It's not sour!


Hello! I've been baking breads succesfully for a year now, and thought I'd throw my hand into sourdough.

It isn't sour! At all.

Is the bread good? Sure. It even has that wonderful crust sourdough has.

But it lacks real flavor.

I let my starter sit for five days, feeding it twice. It had a stinky smell, and I put a cup and a half into the dough. What did I do wrong?

342 users have voted.


rossnroller 2010 April 30

Hi lhawley,

I assume your starter was sitting at room temperature for 5 days and not in the fridge? If so, two feeds in 5 days is not enough to produce a nice ripe starter ready for baking. I feed mine twice daily when I want it active for baking, and in the meantime, when I'm not intending to use it, I store it in the fridge (it does not need to be fed while being stored at fridge temperatures, but it shouldn't be left dormant in the fridge for too long...although I confess I've neglected one of mine for as long as 4-5 weeks and the little trooper bounced back after a single feed!).

Suggest you have a read through the posts on starters on this site.

Also, it's a misnomer that sourdough bread should taste sour. Some do, most don't. There are ways to create a sour bread if that's what you want, but it is a mistake to think your SD bread is not as it 'should' be if it is not sour. Have a listen to the embedded audio in this post on my blog site, during which Australian sourdough legend John Downes discusses this very point.


Ihawley 2010 May 1


Okay, well, you've pretty much summed up all my problems in one reply. And I went about reading some of the 'how to start being a sourdough maker' posts and will try some things.

Thanks Ross!



Ihawley 2010 May 1

I also meant to ask:

My wife is convinced that my starter was not sour because I decided to use Teff flour as my starter flour, and Rice flour in my loaf. Is she correct in her assumption? I'm not sure that her reasoning is valid, she says Teff has too much Iron for a starter to grow properly; and I don't even know what she's talking about with the rice flour. As per your suggestion, I have begun feeding mine twice a day now, put don't want to put in the effort if that is the truth; I'd rather start over with just bread flour.


rossnroller 2010 May 1

I have no experience using Teff flour in a starter, and have never made a bread using rice flour! So, I can't comment.

I can say, though, that my starters are very healthy (one is all white flour, the other a mix of 30% organic rye and 70% white flour)...and that I've made quite a variety of very nice SD breads using various flours and flour combinations not including rice flour. Apart from a couple I've developed myself, all my breads have been based on recipes from other home bakers or from books. Why not have a look through some of the excellent recipes posted on this site, and when your starter is good and ripe, try one you like the look of?

I know that rice flour can be used in light white yeasted bread - eg: in Vietnamese rolls, which can be quite delightful. Dunno whether rice flour is very suited to sourdough...but who knows? Maybe someone with experience in using it will post and verify either way.

Ihawley 2010 May 1

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Yeah, I hope somebody does know; however, with both Teff and Rice flours being more expensive than your average flour, my wife has forbade any more experiments until I get more experience under my belt. She wants me to use some more recipes instead of just doing it willy-nilly. Har!

I should have split the dough into four loaves, not the two like I had done. It was much too condensed and heavy and (in the mouth) feels more like Mochi, a Japanese desert, than bread. I am very glad I added in yeast at the last second; I guess Teff flour has a hard time rising once it begins the baking process. The whole point of doing sourdough is so I don’t have to add in yeast!

rossnroller 2010 May 1

I think your wife's right! Makes sense to start with some good recipes and a set of scales, THEN progress to experimentation once you have the hang of the basics. Anyway, best of baking to you!

CayoKath 2010 May 2

I've used some brown rice flour in multigrain sourdough.  I find it to be a trick to work with, taking up moisture more than wheat flours, so you really have let the mixture set a few after adding the rice flour FIRST!  That's been my experience anyway.  I like the flavor it gives.  I find it true, too, that many sourdough breads don't have that sour taste.  You really need to let the starter you're going to use sour up at room temp quite a bit to get it.  Again, it's what I've experienced.  When I've soured up a starter and forgot to put my reserve aside prior, I sweeten it with a teaspoon of cumin and let it go through a couple of feedings before dividing and using. 

