The Fresh Loaf

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Does using an not too recently refreshed sourdough lead to a VERY sour sourdough?

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luc's picture

Does using an not too recently refreshed sourdough lead to a VERY sour sourdough?

I recently did some whole wheat sourdough loaves that I discovered to be very sour.

The starter that I'm using in the levain is relatively new - as the whole wheat loaves were only
my second batch of sourdough. But thinking back I was in a rush when making the levain and I used the
starter straight from the refrigerator... it hadn't been replenished and hadn't been brought up to room temp.
I just used 2 tablespoons worth, dissolved and worked into the rest of the leavain to then sit overnight.

The resulting loaves are noticeably sour... much more so than using the same starter for a levain just the week before. The major difference would be that on the earlier less sour loaves I had refreshed the starter at least 8 hours prior and I added it to the levain when it was at room temp.

The other major difference would be that the others were white flour with a small addition of rye. Where as the wheat bread was a larger portion of wholewheat and white.

What are you thoughts?

Does it stand to reason that it was the starter? (eg. not being room temp/refreshed)


Was it perhaps some interaction with the whole wheat that made it more sour?


A combination of all of the above?

Best regards,

SourdoLady's picture

Most likely it was the large portion of WW flour that made it more sour. Whole wheat and rye will both ferment to a more sour taste than white flour does. Had you used a larger amount of old starter that could have contributed also, but 2 Tbsp. is not enough to make that much difference, IMO. It is good that you only used a small amount of starter since you hadn't refreshed it. You probably wouldn't have gotten a good rise with a larger amount of unfed, sluggish starter. Also, you will find that as your starter ages it will develop more flavor and sourness.

faemystique's picture

Double posted:

Something I discovered myself is this. When I first created my starter about a month and a half ago, I would get beautiful tasting, regular white bread. Try as I might, I did not get much sour taste at all.

I abused my starter... haha... meaning I experimented, with beer and with vinegar. Then I refridgerated it, and had to revitalize it. As the refridgerating really slowed it down. So now, its been out of the fridge for a few weeks. I was feeding it every day. Then I skipped a few days. Then I fed it, and after awhile baked some bread. IT WAS SOUR!

Hmm... then after some investigation I found an article that said, when you feed it regularily you favor the yeast production, and less sour taste... if its ignored and fed less, you favor bacterial growth, hence more sour taste and flavor. This seems to be true, I ignored it for two days, fed it and it is now bubbling away and I dipped a finger in... VERY SOUR!

So, I am excited to bake some tomorrow... Hope this helps.

Breadsy_in_OK's picture

I ignored my starter in the frig for about 6 weeks now, assuming I'd have to throw it away after so long ... but now that I've taken it out it's rising!  Is it of any worth at all?  I really hate to lose it; it's a wild yeast starter and took about 1 week to make!



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Feed it and go for it!  :) Mini Oven

case111's picture

Your sourdough starter is a community of living organisms. Like any community of living organisms, waste is produced.

The primary wastes of yeast is alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, the primary wastes of the lactobacilli in a sourdough starter is lactic and acidic acids (vinegar is composed mostly of acidic acid). None of these wastes provide any nutrients to any other members of the community. When you feed your culture, the part you throw away is at least as important as the clean water and food (read: flour only) you add. The part you throw away is removing the raw sewage and keeping your culture healthy.

You WANT these “contaminants” in your bread; even though they’re equally poisonous to human beings, because, in small quantities they contribute a wonderful taste to your bread. To dump the equivalent of raw sewage (vinegar or beer) into your starter is...Let’s see if I can word this diplomatically...Counterproductive.

If I detect too much sour or alcohol in my starters, I wash them until they get healthy again. I’ve read about people deliberately contaminating their starters but never actually figured out why they thought this was such a wonderful idea. Several of my cultures are years old and have been kept clean, including washing when necessary, and produce consistently excellent bread. If you’re getting unpredictable results from an abused culture, clean it up, feed it properly, and the problems will go away.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The "washing" sounds interesting. Specifically, how do you do it? What is your process of washing?
As far as "contaminating" goes, I believe it's done to change the pH. Tell me more on washing. :) Mini Oven

case111's picture

The waste products generated by the microorganisms in the culture are the quickest way to kill a culture (besides excess heat). When the build-up becomes dangerous, you need to wash the culture to remove the contaminates.

