The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

"Cheating" on the sourness

GregS's picture

"Cheating" on the sourness

Happy New Year to all!

I've read and experimented with numerous approaches for getting a more "sour" starter and resulting bread. None of my attempts have produced anything approaching the "tang" of genuine SF-type bread.

Has anyone had experience in supplementing their sourdough-leavened dough with either citric acid or lactic acid? The lactobacillus produces lactic acid, but I can never seem to promote its vigorous growth in my starter. ...I'm ready to "cheat".  What about sources? Citric acid seems to be vitamin C, but the only lactic acid supplements are for skin peels!

Any help welcomed.


Darxus's picture

There's also acetic acid, produced by acetobacter, a genus of acetic acid bacteria.  Acetic acid = vinegar.  I read somewhere that (some of?) the bakers of the famous San Francisco sourdough add vinegar to increase sourness.

Crider's picture

I got malic acid and lactic acid from a home-brewing/winemaking supply store. I also worked with vinegar and citric acid. Lactic acid is weird because it doesn't have much of a smell. I didn't get the results I was looking for. 

King Arthur sells a fake sourdough additive in quantities suitable for the home baker. You can read this article at Baking Management for the horrible truth about how your local supermarket's  'sourdough' bread is probably made.

I settled on getting sour by long fermenting times -- adding starter at only 5% to 10% quantities.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Ascorbic acid is Vitamin C    

Citric acid will give you a more sour tasting loaf.  Also called Sour salt in the supermarket.  Yes, some prefer this method of flavoring their dough.

I prefer not to take chances adding chemical ingredients into my dough.  I don't think these get quality tested often enough.   

Have you tried a starter build using  1:10:10 (starter:water:flour) to get more sour into your loaf?  

FoodFascist's picture

you could try kefir grains. I got mine from eBay for a fiver or something. They are a culture that contains a host of bacteria and yeasts, but mostly various strands of lactobacilli. Both my starters (wheat and rye) were started by mixing flour and water and dipping in half a teaspoon of grains. Fed daily for 3 days and on day 4 I was baking bread with them. Been going strong for a number of months, although I've just decided to start another rye starter after my old one suffered lots of neglect over the past few weeks.

You could just pop a few grains into your existing starter to add sourness to it, maybe wrap them up in a piece of clean cloth to save you having to fish them out later.

Doesn't quite make sense getting grains though if all you're not actually planning to make kefir as well.

There are also commercial kefir starters which are powdered, lab manufactured strands of bacteria. For making kefir, they're not as good or as strong as grains (also who knows what "other ingredients" they might have in them) but for your purpose, might just do. 

Or you could try a capsule or two of probiotics - there's a thing called "acidophilus" which typically contains Lactobacillus acidophilus and a few strands of Bifidobacteria. Since they are manufactured as food additives, one would hope they should be quite safe.

leostrog's picture

Exactly wrigth! Adittion of dry culture  - it's a wonderful way to enriche starter wuth lactobacilli and and make the process of formation and growth of  starter "microbially controlled".

GregS's picture

Thanks to everyone for the informative replies. From those and other research, I plan to try the least artificial solutions and work up from there.  A question to Mini Oven if she sees this: How long does it take a 1 10 10 to ferment fully? Is it days?  And when I use it in a levain built from that, do I need to expect longer rising times for the loaves?

Thanks again.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)  Send me a private note if you want a reply quickly, sorry this took so long but the title "I guess I'll stay natural" didn't flag me right away 'cause I agree with you.  Guess you figured it out by now...   :)  

nicodvb's picture

in non-trivial amounts it may  have  very unexpected side effects. A friend of mine experimented a bit with it and it had a "melts--in-the-mouth" effect as soon as the crumb was in the mouth. He always used tiny amounts of it, so ... be careful!

MangoChutney's picture

You could add some active yogurt to your dough.  I add 4 oz of plain Oikos Greek Yogurt to my pre-soak, which sits overnight on the counter.  In the morning, the pre-soak is soft and pliable, and smells wonderful.  I also "let" a little of the yogurt get carried over into the starter by stirring the pre-ferment with an un-rinsed spatula that I had used to mix the yogurt with water for the pre-soak.  I don't know if this did anything.  My starter really only smells like yeast.  I use the Oikos brand because it lists more varieties of active LAB on the label than Dannon does.

I used to use kefir whey, from making kefir cheese, from kefir that I cultured, in my pre-soak.  This was very tasty.  However, kefir does not like the hot summers in the midwestern USA, nor does it seem to like being shoved into a 30F refrigerator for a part of each day.


doughooker's picture

On an impulse, yesterday I picked up a demi baguette of my local supermarket's house brand of sourdough. I first gave it the sniff test and on the basis of smell, decided it was worth a try.

Having tried several packaged sourdoughs in recent years, this one impressed me. It's not the old-school sourdough San Franciscans are accustomed to, but I thought it had pretty good flavor nonetheless. It lacks a crisp, dark-brown crust. The crust is light brown and somewhat soft.

