The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My "sourdough" bread tasted like white bread.

ginnyj's picture

My "sourdough" bread tasted like white bread.

I've been feeding a sourdough starter for over 6 months.  I've baked it with only twice.  Both times I used the same recipe and both times the bread did not taste or look like sourdough. 

The bread tonight tasted just like white bread.  I didn't use quarry tiles or spray the oven with water but that shouldn't affect the flavor I wouldn't think.

The recipe I used called for proofing the sponge the night before which I did.  Where I may have gone wrong is that the starter may not have been vigorous enough.  I usually feed the starter once every 2 weeks or so.  I fed it yesterday morning, put it back in the refer and then decided to use it so pulled it out to warm up and make the sponge in the evening.  That's what I used today to make the bread.  It is possible the starter wasn't powerful enough to give good flavor and texture?


Ginny, a beginner bread baker




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The baked loaf may sour up as the days go by.   If it lasts that long. 

Could be your starter is lopsided yeasty with less lacto-action.  How cold is the refrigerator?  A few degrees cooler than normal may make a big difference.  Try feeding regularly (2 x day)  and leaving it out on the counter top a few days before using in the next loaf. 

Later, once the lacto-beasties have shown themselves:  Look for a warmer place in the fridge.  (door, top or in a compartment)  You also might want to leave the starter out a little longer before refrigeration.


hansjoakim's picture

I'm sorry to interrupt, and I hope I'm not throwing the thread off-topic, but here goes: I'm wondering what's going on in loaves that are supposed to get more sour as days go by. To be honest, I've not noticed any distinct differences from baking day until "expiry date" in most of my white sourdough loaves. What kind of processes would increase the tang in a baked loaf? I've often found that the flavour of all-rye breads change slightly over the days, but I'm inclined to attribute that to the gradual drying out of an otherwise extremely moist crumb...

Yumarama's picture

Add to that the method you use to mix it, how long you wait before you put it back in the fridge and you could be disabling your starter unknowingly.

If you know you'll be baking ,say, Saturday, you should consider taking the starter out of the fridge Thursday evening, giving it a feed, another Friday morning, one more in the evening and use it Saturday morning. By giving it those three warm feeds in a row, you'll be letting all the little critters in the mix get active and ready to go to work.

If you're putting the starter back in the fridge pretty much immediately after you give it a feed, you're again not letting the critters get active. So even if you decide not to bake that weekend, take the starter and give it a feed, then let it sit out for a couple of hours so the critters that are in there can wake up and start working on the new food. If you pop it back in the fridge too fast, they won't be up to their best and likely will not have time to  develop much before going back into hibernation.

The hydration of your starter is yet another possible place you're losing flavour. Stiffer starters are said to get a tangier 'sour" taste, where thin (like 125%) starters lessen the sour and work more on the leavening side. A 100% starter, on the other hand, is a nice, middle of the road place. This , however, is just what I've picked up and I've not kept a very wet or very stiff starter so I can't really say for certain if this is completely accurate- and it likely isn't. Someone who's played with the full range can probably give you much more info.

Speaking of info, it would also help a lot if you described your process and your starter when asking for help. The more detail the better, remember you can't give TOO much info when asking for help. But you can definitely give not enough.

So let us know what your starter hydration/feeding is, what kind of flour are you using, what process are you following to feed then refrigerate, what recipe did you use for the bread, etc., etc..


rossnroller's picture

It's a common misnomer that sourdough bread is - or should be - sour! Not the case at all!

Some sourdough loaves are sour, to be sure (eg: the famous San Francisco product), but most are not, and shouldn't be. It really is not a case of sour = good/successful and not sour = failure/less-than-genuine.

Others will no doubt be able to explain more about the factors that influence sourness in the final flavour, but I know the starter itself is a big influence. Some starters have a sourness as part of their intrinsic quality, while others do not.

I have found that feeding up a starter by degrees over a period of days, rather than discarding and freshening over a couple of days, increases sourness...but it also takes a bit of the oomph out of the starter's rising power.

Really, there is so much more to sourdough bread than "sourness", and I think it's a pity when people get hung up on this, while not being fully open to (or even aware of) the wonderful complexity of flavour that is part of sourdough bread appreciation and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with sourness.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven


Yumarama's picture

It should probably be pointed out every now and again that the word "sour" in English and the word "sour" in "sourdough" are not the same. 

The word "sour" in English is defined as "having an acid taste".

Sour in "sourdough", however, refers more to the fermentation process, not the acidic flavour. 