Tom_Herbert_ 2010 May 4

I would try doubling the quantity of sourdough in your recipe and cut back the water a little to compensate.

You'll taste it then. 

peace and loaf,



gingerbreadgirl's picture
gingerbreadgirl 2010 May 5

Hi there

you can try doing a refresh over a couple of days.  So, refresh the sour dough and you are ready to make bread.  Put in what your recipe calls for in dour dough and only half the flour and water.  let it sit over night.  the next day add the other half of the flour and the water and the salt (don't forget the salt - ever!) and then let it do a really slow rise - 12 hrs minimum - and then bake it.

It is not laborious, just rather time conuming, adding an extra day. See if that works to make the dough more sour.


What kind of sour dough are you using?  Wheat, rye or spelt?  Rye, for example, gives a much sourer flavour than wheat (I find, at least).

Good luck, Jane

Ihawley 2010 May 10

I mentioned earlier that I had used a combination of Teff, Rice, and all Purpose Flour. Rye is more sour eh? Maybe I'll give it a go.

gingerbreadgirl's picture
gingerbreadgirl 2010 May 12

Because Rye has a stronger flavour in general and because you use much more starter to make a rye loaf than a wheat one (heavier flour) the taste is stronger.  So, in a typical rye sour dough + wheat or spelt flour you use about 1:5 ratio of starter to flour.  In a typical 100% rye loaf you use 2:3:  much more starter to flour.  If you are using a wheat sour dough starter, the flavour all round is milder but the bread is lighter (colour and texture).  So it really depends what you are doing.  I use rye sour in the bakery.  I have a wheat sour in the fridge and make wheat sour dough bread/pancakes once in a while for a change.  Given it just sits around and minds its own business when it is not being used, I don't find it a hassle to have both in the fridge.  Let me know if you would like more details on rye starter and bread. 


alpine 2010 June 1

I own a sourdough bread bakery, we sell several tons of sourdough bread a month. If your sourdough bread isn’t sour, it isn’t sourdough bread. It’s really as simple as that.


I have people walking into my bakery, and at farmer’s markets, asking why their sourdough bread doesn’t taste anything like mine. I tell them the truth, they’re probably using a yeast only starter, as most people are, and not a sourdough starter.


Anyone who tells you sourdough bread isn’t always sour is...Mistaken. I had one "expert" bring his starter into the bakery for my opinion. I took a sniff, and said he must be testing me, what was in the jar was a yeast only starter. He got all huffy and said I couldn’t possibly tell with just one sniff. I went and grabbed one of several 5 gal buckets of our starter and said, smell this, he put his head in the bucket and inhaled deeply...After he stopped chocking, he stormed out the door.


Two weeks ago, at a farmer’s market, a girl asked me for my advice on how to build a good sourdough starter, I advised her not to even try. I told her 98%+ of the information on the internet and most of the books I’ve read about sourdough are totally wrong. Even "The Learning Channel" (TLC) had a webpage about sourdough that suggested the yeast created the sour with alcohol and lactic acid...Alcohol doesn’t sour bread, and yeast doesn’t produce lactic acid.


I suggested she go to Sourdoughs International, buy a real starter, and learn from there.

My employees are required to understand sourdough before their allowed to actually make any, below is an excerpt from our training process:

What is Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starter is a working culture of yeast and lactobacillus that flourish together. The lactobacillus produces the sour flavor; the yeast causes the bread to rise. The microorganism community in a good starter is pretty special. Not only must the strains of yeast and bacteria thrive on flour and water only, but they should also not compete for the same nutrients in the flour. The strain of lactobacillus must also be tolerant of the anti-bacterial effect of the alcohol the yeast produces; and the strain of yeast must be tolerant of the acidity the lactobacillus produces. Since the lactobacillus works slowly, the yeast in the culture must also be slow acting. For this reason, some of the best, most perfectly balanced sourdough cultures have been handed down for generations, are closely guarded, and are very old.


