‘Gut-friendly’ sourdough snacks sweeten with time

Store-bought sourdough products didn’t pass the sniff test of a dietitian specializing in the low-FODMAP diet. So, she decided to create her own.

Nick Collias, Contributing writer

June 25, 2024

4 Min Read

At a Glance

  • The low-FODMAP diet avoids fructans, a carb that can worsen symptoms of irritable bowel disease.
  • “Long fermentation” of 12 hours or more is required to reduce the fructan content in dough.
  • Finding the right professional contacts can assist with a career change into the food industry.

Morgan Murdock was a busy dietitian with an in-demand specialty and a pesky problem: She really wanted to be able to recommend flavorful, snackable foods to her clients, but those foods didn’t seem to exist yet. 

Hundreds of clients in and around Chicago relied on Murdock each month for her expertise in the low-FODMAP diet, an eating approach centered around avoiding certain carbohydrates called fructans that can aggravate symptoms of irritable bowel disease. It’s a diet that often ends up feeling limiting, boring, and frankly, not all that satisfying.

“Regular commercial wheat, garlic, onions and even certain nuts could be triggering,” she recalled. “There just weren’t many products that they could just buy off the grocery shelf and actually enjoy. The ‘fun part’ of our conversation was always when I told them, ‘But you can have sourdough!’”

The only issue? Many large brands cut corners while baking their sourdough, making for a less “gut-friendly” product. “There just weren’t enough options here,” Murdock said. “I was seeing lots of tears from my patients, but they got happy about sourdough. So, it was just about me doing the math.”

In 2022, Murdock closed her practice and dove head-first into baking. The result was Unbothered Foods, a sourdough cracker brand that she launched to “bring joy back to eating.” And the response has been, well, joyful. 

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What’s so special about sourdough?

Look on the back of a bag of Unbothered crackers, and you’ll see this promise right at the top: “Fermented for over 24 hours.” This seemingly minor detail is a big deal when it comes to gut-friendliness.

During fermentation, yeast and bacteria remove most of the fructans in dough. But there’s a catch: This process takes time. And if fermentation time isn’t mentioned anywhere on the packaging, Murdoc said, gut-sensitive eaters are right to be suspicious of a product’s sourdough bona fides.

“Technically, for a sourdough product to be low-FODMAP, it needs to be fermented for over 12 hours,” she explained. “So, we do at least 24 hours. That means we can ferment the dough we’ve created one day, and then process it the next day, or even up to 72 hours later.”

Sticking to this approach of “long fermentation” also creates a product that can appeal to eaters with other sensitivities. “I’m always careful to note that this isn’t a gluten-free product,” Murdock explained. “But the cool thing about sourdough is that most of the time, people with gluten intolerances or sensitivities can also handle a traditional sourdough product because of the fermentation.”

Aside from making it more digestible, long fermentation strengthens the trademark sourdough flavor that Murdock says was a non-negotiable part of her vision. “I knew a couple of things: I wanted them to be crunchy and not break in the bag,” she said. “And I also wanted the tang of the sourdough to really come through.”

Murdock said she’s heard from consumers that Unbothered’s crackers have allowed them to rediscover social, casual eating like sharing a charcuterie board with friends. But just as importantly, she said, “No one’s ever told me, ‘These made me feel bad.’”

The bumpy road from clinician to entrepreneur

Envisioning a product that checked Murdock's big boxes as a dietitian was easy enough. Becoming a full-time baker? That was a different challenge altogether.

After committing herself to the idea of Unbothered, Murdock says she spent over a year in full “pandemic sourdough girly” mode, taking courses, talking to experts and cultivating prototypes using a starter she obtained from the wife of someone in a business group.

“I tried to get industry experts and mentors all around me,” she said. “And I still talk to so many people.”

After multiple rounds of in-house testing and baking many iterations, she landed on a cracker type and three flavors that have quickly become hot items in around 50 Chicago-area stores, including the regional chain Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. She also found herself reaching the limits of what she could achieve each day.

“I don’t think anything can totally prepare you for the learning curve of going from clinical to business,” Murdock said. “I do everything. I’m the baker. I drop them off at the stores. My hands are on everything.”

In recent months, Murdock has added employees to help shoulder the load, and she has begun talking with potential investors to help her achieve her expanding vision for Unbothered. In addition to adding a fourth fall-themed flavor later this year, she’s eyeing other store categories beyond crackers that could be a fit for sourdough’s flavor and digestive benefits.

“We’re going to be using the magic of fermentation to go to multiple areas of the grocery store,” she predicted.

About the Author(s)

Nick Collias

Contributing writer

Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working in the health and fitness industry. From 2016 to 2021, he was the host of the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, interviewing elite athletes and training thought-leaders on a wide range of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle topics. Additionally, he has worked for the last 20 years as a longform print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter and editor. 

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