Panera Bread is a popular bakery-cafe chain that serves sandwiches, soups, salads, and baked goods. Many customers wonder if Panera’s sourdough bread contains gluten, especially those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Yes, Panera sourdough bread does contain gluten. While some types of sourdough bread are naturally gluten-free if made from 100% gluten-free ingredients, Panera’s sourdough bread is not gluten-free.
What is Sourdough Bread?
Sourdough bread is made using a fermented starter dough that contains wild yeast and bacteria. This starter dough helps give sourdough bread its signature tangy taste and chewy texture. The starter dough must contain gluten from wheat flour to develop the proper structure and rise. Therefore, most traditional sourdough breads are not gluten-free.
However, it is possible to make gluten-free sourdough bread using a starter made entirely from gluten-free ingredients like brown rice flour, tapioca flour, or chickpea flour. Gluten-free sourdough will not have the same texture as traditional sourdough, but it can mimic some of the sour flavor.
Does Panera’s Sourdough Contain Gluten?
Yes, Panera’s sourdough bread definitely contains gluten. According to Panera’s website, their sourdough is made using unbleached, enriched wheat flour which contains gluten proteins. They do not offer any gluten-free sourdough options in their bakery-cafes.
Some key reasons why Panera’s sourdough bread is not gluten-free include:
- Made with wheat flour as the main ingredient
- Does not use a gluten-free starter
- Contains barley malt, a gluten grain
- Baked in facilities with gluten present
- Not certified gluten-free
Panera also confirms on their allergy information page that their sourdough bread contains gluten. They urge customers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to avoid it along with all of their other bread products.
Sourdough Bread Ingredients at Panera
Here are the ingredients listed for Panera Sourdough Bread on their website:
- Unbleached enriched wheat flour (flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)
- Sourdough starter (wheat flour, water)
- Sea salt
- Soybean oil
- Wheat gluten
- Ascorbic acid
As you can see, the main flours used are wheat-based and contain gluten. Even the sourdough starter itself is made from wheat flour and water. The other problematic ingredient for people with gluten sensitivities is barley malt, derived from barley which is also a gluten grain.
In addition to containing gluten directly, there is a high risk of cross-contamination with gluten for Panera’s sourdough bread. Their facilities, equipment, and production lines are shared across many types of baked goods containing wheat and other gluten ingredients.
Some potential areas of cross-contact include:
- Shared storage bins for flours containing gluten
- Reuse of surfaces, utensils, and baking tools
- Gluten dust in the air from wheat flour
- Employees handling multiple menu items
For extremely sensitive celiacs, even tiny amounts of gluten cross-contamination can trigger symptoms and damage to the small intestine. The level of precautions taken by Panera is unlikely to fully prevent cross-contact for those who react to parts per million amounts of gluten.
Gluten-Free Options at Panera
While their sourdough bread contains gluten, Panera does offer some gluten-free menu options for customers avoiding gluten:
- Salads with gluten-free dressings
- Oatmeal, apple, and fruit cups for breakfast
- Broths and soups marked gluten-free
- Vanilla Greek yogurt
- Freshly squeezed orange juice
However, those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity need to be cautious due to the high risk of cross-contamination. There have been reports of individuals getting sick from supposedly gluten-free dishes at Panera.
Is Sourdough Bread Easier to Digest?
Some people believe that sourdough bread is easier to digest than regular bread, even if it contains gluten. The logic is that fermentation helps break down and pre-digest some of the gluten and carbohydrates in flour. However, there is limited scientific evidence that properly prepared sourdough bread is truly easier on digestion than other types of bread.
For those with gluten sensitivities, sourdough is likely still problematic unless made from 100% gluten-free ingredients and prepared safely to avoid cross-contamination. Any small amounts of remaining gluten peptides could trigger an autoimmune reaction.
However, some studies suggest artisanal sourdough may have slightly lower GI impact compared to industrial yeast-leavened bread. More research is needed on how different populations digest sourdough versus other breads.
Symptoms of Gluten Exposure
If someone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity consumes Panera’s sourdough bread or other gluten sources, they may experience a range of gastrointestinal and systemic symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Brain fog
- Skin rash
Symptoms can start anywhere from hours to days after gluten exposure depending on the individual and amount ingested. Repeated exposure can cause damage to the intestinal villi and lead to malabsorption over time.
In summary, Panera’s sourdough bread definitely contains gluten and is not safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. While some artisanal or homemade sourdoughs can be gluten-free, Panera’s ingredients make it off-limits for gluten-free diets.
The wheat flour, barley malt, and shared facilities create too high of a risk. Those avoiding gluten should stick to Panera’s salads or clearly marked gluten-free items, while being cautious about potential cross-contamination.