The sourdough lactobacillus is a bacteria similar to (but not the same as) the dairy lactobacillus strains used to produce the sour flavor in sour cream and yogurt, and the lactobacillus strains used to make vinegar. The dairy fermentation process produces mostly lactic acid; the vinegar fermentation process produces mostly acidic acid. The fermenting sourdough lactobacillus produces both lactic and acidic acids, giving sourdough it’s unique sour taste. The lactic acid provides the mellow, good aftertaste sour; the acidic acid gives you the sharp, in your face sour.


The lactobacillus also produces a bonus: It actually predigests the flour to a certain degree while producing enzymes that help human digestive systems digest not only the bread, but many foods eaten with the bread as well. Some people with gluten and wheat digestive issues claim they can eat sourdough with little or no problem.


The slow fermenting yeast (yeast is a fungi in the mushroom family), produces not only some flavor, but most importantly, the carbon dioxide gas necessary to make the bread rise.


Currently, about 1,500 Yeast species have been described; it is estimated that this number represents 1% of all yeast species. The genus Lactobacillus currently consists of over 125 species and encompasses a wide variety of organisms. (i.e. Huskies and Chihuahuas are members of the same species, but are not particularly interchangeable.) Capturing the best wild yeast and wild lactobacillus to create an excellent starter is purely a matter of dumb luck. Again; this is why some of the best commercial starters are closely guarded and very old. (Some people believe starter "acclimates" to an area and the various DNA somehow magically mutate to become the same as all the other starters in the same geographical area........Completely incorrect.)


I edited the above somewhat, but you get the drift.

sourdad 2011 March 26

Clearly you don't actually know how sourdough works.  There is no such thing as 'acidic acid', the word is 'acetic' and it is the sour component of vinegar (acetic acid diluted with water).

Postal grunt 2010 June 1

I find myself in agreement with the statements that you've posted. However, I would like to inquire if the yeast spores present on wheat and rye grains in their natural state survive the milling process and are present in unbleached and unbromated flours. I recognize that rye flour isn't bleached or bromated as a rule. If the spores survive milling, can they affect the sourdough culture?

Does your sourdough culture reject or overwhelm any or all other yeast spores? Or do you take steps, such as isolation or air filtration, to prevent cross contamination?

alpine 2010 June 1

We feed our starter on equal parts, by weight, of shepherds grain unbleached white and tap water only. On the rare occasions I make rye starter (we usually use standard white starter for production ryes), I’ll mix three parts water to two parts organic dark rye flour (again, by weight) to equal 10 or 20 lbs, add a tablespoon of starter, let it sit in the proofing room overnight, and have a seething mass of bubbling starter to work with the next morning. I toss the unused portion.


All flour has yeast spores, we don’t expose our production starter to any more contaminates than necessary.


Having said that, besides giving the starter a consistent diet, we basically don’t baby it at all. Actually, if you ever saw how I manipulate the starter over several days to dial-in the different degrees of sourness I want in the 8 to 10 different dough types required for a single day's production run, you’d be aghast. HINT: The flavor in sourdough is all about the lactobacillus, the importance of the yeast, beyond making the bread rise, is zip.


rossnroller 2010 June 1

You come across as VERY didactic and, in my view, over-assertive in your tone! Your claim that sourdough bread MUST taste sour is your view, clearly, but it is not fact and should not be presented as such. Hamelman and Reinhart are two bread gurus whose credibility is beyond challenge I'd suggest, and both make the point that sourness is not necessarily a quality of sourdough breads. Ditto John Downes (arguably, Australia's foremost authority on sourdough bread), in the radio interview embedded here. Have a listen - you might find this interview illuminating.

There is nothing wrong with having strong opinions. There is something wrong with presenting opinion as absolute truth. Your opinion on sourness being a prerequisite of sourdough bread is only your opinion and is not shared by some very respected expert bakers. That needs to be pointed out for the benefit of newcomers to sourdough bread baking.

alpine 2010 June 2

I did listen to the interview.


