Not sour enough


I made a sourdough starter about 3 months ago.

At first the resulting bread had a nice sour tang to it but not sour enough for me. I have read that sourness would increase as the starter aged. The bread it now makes is hardly sour at all. I've tried lengthening the proof time by putting it in the fridge but it doesn't seem to have any effect at all on the sourness.

The starter lives in the fridge and I use half of it to bake then feed it before putting it back in the fridge. I've followed a few suggestions that I found on the web that may have caused the problem. A tablespoon of cider vinegar when feeding. A bit of milk instead of all water. Are these sins?

My typical timetable is:
Late night mix up sponge and leave on bench overnight
Next morning mix dough and knead
Rise for about 2 hours on bench
Shape and then rise for about 3-4 hours on bench

Have I killed my starter? Should I just make a new one or can I recover it?

398 users have voted.


SourDom 2006 March 19


a couple of thoughts:

If your starter behaves appropriately (full of bubbles, layer of froth, doubles in volume) with refreshment, and makes your dough rise during prooving, it is probably not the starter.

1. Refreshment
My starter like yours lives in the fridge, but I find that it takes a couple of refreshes to come back to life. You could try refreshing twice (at 12 or 24 hour intervals) before incorporating into your dough

2. Retarding
Your current bulk fermentation (first rising) seems quite short.
You mentioned using the fridge to extend proving.
Try putting the dough in the fridge for 12 or 24 hours after mixing, then get it out for bulk fermentation and shaping. You could put the shaped loaf back in the fridge again for 12 hours before getting it out to rise before baking.
This will usually intensify the sour flavour

3. Flour
I have a stronger sour flavour if the flour mixture includes rye or wholemeal.

4. Taste
Sourdough is an acquired taste, and some people find that they don't like it initially because of its sourness, but grow to love it. Is it possible that your actually not noticing the flavour as much any more??

I wouldn't add vinegar to my dough or milk. (I find that milk in the dough tends to make the loaf a softer, milder loaf anyway rather than more sour).

The loaf that I made this morning was a 50% wholemeal sourdough loaf
500g flour (1/2 white, 1/2 wm)
335g water
200g starter (at 100% hydration)
10g salt
1 tblsp dried ground malt

It was mixed Friday evening, put in the fridge overnight
Saturday morning it had about 4 hours of rising with folds every hour, then went back in the fridge
Saturday night shaped - then back in the fridge
Sunday morning out of fridge at 6am while I went for a run, then in the oven at 7 when I returned.

It was one of the most sour loaves that I have made for a while.

give it a try and let me know how you go


Terry 2006 March 20

Thanks Dom,

My starter is certainly active enough. If I don't keep an eye on it it's likely to make escape attempts (the call of the wild?? ). I get a good rise out of it with the bread only slightly denser than my commercial yeast baking. I'll try the two refreshes and see what happens.

I'll also try 50% wholemeal (I've previously only used wholemeal to refresh the starter).

I think I'll try retarding next time. I don't like to change too many things at once so that if I do achieve a triumph (or a disaster) I have a rough idea of what might have caused it.

I did wonder whether I was just getting used to sourdough taste. That's probably a part of it but it's definitely decreased because I got comments from people who only tasted first and last batches that it wasn't as tasty as my first efforts.

I'll definitely give the run at 6:00 AM on Sunday a miss! As I think you said in a previous post "I don't like sourdough THAT much!"

Is the malt in your recipe just for flavour or does it do something else? I have spray dried malt for home brewing on hand. Would that be suitable?

Give me a few days and I'll report back on results.


Edit: I just found the sourdough toast thread which explains the malt. I love malt (in all forms but preferably in beer form) so the malt will go in as well.

Bill44's picture
Bill44 2006 March 20

Personally I don't need the malt for a good toast, I suppose it's a matter of taste.
I don't know what your methods are regarding your starter, that is whether you just use your stock starter or, like I do, keep your stock starter at 100% hydration and feed it only unbleached white bakers flour, then use a two stage process to make individual starters to suit each different recipe.
That is for example, if I am doing a rye loaf I will add rye flour to my starter in two stages, or as in Dom's Pane Francese loaf you need a 64% hydration sponge type starter.
I have found as a general rule that extending the time between refreshing and using the starter will increase the sour, this presumes that you are using at least 20% total dough weight of starter. You indicate that you are feeding the night before baking in the morning. Try feeding at around 12 noon the day before baking, a bit hard if you're working unless you take "The Pet" to work with you. . You wouldn't be the first mad baker to do it.
It is reputed that in the days of the Alaska gold rush the cooks carried their sourdough starter in a roll around their waist under their clothes to keep it at the right temperature.

SourDom 2006 March 20

one other thought

when I first started making sourdough my 'refreshment' of my starter consisted of me adding a handful of flour and half a cup or so of water every day. When the volume of starter got too big I would throw some out.
Some of my first loaves (including some more sweet loaves) were intensely sour - in fact too sour, and my first post on this forum asked the same question that you have asked (but from the other point of view).
In retrospect the problem was that the starter was not truly being refreshed. I wasn't discarding enough starter often enough, and there was a build up of the acidic by-products of bacterial metabolism. Once I started discarding all except a tablespoon of starter, and adding a goodly quantity of flour and water to the starter, I found that the starter was much healthier, and less intensely flavoured.

does that make any sense? has the way that you refresh your starter changed since you 'started'?


