Active Starter - bread that isn't "sour"


My starter is about 2 years old and suddenly has been producing bread that had great crumb, spring, crust, etc, but doesn't have the distinctive "sour" taste or smell!  I have a recipe that I've perfected  and I really don't deviate from it. The starter doesn't even smell as sour as it used to.   It seems to be just as active as it always has been - bubbling after being fed, rising the bread, etc. Any ideas? 

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LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 December 21

 The bacteria are what cause the bread to get a sour flavor.  I have read that they are fragile.  It is possible that you have done something that has caused them to diminish.  Where are you storing your starter and at what temperature?  What are you feeding your starter and how often?

pattycom 2010 December 22

I have been storing my starter in the refrigerator at 40 degrees (F) and feeding it once a week with 1/2 c. flour and 1/2 c. water.  It smells plenty sour.  Maybe I should feed it daily for a week or so and keep it on the counter.  Feed it with 2:1 flour and water instead of 1:1?




LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 December 22

 I have read that the fragile bacterial don't like being stored in the refrigerator.  The hydration of your starter is at about 160% which is another factor that makes for a mild starter.  Here is a thread from The Fresh Loaf that might be helpful if you can understand it.  One more thing that you might find helpful is to use a scale to weight your ingredients that you feed your starter with.  Weighing the ingredients that you put into your bread can also be helpful to general bread making.  One last thing that should help get the sour flavor back is feed the starter with a percentage of rye flour.

jem 2010 December 22

My experience has been that frequent feeding makes yeastier starters, and less frequent feeding makes more sluggish, sour starters. Normally I have this problem the other way round, so I feed it more.


If it were me I might try separating off a bit of your starter and feeding it half as often - see what happens.


As to why there was a change in the first place? Starters are very dynamic communities. The amazing thing is really that they are ever stable at all. It sounds like you have somehow bred or been invaded by some yeast with links to Atilla the Hun. I'd think of it as a good thing.

Apart from that, what Leaddog says (like your tagline by the way).


redrich2000 2012 January 15

I have a similar problem. My starter has been very active but my bread has not really been sour. I have tried various hydrations and adding various amounts of rye flour. Initially I thought the rye flour did the trick but I now have doubts. Rye bread has a tangyness to it, I think I initially mistook that for more sourness.

I read the article from the Fresh Loaf posted above but its not very useful as a practical guide. I read a thread here a while ago where a professional baker argued that most 'sourdough' starters only contain yeast and very little if any of the bacteria that produce sourness. So they rise bread but don't make proper sourdough. That made sense to me. My starters smell yeasty and my breads taste nothing like a good sourdough. Also, good sourdough doe not need any rye to taste sour.

So I guess I'm interested in any tips for developing my starter. Are there any different foods or techniques that can be added to encourage the acid/bacteria that we are after?


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 15

Hello redrich,

In my experience, if you give your starter/dough time, sourness will develop.  As I understand it, this is because the bacteria producing acid (sourness) are generally less active than the yeasts and some of them consume the waste products from the yeast and thus logically have to 'follow' the yeast activity.

So, if you are feeding your starter every day or more often, any acid that is produced is diluted and so the acid is less detectable when you taste it.  If you store in the fridge and only feed once a week you will probably find that you have a much more 'sour' starter.

According to other blogs, the hydration of the starter can also have an effect by modifying the chemical pathways that are available.

Similarly, when you prepare your dough, you are diluting the acid, probably to a much greater degree.  So one option is to increase the percentage of starter that you use to make the dough.  If you look at the blog on Fred Bread  in the recipes section you will see an example of these likely effects.

I gather that the bacterial action is also less affected by cool conditions such as in the refrigerator and this is why retardation will also give a more noticeably sour result.

Hope this helps.  Let us know how you go.


redrich2000 2012 January 15

What about feeding the starter more acid, like grapes? I read on another site that you can feed them lots of different stuff. One suggestion was peeled mashed grapes. I have a few starters going so have decided to play with this, I fed one batch some flour and 6 peeled mashed grapes.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 15

Hi redrich,

My inclination would be to keep it simple.  If you look far enough out there you will find just about anything - even to the extent of adding sulphuric acid I wouldn't be surprised.  I have heard of people using grapes in starter development, ostensibly as a source of wild yeasts that inhabit the skins, and others recommend using pineapple juice to lower the pH which is supposed to help with the establishment of 'good' beasties and to inhibit the nasty ones.  Both of these only at the beginning and not as a routine thing.

I believe that some commercial 'sourdough' breads actually have sourdough flavour added - probably acetic acid (vinegar) or lactic acid or somesuch other - to 'enhance' the flavour  so I wouldn't necessarily be too deceived by the flavour of some commercial breads.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with experimentation, I think you can too soon become overwhelmed by it all and end up in succeeding at nothing rather than ending up making great bread (sour or not).

Hang in there.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2012 January 15

 I searched for years ways to make my breads more sour and tried everything I could find.  Then for some crazy reason I tried my idea for Fred Bread and that reciepe can make a sour loaf of bread.  You can also make loaves of bread that have great flavor with less sour with that recipe also.  The difference is in how long you let the preferement sit before you make the dough.  It is a whole new way of making bread for me and I'm exploring different ideas with it every week.

themadwookie 2013 April 14

I'm interested in variations of sourdough bread making. Where can I find you blog, it sounds interesting?

Thanks, Chuck

redrich2000 2012 January 15

Lead Dog, I saw your blog but couldn't exactly follow what exactly goes into the pre-ferment (apart from a very small amount of starter, some flour and a lot of water. Could you give us the exact recipe for the pre-ferment?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 15

Hello redrich,

Whilst it would start with a larger amount of 'mother' starter, the spreadsheet of mine for the three stage build would give you a reasonable approximation plus it has the advantage that you can nominate the quantity of pre-ferment that you want to end up with.  If you want to do the build in one go, you just have to add the three quantities of flour and water up and add those.


lluisanunez's picture
lluisanunez 2012 January 16


I'm also following the Fred Bread recipe and making my experiments. I did some aproximation calculations for the starter and got one wich weighs 755 gr, made with 2 gr starter, 270 gr flour and 480 gr water. But please, Leaddog do correct me if I'm wrong. My preferment is mixed and bubbling. I'll tell you about the results in 36 hours :-)


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2012 January 16

lluisanunez your figures are very close.  Take 480 grams of water and devided that by 270 grams of flour and you get 177% hydration.  I have spreadsheets that do all my math for me so when I get an idea for a new bread I just enter the numbers and the spreadsheet gives me the amounts for the ingredients.  When I want to make a larger loaf of Fred Bread I just change the amount of dough I want from 1200 to 1500 and the rest of the math is done.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2012 January 16

 redrich2000 I have added directions to the Fred Bread recipe on how I made the preferement.  That should keep all the directions in one place.  If you have any problems or questions let me know.

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