The gist of what was being said was as long as you don’t use baker’s yeast, the bread you’re making is sourdough. The first gentleman being interviewed mentioned bacteria, but seemed to have no idea how it fit into the picture. He even suggested yeast IS a bacteria, he said the lactobacillus generates the CO2 gas that makes the bread rise...This is one of your "experts"???


The gentleman in Great Britain said one of the goals of sourdough was to not let it get sour.

To use an actual sourdough culture and work at suppressing the lactobacillus...Is something akin to getting married and working at preserving your wife’s virginity. If you want to make sweet bread, make sweet bread; if you want to make sourdough bread, make sourdough bread. Trying to prevent your sourdough from tasting like sourdough is just plain weird.


I stand by everything I wrote...Doubly so after listening to that interview.


But since my "didactic" opinions on the defination and microbiology of sourdough upset the "experts", I’ll be happy to bow out of this forum and wish the beginners a whole lot of luck.

Peach 2022 December 28

I appreciate everything you had to say. Being from California I believe that sourdough should have a sour flavor. This is the reason I eat it.  Now living on the east coast they don't understand real sourdough. 

rossnroller 2010 June 2

Another poster questions your stance and you throw a tanty and quit the forum? Well, I guess that's consistent with someone who privileges their OPINION over the experts, who hasn't yet distinguished between personal perception and fact, and who interprets a challenge to their views as a personal attack. Bit of maturing ahead of you, alpine.

PS: Who said anything about your opinion upsetting the experts? Inflated sense of your own importance suggested there. Recommended reading: Aesop's fable about the gnat and the bull.

jock2010 2010 June 5

Hi all


i have spent the last few weeks reading about sourdough and creating my starter not even having tasted any sourdough bread before or even baked bread other than ciabatta which was only 3 weeks before that.


I live in ireland and you dont come across it at all so my reference point was nil.


My wife has lived in the USA so she has tasted commercial sourdough there and said she wouldnt put jam on it.....


Anyway. I baked my first bread on thursday night after creating a starter for about 2 weeks. In the irish summer which barely gets above 20c its not easy. I left the bread to cool and had a slice with a poached egg on friday morniing for breakfast and a taste sensation was an understatement.


Now the bread had a taste i would equate to beery yeast and i am not sure if this is correct but i can say i loved it.

To give Alpine his dues he is a professional baker but to be honest i just want to stick flour and water in my bowel mix and kneed it with some starter and have great tasting bread.

I will experiment more in the future....


i dont care if the science is wrong or i am not following sourdough etiquette but thanks to all the posts and starter guides on this site i am a convert from store bought crap to lovely sourdough.

all the best



3petitspains 2011 March 27

I must say I enjoyed reading this discussion thread (argument).

I really have to disagree strongly about sourdough bread having to be sour. And I think my customers would agree - the comments are often to the contrary (they like the fact that the bread isn't too sour). Though some people prefer a more sour taste. If this is what you are looking for then a longer fermentation time is the important factor for my mind (as others have said) - and much less to do with the acidity of the starter.

Also, the benefits of using sourdough starter are not just about the taste!

Baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is thought to be the cause of digestive problems and actually prevents the stomach from absorbing the goodness in the bread - this is discussed at some length in Andrew Whitley's _Bread Matters_. The nutrients in Sourdough breads are therefore much easier to digest/absorb.


My understanding of the taste impact of the starter is that if the starter is wetter it has more lactic acid and the drier it is the higher the acetic content. Therefore, if you can use a wetter starter (which are generally less stable), then the bread will taste less acid - it is the acetic acid which causes the acidic taste (as far as I am aware - this was from a French bakers text book - which I used to gain my Boulanger CAP).


Anyway this from Wikipedia:

When using a particularly liquid starter with a high concentration of lactobacillus or acetic acid bacteria, the large amount of lactic and acetic acids produced needs to be managed carefully, since the acid can break down the gluten in the bread dough; this becomes less of a concern in a stiffer starter, where the yeast usually predominates.

Makes things totally clear (NOT).

This doesn't make sense to me. Yeast dominates? Can someone explain (in laymans terms please)?








