and finished off on-site. So, if you're a purist, this means they're not technically 100 per cent freshly baked, but the good news is you'll most likely get a warm one straight from the oven.
Brothaus Bakery Bistro
The German bakery at the Steigenberger Hotel Business Bay offers two sourdoughs – one rye and one spelt – both typical of the country that, unlike in France or Italy, doesn't have a climate conducive to wheat production. The spelt is dark and dense, the rye heavy and packed with grains and seeds. They're not your typical light and chewy sourdoughs, but both are authentic to bread variety and nation of origin. Plus, if you think you can do better, chief baker Thivanka offers regular bread-baking classes for Dh200 per session.
Birch Cafe & Bakery
This new, cosy, home-grown bakery is tucked away in The Greens and serves artisanal sourdough breads using flour from wheat that is sustainably grown on small-batch farms in Skagit Valley, Washington without the use of bee-killing insecticides and harvest aid chemicals. The malted wheat (Dh31) and a country white (Dh29) are both excellent choices and hit top marks within the judging criteria, although the malted wheat has a strong molasses taste, which could divide opinion. Birch Cafe & Bakery also offers a more affordable sourdough baguette (Dh12) and a sourdough pizza bianca (a typical Roman pizza crust for Dh14 each).
Organic Foods & Cafe
The Organic Foods & Cafe bakery is for picky types, as it offers an impressive selection of more than 35 breads, including six varieties of rye, four poolish (a wet sponge) baguettes and three spelt breads and other tasty concoctions such as black olive loaf, fig and walnut loaf, as well as fig twist brioche. The sourdough, unfortunately, is disappointing. It's much smaller in size than the others on this list and doesn't have the crust typical of an artisan loaf. While the flavours are all there, the bread lacks the bouncy chew of a good sourdough. At Dh15, however, it's on the affordable side. What's exceptional about this place is the user-friendly computer in the middle of the Sheikh Zayed Road bakery, which allows you to look up any of their breads for a full list of ingredients and nutritional values. It's impressive stuff if you want to know exactly what you're putting in your mouth.