Overall, Panera’s sourdough bread remains a tasty but gluten-filled treat for those who can tolerate gluten without issue. But for celiacs and others on a strict gluten-free diet, it’s an ingredient to steer clear of.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can sourdough bread be gluten-free?
Yes, sourdough bread can be gluten-free if made using 100% gluten-free flours and ingredients. However, traditional sourdough relies on wheat flour for the fermented starter, so most commercial sourdough breads contain gluten.
Is sourdough easier to digest than regular bread?
There is some evidence that the fermentation process in sourdough may break down gluten and carbohydrates slightly, making it easier to digest for some people. But those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity still react to the residual gluten.
What are some symptoms of eating gluten with celiac disease?
Common symptoms of gluten exposure in those with celiac disease include diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, rashes, and headaches. Repeated exposure can damage the small intestine over time.
What breads at Panera are gluten-free?
Currently, Panera does not offer any gluten-free bread options. All of their breads, including the sourdough, contain gluten. People avoiding gluten can opt for salads, soups, or oatmeal instead.
Is sourdough bread gluten-free at other restaurants?
Some restaurants may offer specially made gluten-free sourdough, but it’s rare. Most restaurant sourdoughs are made traditionally with wheat flour and are not safe for gluten-free diets. Always check directly with the restaurant on their ingredients and preparation process.
The Gluten Content of Common Breads
|Usually no (unless specifically gluten-free)
|Can be (if no wheat flour added)
This table summarizes some common types of bread and whether they typically contain gluten or are safe for gluten-free diets. Always check labels carefully for gluten-containing ingredients, even in breads that can be gluten-free.
Understanding Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition affecting nearly 1% of people worldwide. When those with celiac disease consume gluten, it triggers immune system damage to the small intestine, preventing proper absorption of nutrients. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, malnutrition, and anemia.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition where gluten triggers symptoms, but no autoimmune intestinal damage occurs. An estimated 3-6% of people may have NCGS. Symptoms are similar to celiac disease and can include bloating, headaches, fatigue, and joint pain.
The only treatment for both celiac disease and NCGS is strictly adhering to a 100% gluten-free diet. This means avoiding wheat, barley, and rye flours, as well as reading labels carefully on processed foods. Even small amounts of cross-contamination can trigger celiac symptoms.
Who Needs to Avoid Gluten?
Individuals who should adhere to a gluten-free diet include:
- People diagnosed with celiac disease through blood tests and intestinal biopsy
- Those with a first-degree relative with celiac disease
- People with positive celiac disease genetic markers like HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8
- Individuals with gluten-related symptoms that improve on a gluten-free diet
- Patients with autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes or autoimmune thyroiditis
Anyone experiencing possible celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms may try a trial gluten-free diet under a doctor’s supervision. Eliminating gluten for 2-3 weeks can help reveal if symptoms improve.
Dermatitis herpetiformis is a gluten-induced skin condition characterized by an extremely itchy rash with blisters and redness. It most often occurs on the elbows, knees, back, and buttocks. Dermatitis herpetiformis is closely linked to celiac disease and improves with a strict gluten-free diet.
Gluten ataxia is a form of neurological dysfunction caused by gluten exposure. Symptoms include poor balance and coordination, frequent stumbling or falls, and difficulty with fine motor skills. Removing gluten from the diet can help stabilize, but usually cannot completely reverse symptoms.
Many medications contain gluten as an inactive ingredient, especially pills containing starch. People with celiac disease should work with their pharmacist to access gluten-free versions or alternatives for their prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.
Thankfully, following a gluten-free diet has become much easier with more product options and improved labeling laws. Here are some foods that are naturally gluten-free:
- Fruits, vegetables, and juices
- Fresh meats, fish, and poultry
- Milk and dairy products
- Gluten-free oats
- Beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds
With care, those avoiding gluten can still enjoy tasty and nutritious diets. It simply takes some adjustments and diligence in label reading.
Panera Bread uses traditional ingredients like wheat flour to make their sourdough bread. This means it contains gluten and is unsafe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. While some types of artisanal sourdough can be gluten-free, Panera’s version definitely has gluten based on their recipes and production methods.
Diners avoiding gluten should opt for other menu items like salads or stick to other restaurants with dedicated gluten-free offerings. With care, it’s possible to dine safely with food allergies, but products at mainstream chains like Panera will likely contain traces of allergens like gluten.
By understanding ingredients and preparation processes, as well as working closely with restaurants, most people managing medical diets can still enjoy delicious dining experiences. While Panera’s sourdough isn’t an option, they offer other items to help customers stay satisfied.