Rob Clayton 2020 March 1

Seems to me the whole argument here is a semantic one. Does sourdough have to be sour? Depends who you ask. My own inclination is to think if you call your bread "sour", people ought to expect it to taste sour. To me, sourness is the point of sourdough. I understand there are other benefits of using starter instead of yeast. Call bread that's not sour something else.

I'm grateful for the poster's information about the importance of lactobacillus and I'l be off looking for some....

Thanks to all!

Alan Rhone 2020 March 3

I agree on the naming.  My own starter produces lovely flavourful bread but it is not sour.  The smell of the starter is clean and fruity.  I may develop another starter culture and try to make it sour although I an not sure how to go about doing that.  Many who have never tried sourdough are put off by the name and it may be that only sour bread should be described as sourdough with all others simply referred to as "Naturally Leavened". 

HVHB 2011 April 2

 Well 3PP,

In my limited experience, a stiffer starter leads to lower acidity and thus lesser sourness.  I think that lower temperatures also tend to favour acetic acid forming cultures.

I'd like to insert my opinion on "Sourdough".  

I think sourdough can be a misnomer at times, as it is often used in the context of all naturally leavened breads.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I don't think naturally leavened breads must be sour.  Some comments have been made about if your leaven isn't sour you're not making sourdough, but is not always true; I think it depends on what you mean by "sourdough".

Many beginners think that the more sour their bread is, the better.  This is true if you like really sour bread.  If not, then you're not really pleasing anyone except the "true sour-nutters" who are probably just eating their bread more sour because then they'll be more cool, or something.  Most of us grow out of the "more sour is real sourdough" stage into the "good bread is is better sourdough" stage at some point.  That's not to say that you're not allowed to like sour bread, or even strive for it to a certain point.  However, I believe it is possible to make bread so sour that only pompous fool's will eat it.  That said, you could, in theory, start with a super sour leaven, and end up with a low sourness bread, dependent on your methods.

I try to use the term naturally leavened breads, but end up telling people anyway that it's sourdough because then they know what I mean.  It doesn't matter too much, but there are many naturally leavened breads out there that rely on numerous cultures for fermentation and, depending on your methods, the starter fermentation, or bulk fermentation, and/or final proving stages, can all favour or disadvantage one or another, or even many cultures.  Ingredients will/can also affect each of these stages, as will temperature changes, hydration, salt type and percentage, water mineral content, quality and chlorination and fluoridation, and I could probably think of one or two more, but people might start to think I know what I'm talking about...

Ihawley 2011 April 3

 Wow, been awhile since I was here...


Anyways, while I am not saying I disagree with these comments about how it doesn't need to be sour, my original goal in making sourdough was to, in fact, make a loaf with the flavor I'm used to from, say, the sourdough loaf sold at the supermarket or local baker. I wasn't going for overly sour or something odd like that. But all of my attempts at making sourdough with that flavor faltered and failed; however, I still got some awesome bread out of it, and the crust was always thick, with a wonderful crunch and made a hollow sound when tapped. I was just hoping someone could tell me "Well, mine has that flavor, and I do this," but instead this became some sort of...argument?


I'm still hoping for some advice other than...well, none at all, or give up (which still isn't advice). My local baker offered to sell me some of his starter, and that worked, but it's more fun when it's a "do it yourself" project for those long days with nothing to do.

3petitspains 2011 April 4


I'm still hoping for some advice other than...well, none at all, or give up (which still isn't advice). My local baker offered to sell me some of his starter, and that worked, but it's more fun when it's a "do it yourself" project for those long days with nothing to do.


Not wanting to turn this into an argument, but...

There seemed to me to be quite a lot of advice about how to increase the sourness of your bread. Longer rising times at (obviously) lower temperatures and the use of a firmer starter.

It is a shame that your local baker is *charging* for starter - we give it to people who ask - it is just some flour and water after all and you can start with such a small amount. My local bakery in London used to give me big chunks of baker's yeast for free - this was before I discovered the wonders of SD bread - they seemed to want to encourage someone who was making their own bread.

