The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough vs other starters

DennistheMenace's picture

Sourdough vs other starters

Hello there!

Complete newbie here who just created her first starter (50/50 bread flour/whole wheat flour + water) per the tartine bread recipe...I have what may be a very dumb or obvious question:

If what I have here is a "country bread starter" that is (as I understand it) with any luck, going to ferment and come to life through fermentation and feeding isn't the by product of this action turning itself sour? Are all dough "starters" sourdough? What differentiates a sourdough starter from any other starter?

What is the difference between various types of starters (if this even exists)?

Can anyone explain or point me to a reference that would clarify!

Thank you in advance!


Grumio's picture

I'm new to sourdough myself and do not set myself up as an expert on the stuff, but from a language point of view, yes, what you're making is sourdough starter.. That seems to be the dominant term in English for a batterish-to-doughish culture of wild yeast & bacteria used for leavening bread. You can feed it different flours & have for example a rye starter, a spelt starter, a whole wheat starter, and there's the continuum of each starter is a unique little ecosystem to all starters are more alike than they are different, but they all fall under the blanket term sourdough starter.

A fair number of people, particularly on this forum, don't particularly seem to like the term because it's gotten (understandably) intertwined with the notion of "sourdough bread," which, at least in the US, is bread with a noticeably - wait for it - sour flavor. "Sourdough starter" actually doesn't necessarily make sour-tasting bread; in fact one of the most common questions on this forum & others is how do I make my bread more sour?  So there's a decent case to be made for sourdough starter being something of a misnomer.

Wild yeast, leaven, levain, barm, mother, seed culture, etc are all in this little constellation, with perhaps differing shades of meaning depending on who's doing the talking, and without much in the way of universally-agreed-upon usage.

Sourdough starter will do.



Craig_the baker's picture
Craig_the baker

I prefer to use the term "natural leaven". I don't enjoy the sour aspect so I keep my starter and ferment my bread in a way that keeps the level of sourness to a minimum or none at all. 

richkaimd's picture

Please know that all these questions are good and worthy of respectful answers.  What follows is me on my soapbox: newbies should consider that, by virtual of their relative level of ignorance, they should acknowledge that fact and seek out expert advice until they know enough to be able to judge good answers from less so on this wonderful website.  Professionals take college level vocational courses.  Why do that but at home?  Consider getting your foundation of knowledge from a text bood for bread baking, not from this website initially.  Not because the answers are necessarily right or wrong, but because learning first from an expert will give you the foundation of knowledge you'll need to determine the usefulness of an answer.

Look at and choose from the available text books (not from bread cook books).  Here are two widely used and very different texts:  DiMuzio's Bread Baking and Hamelman's Bread.  See if you can look at them at your library.  They're quite different.  I wish I'd had the DiMuzio when I started out 40 years ago.  Hamelman wouldn've been too complicated for my little brain then.  I love it now.

Also, watch all the videos linked to at the top of each TFL page.  Then go back to them when you need to specifically for a particular recipe.

And practice a lot, many times and often.  Then tell us about your products. 




Rockford Dough Girl's picture
Rockford Dough Girl

I too am a newbie to sourdoughs but I had a very good bread baker friend who gave me several recipes she had and some books to read about starting my own wild yeast breads. I've relied on Reinhart and Hamelmann and other King Arthur tips on my starters and baking techniques. I found learning about the science of bread the most helpful in discovering what worked and what didn't work in my breads. And through my analysis of my successes and failures (especially the failures!) I've subsequently made better and better bread.

Regarding the sourness of sourdough, you can control the amount of sour taste with your barm. I found feeding your barm more often produces less sour taste. I made bread using barm I had sitting at day 1 and day 3 and the day 3 bread was the most sour tasting. But experiment! Your results may be different.

I agree with richkaimd's comments. I'd take all these comments including mine with a grain of salt! Your results will depend on type and brand of flour, region you live, whether you have hard or soft water... If you can take a bread baking class from a culinary school or even a community college with an experienced baker with a proven record of fabulous bread, I'd do it!! There are some things like kneading technique and what to feel in your starter or dough that is better pointed out by a person. Barring that I'd read and experiment and read and experiement.

But keep on baking!!!

dabrownman's picture

encompass a wide range of natural yeasts used as starters.  Sourdough is just one of them and the proper way to refer to wild yeast cultures that impart a sour taste in bread.  They can be less or more sour depending on how they are maintained, what grains are used and to some degree where their home is located.  Yeast water starters - too many of them to think of made with fruits, also are natural yeast cultures but do not impart a sour taste in bread which separated them from sourdough starters.  But there are many more; salt rising, witches yeast, hops starters, tea starters, wine and beer yeast barm starters and who knows what else.

The list of natural starters is pretty wide and deep but sourdough is the proper name for those that impart sour in bread with Labs.