Bring the culture to room temp if refrigerated. Feed the culture normally, let it sit until fully activated, put half your culture in a very well rinsed water glass, cover the glass with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator as back-up.
You should keep about 1/2 cup of culture remaining in the jar. Fill the jar with about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of lukewarm water, around 90 degrees or so. Stir well, pour 1/2 cup of the diluted culture into a well rinsed measuring cup, dispose of the rest. Clean and rinse the jar USING NO SOAP. Pour the 1/2 cup culture back into the jar and add 4 ounces of flour only, adjust mixture as necessary using flour or water to get to thick pancake batter consistency. the diluted culture should reactivate quickly since the remaining microorganisms were active to start with.

A culture that’s been neglected in the refrigerator for quite a while may need to be fed regularly and washed every couple of days for three or so washings. If you have a good culture, the first thing you’ll notice is the yeast and lactobacillus get real happy in a clean environment. If you should buy a real sourdough culture from someone like Sourdough International, NEVER put anything in it but flour and water...Period.

The way to tell if your culture is damaged is: if the flour settles to the bottom of the jar and packs to a semi-solid mass and you get sour brackish water on top, the bacteria survived but the yeast didn’t (if you’ve been dumping sugar or fruit juice in your culture, I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess at what bacterias you’ve been growing; If you’ve also been dumping vinegar in your culture you probably killed all the bacteria anyway so don’t worry about it). If you get an active starter that just produces alcohol but no sourness, the yeast survived but the lactobacillus didn’t. If all is well, toss or use the back-up in the water glass.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

First of all, thank you for the information and quick response.
Washing doesn't seem any different to what I normally do, with the exception that I don't add good water to something I would throw away. I have bottled water and cannot trust tap water (now we're talking bacteria) I think mixing two good tablespoons of starter with 1/2 cup of water (4 oz or 120 ml) and then feeding flour to the starter accomplishes the same. :) Mini Oven

case111's picture

Yeast alone likes a somewhat acidic environment. For this reason adding some ascorbic acid (vitamin “C”) to yeast only cultures to increase their PH makes them happier. When working with a real sourdough culture, too little acidity is the least of your problems. If adding acidity “improves” your culture, you obviously aren't using a sourdough culture and need to adjust your handling accordingly.

(OK...I'll admit a LITTLE vinegar MAY help a yeast only culture by increasing the acidity, but my yeast only cultures do just fine by themselves so I'll never corrupt them to test this theory.)

case111's picture

Although lots of chlorine is bad, average tap water isn’t any real problem; the bacteria just becomes extra food for a healthy bread culture (unless you add sugar or fruit juice, then all bets are off and you could be breeding anything). I used to use bottled and filtered water, but, in my area the water’s chlorination level hasn’t given me a problem so I stopped using it. I also realize in some areas the water is so bad, and the chlorine levels so high, it’s almost unusable. Keep in mind the reason for wine and bread becoming such a mainstay in historical human diets is the sterilizing effect of yeast and bread starters. Drinking wine and eating bread was the surest way to prevent cholera, diphtheria and a host of other food and water borne diseases.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I've made lots of wine from fruit juice too. The bacteria just becomes extra food for a healthy yeast culture. :) Mini Oven

case111's picture

Wine and sourdough bread have only one thing in common...yeast (and not even the same strains at that). In your sourdough culture you WANT bacteria to generate acidic acid (vinegar), as well as lactic acid. In wine making, fermenting grape juice into vinegar is usually considered a bad thing. Only a limited number of yeasts and bacterias conducive to bread making will thrive in flour and water alone, these you want. Once you start dumping milk and/or sugars in your culture, many, many other microorganisms will now thrive in your culture, these you don’t want. I personally feel the antibiotic nature of a well balanced culture is something to be carefully conserved, not deliberately circumvented.

I’ve never put anything but unbleached white or whole wheat flour and water in a working culture and all my cultures produce perfect breads every time, I can’t even imagine putting anything else in them. If someone should stop dumping a lot of garbage in their culture and it dies, I would see this as a very good thing because who knows what was in there.