Just as BBQ ribs will differ from one style to another, one focussing on heat or strong flavours, another aiming for subtle nuances and letting the meat flavours shine, different breads will aim for different aspects of the sourdough process. Some will focus mostly on the effervescence/leavening aspects, others (like San Fran Sourdough) focus on bumping up the acids, while others will play on the natural yeasts' flavours.

Yet they'd all still be "sourdough" because they're using the natural fermentation process.

So when you see "sourdough" think more "fermented dough", not "sour dough".

sojourner's picture

I love traditional breads, both in the UK but also in France, where most of my favourites are made by what we'd call a sourdough starter but is, in fact, simply a starter with some age to it, something a bit like the solera system in making sherry. To that extent, it's vaguely like an "old dough" starter but with a bit more character. Rossnroller and others have mentioned that not all sourdoughs are sour and that not everyone aims for sourness. That's spot on - my French friends don't aim for sourness, they aim for texture and taste.

So, if anything, go for what you enjoy and don't worry about what is or isn't the flavour of the month.




ginnyj's picture

WOW - you guys are so knowledgeable! I'm off to work but will get back to this tonight and give more information about the recipe etc., as rainbowz suggested.

No one mentioned texture yet. 

Have a great day and thanks!!




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

you discribed your texture.  All I could find is that it wasn't what you expected from sourdough.   Texture is more of a personal thing.  How did yours come out and what do you like your texture to be?  Any Photos? 


rainwater's picture

If the sourdough bread rose properly, and had good texture....then I would consider the bread successful.  I've read that the French intentionally do not like their sourdough bread "sour", but more delicate in it's flavor.  ....but European flour seems to produce more flavorful bread anyway.  Also, I think this has been mentioned; every place has it's own unique sourdough characteristics.  I live in Houston, and my sourdough is not particularly "sour", but the bread is very flavorful!  I use %100 hydration for my starter.  Your bread may taste like "white bread", but I'm betting it tastes better than any "white bread" you can purchase commercially.

bassopotamus's picture

I keep my starter in the fridge and noticed over the summer that our sourdough gradually lost it's sour. Mini's advice is spot on (and she may have given it to me earlier this year...) sometimes, the stater needs to be changed up a bit to bring balance between yeast and bacteria activity. I did mine for a week or so of 2x a day feedings at room temp, and it went back to sour.



ginnyj's picture

Thank you all for your thoughts.  In answer to some specific questions



I have been keeping the starter in colder areas in my refrigerator; I guess that is a bad idea.  When I feed it I do leave it out to warm up for 2 hours, then feed it and leave it out for another 2 hours before putting it back in the refrigerator.



“The method I use to mix it”…………I first stir in the hooch that has developed, then I add the water and then the flour and mix all with a plastic spoon until fairly well mixed.

Thanks for the recommendation to begin feeding it 3 days before baking with it.  I will try that for sure.

I have no idea what the hydration of my starter is.  I’ve read a lot of information about hydration but the concept hasn’t clicked yet.  What I do is keep a small amount of starter, probably ½ cup.  I would stir it up, dump out maybe half of it and then add equal amounts of water and flour to match the amount of starter I have kept.  ie 300 grams starter, 300 grams water, 300 grams flour.  I do use a scale.

Thank you for reminding me to include more information.  When I get frustrated I often send off a message to a great forum like this, without giving it enough thought and including the needed info.  (My most favorite place to get advice is Gardenweb;  I have gotten so much help with computer problems, plumbing problems, recipes etc.,  If you haven’t been there do take it a look.  Of course they have discussions about gardening.)


I use good white flour, probably King Arthur, and room temperature bottled water.


Here’s the recipe I used along with the link to the webpage.  “Sourdough Baking” by S. John Ross

Sourdough Baking Step One: Proofing the Sponge

Several hours before you plan to make your dough (recipe below), you need to make a sponge. A "sponge" is just another word for a bowl of warm, fermented batter. This is how you make your sponge.

  • Take your starter out of the fridge. Pour it into a large glass or plastic bowl. Meanwhile, wash the jar and dry it. You may also wish to pour boiling water over it, since you don't want other things growing in there with your pet!

  • Add a cup of warm water and a cup of flour to the bowl. Stir well, and set it in a warm place for several hours. This is called "proofing," another word for fermenting. Sourdough bakers have their own language; use it to impress your friends ;)

  • Watch for Froth and and Sniff. When your sponge is bubbly and has a white froth, and it smells a little sour, it is ready. The longer you let the sponge sit, the more sour flavor you will get.

