The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Debate

raqk8's picture

Sourdough Debate

I've been trying to make sourdough bread for quite a while now and, though it tastes great, it isn't very sour. But, that isn't what this question is about. I know there are a ton of threads that go through this issue very thoroughly. This is the issue at hand:

I was speaking with my roommates (none of whom bake at all) about my sourdough problem and they claimed that very sour sourdough bread can only be made by the ocean because "that type of yeast needs the salt air to live." Now, I know, or think I know, that the second part of that statement is incorrect as salt inhibits yeast activity, but are they correct in that sour sourdough can only come from oceanside cities? I don't agree whatsoever, as yeast is present in every single city (albeit different types, lending different flavors), but I thought I would ask the pros here on TFL. Thanks for any input!

cranbo's picture

The level of sour has to do with the bacteria developed in the starter. That's not to say there may be some climate relationship, but the bacteria that exists in starter is found all over the world, not just ocean climates. 

Overall cnvironment clearly has something to do with it though: check this thread where Debra Wink discusses sourdough and the impact of bakery enviroment. The overall enviroments, including flour "contamination", feeding schedules, storage temperature of the starter, starter liquidity, what flours the starter is fed, ash content of flour, fermentation time, etc., all contribute to the level of sour in the finished bread.

SF sourdough is also discussed in Daniel Wing's "The Bread Buiders" (p48) and other sources. 

You can point your roommates to these resources as well. 

Then there's salt-raised sourdough, which works because of a totally different bacteria, but that's another story.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Whether or not a particular strain of yeast is more abundant in coastal areas doesn't really matter, as the 'sour' taste doesn't come from the yeast. The yeast only produce the gas that leavens the dough. So you win by default... I have heard the argument that the actual water and the air in those areas affect the fermenting dough, which produces a unique sour. Who knows? Who cares? What's fact is, you can achieve a very good sour flavor once you get to know what actually produces it.

There are other organisms that are present in a healthy and balanced starter that provide the flavors. If you're not getting much sour, I'm of the opinion then that you do have a healthy and balanced starter (as a good starter shouldn't really have much sour to it). Yeast work faster than those other organisms, so it takes a longer fermentation time for a sour flavor to become noticeable. This is achieved by using less starter in the recipe, or by cold retardation. In the latter, the flavor organisms are less affected by cold than the yeast, which slow down. This gives the flavor organisms an advantage, and sour starts happening before the yeast run out of food.

Knowing those two popular ways of getting some sour into your loaves should help you do some research here at TFL or at Mike Avery's Sourdough Home, or just Google in general. After doing some research and absorbing some ideas, come on back and ask any questions. We'd be happy to expand on them for you, and put some sour into your baking that your friends will lub you long time for. ; )

- Keith

kangruiqiu's picture

Thought I'd add my "by the ocean" unscientific testimony:

Up until a few weeks ago, I was living in a city a few miles north of San Francisco, and by the ocean.

I've maintained two 100% sourdough starters (first by volume, gradually by weight) in the past year. The white starter is named Jan and the whole wheat is named Marsha Marsha Marsha. [RIP Cindy, which "died" during my first few weeks of my sourdough project.]

For some reason, only Marsha Marsha Marsha ever got to any sour level, but not all the time. I make 2 sets of loaves using one of each starter each time I bake. I have been using different recipes and techniques each time. While Marsha Marsha Marsha became sour occasionally, Jan remained unsour.

I now live in the South. Once I move into my new place and re-hydrate my starter, I can't wait to find out if my starter(s) ever get sour.  No big deal to me, since getting it sour was always a welcome flavor, but not intended.

jonesiegal's picture

There are wild yeast in the air no matter where you live, you can always make a sourdough. You just might have to adjust the conditions of your surrounds to help it to turn out right.  Such as cold dry air will not yeald the same density as moist warm air and such.  But sourdough bread can be made just about anywhere.

jcking's picture

I'm unclear; do I adjust the air conditioner up or down?

jonesiegal's picture

I am new to this so certainly there are some well seasoned bakers here that can tell you more but what I understand is 75 - 80 F is ideal bread making conditions.  Drastic changes in your hair can cause issues though.   You can always keep worm moist towels over your bread while it is rising and such if you like your home cooler. 

jcking's picture

Drastic changes in your hair can cause issues though.

How does ones hair cause issues?

sfsourdoughnut's picture

"hair" is really "air" perhaps?

So "drastic changes in your air can cause issues"?