Maybe you should start some new starter using the best flour you can get and maybe spring water?

Anyway,  thanks for starting this thread (so long ago) and I hope you are still making your own SD bread.

dorisw 2011 April 6

I just found your post and thought it rather interesting - here you are, wanting to produce a more sour tasting sourdough bread, and I posted a question about how to reduce the sourness in my bread because I want my better half to eat it, too.. 

I am a beginner, and don't know many of the why's ( hope to find out though), but if you are still out there, and if we exchange our recipies, perhaps we can help each other?  I should mention though that my starter is made with 100% rye flour ( used to be a wheat starter that I converted) , and that I use 50% rye and 50% spelt in my bread. 


sourdoughmama 2011 April 23

My starter is relatively new....5 months old.  I have found that time and giving a variety of food increases the sourness as well as long slow ferments (I do a 24 hour room temp levain and this is yummy).  Even just giving different types of wheat flour has helped mine, but I am not looking for the sourness level that only pompousness calls for :)  I only keep one starter, but plan to feed rye occasionally to add to the depth of its flavor.  I remember one member of this site, describing he/she uses a flour mixture with every feed that represents what he/she typically uses when baking.  Here is my advice, try one new idea at a time, see if you like it, then use again if like. It's that simple.  Be careful how much you read, opinions vary, in fact they vary as much as starters do.  You get to know your starter with plenty of use, so let your intuition and the feel in your hands be the guide. I  keep mine in the fridge between use, but find if I give it several days of twice daily feeds (approximate...based on temp in my house) the sour will increase.  Don't quit, think of this as your new adventure and enjoy the journey.  Just my opinion, now facts were forced against their will into this post.

panfresca 2011 April 23

 Well said, sourdoughmama. I still have a long way to go, and did a lot of reading before I got started on sourdough, and still consume a lot of material looking for different ideas. It amazes me how many ways there are to do this, and they all work. That's pretty good for a beginner because it means it's difficult to have a complete disaster! Some quarters are very dogmatic that their way is the only way, but I'm finding that if you make an effort to understand what is actually going on, you can see why different ways work - and also that there's not really so much difference between them. Plus, experimenting with "conflicting" methods is a lot of fun and quite educational.

One of the really nice things about this forum is that most members are very friendly and supportive and although they might have strong passions and opinions, don't become dogmatic or belligerent in discussion.

athomenow 2011 July 7

Wow, that's all i can say after reading everything written about sourdough bread and starters.  I didn't have a clue what I was doing when i started and now I'm more confused than ever.  Having said that, I did bake my first loaves today and the turned out quite lovely.  Taste was good, could have been a little crustier but the sandwich I had was great.  I baked it in a round shape but will have to experiment with other shapes and maybe steam.  I have a stone but didn't think to use it.  I put them on a cookie sheet with a little cornmeal.  Don't really understand about a long proof because i used the proof cycle on my oven.  Is it better to do it just on the counter or even in the refigerator?  I do have many questions and look forward to all your help.  Not looking for scientific information, just what a homemaker from Ohio should do about her bread!


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 July 7

Hello athomenow,

Welcome to the site and sourdough.

All of the various methods will work.  What you have to settle on is something that suits your lifestyle and time frame.

If you are short of time your proving cycle is fine but you might lose out a bit on some of the subtle flavours that will develop with more time.  At different temperatures, components of the biology in your culture develop at different rates and so the flavours that they impart will vary.

I would recommend that you practice with one method until you are confident of the techniques and quality that you can produce.  Then experiment with changing the method so that you can compare the differences with a consistent base-line.

Keep on bakin'


athomenow 2011 July 7

Thanks for the welcome to the forum.  Love reading all about what other people are doing with their bread and the pictures are great.  I do want to try other methods but as you said I'm happy to have something that tasted good and did a pretty good rise.  Baking a sourdough banana bread tomorrow.  Also I'm into cinnamon rolls and will probably be baking up another batch of those soon.  Giving this stuff away to the neighbors because it's just my husband and I.  I bake out of boredom!



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