The ingredient panel lists wheat flour, malted barley flour, the usual list of B vitamins and iron, water, 2% or less of sea salt, fermented wheat flour, wheat germ, yeast, fumaric acid, sodium diacetate, lactic acid soybean oil.

Sodium diacetate is a salt of acetic acid. We know lactic acid is produced by L. San Fran. I'm not familiar with fumaric acid.

It looks as if they are using some kind of starter but also baker's yeast, together with this three-way blend of acids.

Sparkie's picture

In many many commercial ryes and "sour dough" , that I sampled many years ago, all had vinegar in them. I simply read the package.  You can also try letting a little bit of good beer, (nothing that In Bev produces), go bad. If you have vinegar with a mother in it, take 1/4 cup of beer add a spoon of vinegar from a live mother, stir or shake. Keep nicely warm in about 3 days (if it is too cool it could take 2 weeks), it will be stinky and ready for use. If you want to use a wine, water it down to make it 5 -6 % alcohol then pich in a mother, keep warm

doughooker's picture

If anyone is still following this thread, after many, many, many test bakes I have had great success making sour bread by adding lactic and acetic acids.

I am quite the San Francisco sourdough snob and I find the bread with added acids quite satisfying and easier to make. In my judgment it compares quite favorably to the old-school sourdoughs I grew up with.

It is "cheating", yes, but I have no problem with it and am satisfied with the results. The microorganisms in S.F. SD starter produce lactic and acetic acid, so you're adding acids which would be present anyway in naturally-fermented sourdough. As they are the two main acids found in fermented sourdough cultures and are mainly responsible for its tangy flavor, those are the only acids I use. I refrain from using fumaric, malic, ascorbic and citric acids typically used in the manufacture of sour foods as they are not present in significant proportions in San Francisco sourdough cultures.

The quantities are minute so a good digital scale is a must. I treat the lactic acid powder as another dry ingredient and dribble in the acetic acid (white vinegar) with an eyedropper. Lactic acid powder is readily available from on-line etailers such as

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

for say... each 100g of flour?      

(Yes, I still follow every thread I ever contributed to.  Easy, any new comments pop up in my  account "track." )    :)

doughooker's picture

As I said, I did many, many, many test bakes to get the flavor just as I remember it from the 1960's and 1970's in the San Francisco bay area.

It is basically a yeasted loaf with acids added, but there is one absolutely INVIOLABLE rule: you MUST, MUST, MUST use "instant" or "rapid rise" yeast. Active dry yeast will give it an awful yeasty aftertaste, so "instant" or "rapid rise" yeast is a MUST!!!

I make it to 64% hydration with the vinegar taken into account, but this is not inviolable. I add the lactic acid powder and salt to the flour and mix them together with a fork or whip. I also make a cocktail of water, yeast and white vinegar. Another inviolable rule is that the ingredients be measured as precisely as possible.

I have only made this with white wheat flour, either bread flour or all-purpose. Making it with ww, rye or some other flour would change the flavor and it would no longer be authentic. As there is no live culture, there is no contention between the yeast and a lactobacillus for maltose. It is important to emphasize that except for the calcium lactate in the lactic acid powder, we aren't adding any ingredients that wouldn't be found in a live S.F. sourdough culture, such as fumaric, malic, citric, ascorbic, etc. acids.

See latest version of recipe, below.


Samhouston's picture

Yours is the absolute best commentary on this subject. Could you please say what size loaf your recipe would make approximately. I’m trying to determine an appropriate sized vessel as well as time and temp for such. 


Also, I’m having a bit of trouble sourcing the lactic acid as the product used in your bread isn’t available any longer. Any suggestions?

Thank you kindly. 

Samhouston's picture

To the commenter (albeit quite some time back) who kindly explained his/her journey with striving for and arriving at a great loaf of SF style sourdough with the addition of lactic acid and vinegar....could you please tell me about what size loaf would be made with the ingredient list given....146g of flour seeming like a small amount. I’m anxious to try your recipe, but unsure of what size Dutch oven to use. Also what time and temp please. Thanks very much

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

What size DO do you have and what's the flour amount on the loaf that works best for you in that DO?

Then take that flour amount in grams and divide by 100.    Say your favorite recipe runs about 400 g total flour. That would give 4.  Take that 4 and multiply by each ingredient % to get the amounts for the recipe.  You should come out about right or pretty near to your target recipe.  


skatee99's picture

What you want is Sodium Diacetate. It is usually used by food scientists in commercial food production to impart the flavor of vinegar. Google it and you will learn about it and that, it's of course F.D.A. approved and safe.

Yet, it is not easily obtainable in small quantities for the consumer market. One "work around" is to buy a speciality seasoning which uses it as it's main ingredient, such as "Gourmet Fries Seasoning - Salt & Vinegar". ( Since it also contains salt though, use sparingly at first and, reduce or eliminate the salt called for in your recipe until you get a handle on it.

doughooker's picture

Forget the sodium diacetate. Just use vinegar.

Here is the latest iteration of my starterless recipe. Lactic acid (not acetic acid, which is basically vinegar) gives the bread that authentic "San Francisco" tanginess. More lactic acid is not necessarily better. Too much and the bread will have a peculiar flavor.

