The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough isn't sour :(

Angelo's picture

Sourdough isn't sour :(

So I've been nailing my sourdough breads from the start. Each one is gorgeous, the texture is spot on. The only problem I have is ...


... it's not sour.It doesn't taste bland, it just tastes ... not sour. At all. Well, sometimes a little, but read on.

I grew my culture straight out of the BBA's formula, on into a barm, which I've refreshed every 2-3 days for a month now. Reading throughout his book over and over, I've done the following to try salvaging the mild flavor:

I read that doubling the barm can make for a stronger sour flavor than tripling/quadrupling it, so I always double the barm.

Textbook barm and sourdough recipe from BBA - mild sour.

Made starter the day after refreshing barm - no change.

Made starter 3 days after refreshing barm - no change.

I read in Reinholdt's grace notes that the lactic acids I'm after prefer a less airated enviroment, so I changed to a stiff barm.

Changed from wet barm to stiff barm, made the next day - no change.

3 days later I made starter from stiff barm right before refreshing barm - no change.

Using the preceding 5 types of barm/time, I also tried slowly fermentating (in the fridge), I tried skipping the starter and just making it directly from the barm, and I tried changing the amount of salt I use, both increasing and decreasing, as I hoped the lactic acids would have a chance to catch up to the wild yeasts. No luck.

25+ loaves later, I've come here for help. On the bright side, I can say I can make, shape, and score sourdough wonderfully with all this practice, and I'm as familiar with the process as I can imagine needing to be. But I still can't get that super sour/tangy sourdough flavor that I'm after.

ANY tips on strengthening that flavor would be welcome.

flournwater's picture

After you've read this:

You may find that you didn't really have what you might have thought you had in a "sourdough" starter.

I've found that a more sour flavor develops if I take the starter out of the fridge, add some warm water and flour (rye flour) to it and let it sit for a couple of days on the counter.  It becomes bubbly and foamy and has a distinct sour aroma.

Angelo's picture

Wow, thanks for this. While I was already aware that particular strains of bacteria were specific to various regions, I had no idea what a large role they played in the flavor.


So I guess I'm just kinda outta-luck as far as naturally sour bread then? I'm located in Virginia.


I'll try your technique on my next loaf and see if that helps at all. At this point I'd try anything.

LindyD's picture

Oh, I think you can make a sourdough culture in Virginia that will please your palate.

James MacGuire recently published an excellent article on Pain au Levain, noting that cooler temperatures, using darker wheat or rye flour, and lower hydration will result in the lactic bacteria producing a more acetic flavor.

Have you tried using a sourdough recipe that calls for the dough to be retarded overnight?  That usually adds more tang.

Further reading on the subject:

Angelo's picture

My head is still spinning from trying to understand that wealth of information. Everytime I thought I had a handle on it, I lost it lol.


There does seem to be a lot more control over the bacteria growth than I had thought. I'll definitely keep trying to get that "sour" I'm looking for. I never considered keeping it at room temp, or adding wheat during feeding. 


Matt H's picture
Matt H

I'll second or rather third the advice to use a bit of rye flour to get a more sour flavor. 10% is more than enough to achieve this effect.

Try also using a larger percentage of pre-ferment or starter. Most recipes only call for about a cup or two, but you can make a starter that has ALL the liquid, and then just add the flour to it.

My understanding of how sourdough works is that you have a community of yeasts and bacteria. The yeast population grows quicker as it metabolizes the sugars and starches. The bacteria  feed on the waste products of the yeasts. They are the ones that make the acids which make bread sour. But they need time to catch up... So there is a time lag effect. I've definitely made lots of "naturally leavened" breads that barely have any discernible sourness.

The trick is to do a slow, cool fermentation and rise. All the bakeries in San Francisco that make really tangy sourdough use a cool final proof. Not too cold, because then the biological activity grinds to a halt.

The refrigerator is too cold. Perfect is about 55 degrees F, or the temp of my New England basement in winter. I used to find it impossible to make sourdough in the summer. But then I moved to the San Francisco, where the weather is about right for baking about 350 days a year!

Good luck!

Angelo's picture

Thanks for giving some perspective on the "cold" aspect. I always thought they meant the fridge lol. It's snowing all the time here, so while the house may be 68-78 degrees, I can set the bowl by any window and have it be much closer to 50. I'll try that over the course of the next few days as I try this new "leaving the barm out" method I've been reading about. Maybe it will slow it enough that one feeding a day is enough.

pmccool's picture


On two separate occasions, separated by several years, thousands of miles and a couple of hemispheres, I've made starters that were almost eye-watering in their sourness.  The common denominator: feeding each with all whole wheat or a high percentage of whole wheat.  The other thing they had in common is that each did a lousy job of leavening bread while simultaneously destroying the gluten. 

I have also noticed (my kitchen, my starters, my breads) that whole-wheat sourdough breads tend to taste more sour than other sourdough breads that I have made.

The starter that I am using currently is the second of those two sourpusses.  It got to the point that I either had to chuck it or see if it could be salvaged.  After getting some rye flour, I put the starter on an all-rye diet for a few days, then gradually transitioned it to a mostly-white/partly-rye blend.  The flavor shifted dramatically away from the intense sourness to a more pleasing tang, the leavening ability is all that I could ask for and it doesn't launch all-out attacks on the gluten.

For my tastes, including some rye in the flour you feed your starter will produce the best flavor.  If you want to push the acidity, you might want to experiment with the addition of some whole-wheat flour, too.


Angelo's picture

Wow, thanks for sharing this.


Today I took my barm and broke it into there seperate containers. One I fed a lot of wheat to, 50/50 bread flour/wheat, another I fed much less wheat to, about 10%, and the third I fed 10% corn meal to, to see if that'd have any effect.


After reading your post, tomorrow I plan to shift to using rye instead on one of them to see the difference. I certainly am more after the "tang" than the "sour".


While I have so many helpful people here, I wanted to ask about something I've read called "stages". That is, the BBA builds in two stages: firm starter > final dough, but I've read that you can include 6 or even 8 stages if you like. Combine this with some of the helpful links posted in this thread that mentioned keeping a starter out (vice putting it in the fridge) and continually feeding it throughout those stages at room temp.

My question then is: how often/much does a room temp barm need to be fed? Obviously daily, but do I stick to the "doubling" method, or just give it a bit at a time?