The proofing-time varies. Some starters can proof up to frothiness in an hour or two. Some take 6-8 hours, or even longer. Just experiment and see how long yours takes. If you're going to bake in the morning, set your sponge out to proof overnight.

Sourdough Baking Step Two: The Actual Recipe

Of course, there are a lot of recipes for sourdough bread. There are also recipes for sourdough rolls, sourdough pancakes, sourdough pretzels, sourdough bagels, and probably sourdough saltines for all I know. This is the basic recipe I use, though, and it's simple and makes a fine bread. You'll need the following:

  • 2 Cups of sponge (proofed starter)

  • 3 Cups of unbleached flour

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine

  • 4 teaspoons of sugar

  • 2 teaspoons of salt

First, let's talk about leftover sponge. You should have some. The leftover sponge is your starter for next time: Put it into the jar, and give it a fresh feed of a half-cup each of flour and warm water. Keep it in the fridge as above; you'll have starter again next time.

Now, for the recipe: To the sponge, add the sugar, salt, and oil (the oil is optional - you can use softened butter instead, or no oil at all). Mix well, then knead in the flour a half-cup at a time. Knead in enough flour to make a good, flexible bread dough. You can do this with an electric mixer, a bread machine on "dough cycle," or a food processor. You can also do it with a big bowl and your bare hands.

Keep in mind that flour amounts are approximate; flour varies in absorbency, and your sponge can vary in wetness. Use your judgment; treat it like ordinary white or french bread dough. Trust your hands and eyes more than the recipe, always.

Let the dough rise in a warm place, in a bowl covered loosely with a towel (if you're using a bread machine's dough cycle, let it rise in the machine). Note that sourdough rises more slowly than yeast bread; my starter takes about an hour or so, but some starters take much longer. Let the dough double in bulk, just like yeast-bread dough. When a finger poked into the top of the dough creates a pit that doesn't "heal" (spring back), you've got a risen dough.

Punch the dough down and knead it a little more. Make a loaf and place it on a baking sheet (lightly greased or sprinkled with cornmeal). Slit the top if you like, and cover the loaf with a paper towel and place it in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in bulk.

Place the pan with the loaf in your oven, and then turn your oven to 350o Fahrenheit and bake the bread for 30-45 minutes. Do not preheat the oven. The loaf is done when the crust is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped with a wooden spoon. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack or a towel and let it cool for an hour before slicing.



I have to admit I grew up on San Francisco Sourdough and although the original bakeries are gone, there are a lot of bakers here that make a pretty good copy.   I’m not a big fan of real sour flavor but what concerned me was that there was no sourness at all to my bread nor did it have the texture of sourdough bread I can buy. 

I certainly have gotten some great information from each of you.  I will try the suggestions and I definitely have a better idea what to expect from using a sourdough starter!!

Many thanks!!








Yumarama's picture

All right, based on that great batch of info, we can see the following:

Your starter is a 100% hydration starter. If the weight of the flour (100%) and the weight of the water is equal (hence also 100%) then that's 100% hydration. If you used 1 part flour to 1.5 parts water, you'd have 150% hydration. And so forth. Backwards, too: 1 part water and 2 parts flour would be... 50% hydration. 

Right now, it seems you're on a 1:1:1 ratio with everything being equal. If you pop your starter in the fridge for up to two weeks between feeds, I'd highly recommend you switch that up to 1:2:2 so your starter has twice as much flour and water to make it through the long stay. 

The fact you noted you "stir in the hootch" indicates that your starter, even though it's refrigerated and therefore slowed down considerably, is still running out of food before you get to it again. Hootch = hungry starter. Bump up the food supply. Or feed weekly. Or both.

Now on to that bread recipe:

The instructions in the recipe for setting up your next lot of starter is a little off. 1 cup of flour and one cup of water is NOT 100% hydration - although they don't claim it is. A cup of flour, first of all, varies a huge amount depending on how you scoop. It could easily weigh anywhere between 110 to 160 grams. A cup of water, on the other hand, weighs about 245g or almost twice the weight of the flour. That's closer to 200% hydration. However, that's not really an issue if that's what they want for the "sponge". It is an issue, though, for your starter. 

I'll recommend that instead of using your starter and dumping the whole thing into that sponge bowl, you get in the habit of using the excess from your feeding to use in your breads (this or any other). This saves the possible accident (and yes, it's happened to even some of the pros on this site) of forgetting to take some back and then baking the last of your starter.

