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In August of 2017, we announced a research project we were embarking on with the University of Calgary’s Dr. Jane Shearer, called “Exploiting the Health Benefits of a Novel Sourdough Fermented Pasta.” While the project took a bit longer than anticipated, we finally have exciting results to share! A high level summary was posted in our recent press release, but this blog covers some of the more detailed technical results and how we are interpreting the results. This post reports primarily on the results from part two of the project.

The research was divided into two parts, based on the idea of comparing sourdough pasta verses conventional, non-fermented pasta. The first part investigated whether the sourdough pasta had an impact on blood glucose response, also known as the glycemic index or blood sugar response.  The second part of the study was to see if the sourdough pasta had an impact on the human microbiome or gut bacteria.

Part two of the study changed and expanded over the course of the project because of the interesting results uncovered along the way. This part ended up having three different sub-parts that enabled us to understand the impacts of the Lactobascilli in the sourdough culture, in the pasta, and in the human body.

You may be wondering what Lactobascilli are at this point. Lactobascilli are rod-shaped, non-spore-forming bacteria that are very commonly found in the digestive tracts of humans already., and are part of our “good gut bacteria”. They are a major part of the lactic acid bacteria group – a group of bacteria that convert sugars to produce organic acids called lactic acid. Lactic acid bacteria are very important migroorganisms that are also commonly used in food fermentation. They influence the taste and texture of fermented foods.

Our sourdough starter culture was DNA sequenced to establish the microorganisms present in the culture. Subsequently the sourdough pasta product was analyzed and compared to conventional pasta to see what differences there were in microorganisms in each product. And finally, the stool of the participants were analyzed to see if there were any noticeable differences after the pastas had traveled through the digestive tract.

The results for each of the three study sub-parts were very interesting!

For the first sub-part, the DNA sequencing confirmed the predominant presence of two strains of beneficial LAB – Lactic Acid Bacteria or Lactobascilli. This was not an unexpected result, but was still good to have the positive confirmation.

For the second sub-part, comparing the conventional pasta verses sourdough pasta, the surprise was even more so that there is a significant bacterial difference between our sourdough pastas and conventional pastas. During pasta making, there are a number of different microorganisms that can be picked up along the way. We don’t have knowledge of what the production processes are like for the conventional pasta that we used to compare against our sourdough pasta, but the results were striking!

In our sourdough pasta, the LAB continued to influence the composition of the microorganism during the fermentation, and seemed to increase in strength such that they were the dominant bacteria in the pasta, in the neighborhood of 98% of the microorganismal composition. In conventional pasta, it was only present 20% and the rest were other type of bacteria, some harmful, some beneficial. We suspect that this significant difference in the bacterial composition of the two pastas contributes to why we have heard so much positive feedback from many of our customers over the years: the Lactobascilli are associated with healthy gut microbiomes and with such a high presence of the LAB in our sourdough pastas, they are likely beneficially contributing to our gut bacteria during digestion.

The LAB produce organic acids which are beneficial and can contribute to lowered ph in stomach acids, thereby not allowing other bacteria, especially some of the pathogenetic bacteria that may be present in conventional pastas, to take hold and thrive. LAB act as a “Police Force” in sourdough culture and continue to serve that function in the sourdough pasta. In contrast, conventional pasta shows significant other growth of bacteria (good and bad) in the final pasta product, which may contribute to bloating, fatigue, stomach cramps, and other negative symptoms that people sometimes experience when they eat conventional pastas. Further research could substantiate some of these ideas a bit more, of course.

In regards to the third sub-part, which focused on the stool samples after the pasta had traveled through the digestive tract, there continued to be significant differences found with regards to fungal diversity. The fungal diversity was lowered significantly after participants ate our sourdough pastas, but this effect did not show up when participants ate conventional pastas. Like bacteria in our gut microbiomes, there can be good fungi and bad fungi. We suspect this effect of lower fungal diversity was most likely due to the dominant LAB in the pasta which, again, produces organic lactic acids that lower the ph and may crowd out the growth of other microorganisms such as fungi. Further research could also be done to explore exactly what is happening here.

In conclusion of part two of research, both Dr. Jane Shearer and Kaslo Sourdough’s Silvio Lettrari agree on the exciting and sustained differences between sourdough and conventional pastas impacts on the gut microbiome. This research shows how known beneficial LAB can be cultured and used purposely and effectively in protecting the product (pasta) throughout the manufacturing process from unwanted uncontrolled bacterial growth, which in turn have a beneficial influence on the gut microbiome in humans eating our sourdough pastas.

Additionally, we can see that the organic acids produced by the LAB during manufacturing of the pasta, contributed significantly to the human microbiota and noticeably influenced fungal growth and diversity in the participants. Healthy, dominant LAB in the human tract are associated with a healthy human microbiome and reflect the health promoting qualities of sourdough pasta.

We are very pleased with the results of the study to date and look forward to seeing them published. We’ll let you know when the results are out!

Project Press Release.

Funding for this research project was provided by the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, a program delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

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