The last time I had Boudin sourdough it had a strong vinegary taste. You don't want that. I suspect they add plenty of vinegar for tanginess and reduce the proofing time to increase their throughput. The tourists on Fisherman's Wharf don't know the difference.

I have made very sour sourdough with starter by letting the dough way overproof. Unfortunately, the dough turns to goo and can't be shaped. You wind up with pancake-like things that don't rise and have a tough texture.

Liquid lactic acid can be found here:


Bake temp: 375° FGrams Bakers %
Salt2.9Grams ½ tsp2%
Instant dry yeast3.5grams2.4%
Diastatic malt powder (optional)½ tsp  
Lactic acid liquid1.2grams0.80%
White vinegar10.2grams7.0%
Total dough weight251.8  
Final hydration60.3% 57.3%
Bake 20 minutes at 375° F with lid on. Remove lid and bake an additional 40 minutes.
dunnobread's picture

I might need more help with the proofing stage — maybe I’m doing something wrong there?

Robby's picture

Hi I Doughhooker, I don’t know if you’re still following this but I wanted to say that I really liked The idea for this recipe.  I use lactic acid powder and malt vinegar but it’s putting a lot of stress on my gluten.  I was wondering how you incorporate the acids into your dough, do you just added add it in all at once or do you dissolve it in later?

Ocean's picture

I want to thank doughhooker. I followed his recipe for sourdough and it came out great. I added a cup of plain nonfat yogurt to my dough because i like the taste and texture. My finished bread is just like the sourdough bread i used to buy when i lived in California with or without the yogurt.  

Ocean's picture

Sorry i forgot to add that i am using 5 cups flour, to that i am adding 1 cup yogurt.. I just made doughkookers recipe larger. 2 1/2 tea lactic acid 1 1/2 tea vinegar. for the rest 2Tbl sugar 1tea salt 1 1/2 cups water and a package of quick rise yeast.

Ocean's picture

Lactic acid is liquid

doughooker's picture

I want to thank doughhooker. I followed his recipe for sourdough and it came out great. I added a cup of plain nonfat yogurt to my dough because i like the taste and texture. My finished bread is just like the sourdough bread i used to buy when i lived in California with or without the yogurt.

Well now that is interesting. We know that yogurt contains acid whey which is called for in the original USDA recipe. The first time I tried the USDA recipe it turned out plenty sour but subsequent bakes were bland and I have not been able to duplicate the original sourness. I was draining the whey from plain yogurt.

I will have to try adding 1/4 C of yogurt, using 1 C flour for the dough.

Martinajane's picture

Hi doughooker, Perhaps others are happy to reply to all questions as you may not see the message now sadly. Thanks everyone.

I'm keen to try your bread recipe. Thanks so much for listing how to make it.

I noticed you listed different amounts for just 2, but the rest of the ingredient amounts were the same as I shall explain;

Lactic acid powder: 1.2g originally, but then copied your recipe into your latest post and said instead 2.6 g?

White vinegar: 1.5 g originally, but then copied your recipe into your latest post  and said 10.2g? This is a big difference! And you were talking about making sure measurements are right as it affects taste.

Someone said they tried your recipe and struggled with a rise. Can I add in Bicarb of soda 1/2 teaspoon if I have this problem? This will react with the vinegar in the dough to rise better.


I was wondering if I should buy Psyillum husk for this recipe? Do people here put this in? I'm new to Baking bread, I have no experience. I am going keto or low carb, low sugar and read this was good in bread for texture?

How much do I put in this recipe? 

Do I require more warm water for the added psyillum husk? How much?


Lastly I'm going to be using wheat gluten free flour for this recipe, I'm going to use either if the following but please let me have your suggestions;

Flaxseed ground - have already 

Coconut flour - have already (makes bread too crumbly when using too much)

Sorgum flour - yet to buy, thoughts?

Teff - yet to buy, thoughts?

Almond - have in small amounts but not buying as expensive

Chickpea - yet to buy, thoughts?

A bit of Hemp powder added for nutrition.


I would love to know if there are any mixes above you suggest? Trouble with gluten free bread it can be very heavy and dense. Every ingredient needs to be as light as possible. I have no experience in using any of the above in bread except the one and only time I made bread with flaxseed and coconut, which was ok but looking to buy other flours. Chosen the ones above for low GI and gluten free

Thank you


doughooker's picture

This recipe is very much a work in progress.

First, a change had to be made from powdered lactic acid to liquid when powdered lactic acid was discontinued by the manufacturer.

Here is the original USDA recipe which calls for acid/sour whey which can be obtained by straining plain yogurt.

My subsequent modification of that recipe uses liquid lactic acid instead of whey. Liquid lactic acid is a common ingredient in home beer brewing.

The aim here is to replicate San Francisco sourdough in flavor. Using gluten-free or other ingredients is likely to alter the flavor so I cannot vouch for those. You can try them but it will be a much different bread and no longer authentic. Adding baking soda to help the rise is sure to affect the flavor; I won't even try it.

It's easy to convert the USDA recipe in the patent above to baker's percentages. From there you can convert the BPs to gram measurements.