As to the recipe: To be honest, I'm really not a fan of "volume" recipes since there's so much room for variations from one batch to the other. Here he says "a cup of flour and a cup of water" for the sponge then add "three cups of unbleached flour" for the bread itself. Since 'a cup' can easily vary from 110g to 160g depending on how you happen to scoop it, how long the flour in the bag has been compacting or just the weather, that 3.5 'cups' total could be anywhere from 385g to 560g, or about 'a cup' more or less. Assuming "a cup" is 4.5 oz or 127g.

And that's just a best guess, there really isn't an actual "official weight" for a cup of flour. Peter Reinhart says it's 4.5 oz, Jeff Hamelman says 4.3, King Arthur says 4.25, Maggie Glazer say 4.8, Rose Levy Beranbaum says 5.5 oz... There is no consensus. BUT 130g of flour is 130g pretty much anywhere except the moon.

So I would, first off, suggest you find a good weight based recipe. Wild Yeast (TFL member SusanFNP)'s Norwich Sourdough is a very popular one and uses gram weights. You'll find many people have made it and posted about it so it has plenty of "research material" on the forum for you to review. Here, for example, is David (dmsnyder) posting about it on his TFL blog:

One more little tip: practice your skills and play with the starter on just one recipe. If you switch recipes while experimenting (and you do want to get that starter steady) you'll never know if a new twist - good or bad - is because of the new recipe of a change you made in the starter. So pick one and do it several times over until you get it how you like.

OK, I think I've babbled on long enough here. Let us know how it all works out.

rossnroller's picture

Far from "babbling on"! A great post, and Ginny should find it invaluable.

I found myself nodding in agreement with everything you wrote. Volume-based quantities are a pain. I now refuse to even consider a recipe that has the ingredients in volume rather than weight.

I also heartily second your Norwich Rye recommendation. This is a great bread, and easy to make to the point of being virtually foolproof if you follow the recipe properly and have a good, fresh, active starter.

On starters, I keep two going: one 80% hydration, consisting of just unbleached flour and filtered water, and the other - the one I use for the Norwich Rye and most other breads, parathas, bananabread, stollen, bagels etc - is a mix of 30% organic wholegrain rye/70% unbleached flour hydrated to 100%. I find the addition of rye keeps this starter very active and adds a nice little flavour kick to whatever you make from it. It tends to stay more sour, too, although as mentioned, that's not an issue for me.

Your tip on "playing with the starter on just one recipe" is a good one. I did this a lot when I first started baking sourdough bread. If the starter and recipe remain constant, you notice very significant variations in the bread based on the flour you use. The premium organic baker's flour I often use, for example, is a high protein high gluten flour that gives very robust texture and elasticity to the crumb of a pain du levain or the Norwich Rye, whereas if I use plain all-purpose flour, the crumb is noticeably softer and loses its elasticity more quickly. Then there are variations attained by mixing different quantities of the two flours. Fascinating stuff, and it all goes towards developing your general suss as a home baker.

These days, I find I get a big kick out of trying different recipes - there is always that expectation and surprise element at the end of your wait that agonising 2 hours for the bread to cool and finally that moment arrives when you expose the crumb with that first magical cut! Hugely pleasurable, and addictive! The baker's rush, no less!

It really is a good idea to get to know your starter and a couple of good recipes in the first instance, though.

Cheers all!

ginnyj's picture

Thank you so much for all that wonderful information.  I think it's so amazing and great that perfect strangers give so much of themselves and their time to help others via the web. It certainly is fun to be able to share our passions and hobbies with others equally interested.

I will definitely make the changes you recommend and try the Vermont Sourdough recipe.  I will write back within the week after I've made my first loaf.   I will pump up my starter before then, in fact I've already taken it out of the refrigerator and will feed it tonight. 

Many many thanks!!





ginnyj's picture

I'm tired, just back from work.  Lucky me, I get to work with new babies!

Anyway,  I will make the recipe you suggested, Norwich Sourdough.  I even have Jeffrey Hamelman's book that I checked out from the library.  In fact I have lots of books - but talking with you guys online is easier than reading sometimes.


Yumarama's picture

except I didn't know if you had the book. You can certainly make the Vermont if you like, it's also great and is, after all, what the Norwich is based on. The Vermont is aimed at getting a nice amount of that "sour" you may be looking for. Not extreme but decidedly notable. I'd just make a point of converting the oz  to grams, personally, as they are a little more accurate and easier to increase/decrease as needed.

I'll also go out on a limb here and point out that you're still reading here. :) Although it is a little more interactive.