Terry 2006 March 20

You've both got me thinking a bit more. Thanks for that.

I think work has a no pets policy. Even 'though it wouldn't shed any hair and doesn't have fleas I'm not sure the fact it is a collection of microscopic animals and is infested with bacteria would go down too well. I certainly couldn't keep it in the fridge! One of the "fridge police" would throw it out! I've previously had portions of my lunch thrown out because these people read the "Best before" date and somehow their illogical thought processes turn that into a "Poisonous after" date! A waist belt is not an option either since I'm already developing a bit of a pot belly and it doesn't need any help. (See, I told you I liked malt in beer form).

While I was being impatient waiting for my starter to initially get going I did feed it with wholemeal but it took off one night and I've just fed it with white flour since. Maybe that wholemeal feed effected the initial sourness? Although, Bill says his is 100% white flour so maybe wholemeal isn't the answer. But, a two stage feed of the sponge with wholemeal just might be the answer.

Once it initially got going my starter has always lived in the fridge and I only feed it when I'm baking about every two weeks. (There's only one of me to eat it and I've continued commercial yeast baking for my everyday sandwiches).

I always used 50% of the starter to bake and then refresh the remaining starter and straight back into the fridge. I guess that means I'm seeing exactly the opposite of what you describe Dom. I haven't paid particular attention but I probably have closer to 30% sponge in the dough by weight.

I have no idea what a particular % hydration actually looks like. All I can tell you is that I refresh my starter and mix sponge so that they are a bit thicker than the consistency of a typical oatmeal porridge. I do everything by eye. I can see now that not knowing % hydration makes things difficult when you communicate with people who aren't there to look at it. Not to mention following recipes (I'm a do-it-yourself type). I'll be calculating hydration in future. Maybe THAT is the underlying problem?

The malt is off the agenda now. When I checked supplies I didn't actually have any leftover.

Now it's off to the laboratory...err, kitchen. I'll report in a few days.


northwestsourdough's picture
northwestsourdough 2006 April 9

Hi Terry, to overcome some of the problems you are having, I have two starters, one I pour almost all out and feed about every 12 hours and one I feed less often 18 -24 hours and pour out less of the starter so it gets fed less. It is actually the same starter, just divided into two different jars and fed on different schedules. Then I use a combination of the two starters depending upon how sour I want the bread. Using the less fed starter will give me a better sour but less spring, so I use some of the better fed starter to provide the extra vigour. Although I have to admit my starter has a good sour kick, even without that bother. In my family, the white sourdoughs are expected to be really sour. With wholemeal or rye breads I always use the more vigorous starter, as the bread is always sour enough anyway, and I need the extra spring. Does this make any sense?

Cathy Lewis 2021 June 26

I am a new sourdough baker. 

I live in Norway and use the available rye whole meal flour for my starter.  I then use the available lightest wheat flour to bake with.  I get a beautiful bread with great texture.  

My issue is my bread taste too much like rye. 

The sourdough from the bakery taste more sourdough; If they can do it so can I!

Any help is appreciated.

Neil 2010 September 15

 I found that just using a higher proportion of starter helps make my (whole wheat) bread more sour.

The yeast has to work first to produce the alcohol, and then the acetic acid bacteria converts that to vinegar. That takes time, so it's more likely to happen in the starter part (which has more time to ferment), and the second step to make the vinegar also needs oxygen, so it's less likely to happen in the middle of a ball of dough, and more likely to happen in a dish of runnier starter (into which more air can dissolve).  So if you make more starter and put more of it in your batch of bread, I think you'll be putting more vinegar in, because it's in the starter.

My bread was almost undetectably sour for a long time.  I wanted more sour, and I about doubled the amount of starter I used in a batch, and that made it quite a lot more flavourfully sour.

Now more starter (proportionally) and more sourness could also mean less rise, since more of the sugars have been consumed by the bacteria prior to shaping the loaves.  I didn't see any difference in rise, but I usually let mine kind of 'over rise' anyway so that I get floppy loaves with big irregular bubbles (which is how I like them), and I still got that the way I like when I used more starter.

Personally I think putting some good, natural cider vinegar in would be no crime, either.  It's wholesome stuff, and its the same kind of bacteria making it, from what I understand.

Anyway, it might be that Teresa gets more sourness (and less rise) from her less-often-fed starter because that one has more time to convert all the sugars to alcohol and then to vinegar, whereas she completely refreshes her other starter more often, so it starts again more often with no vinegar, and doesn't have time to get as far in the process towards vinegar.

My own process is usually:

- about once a week...

- pull starter out of the fridge just before supper, pour off liquid, keep a few spoonfulls and add flour and (luke-warm) water

- mix dough before bed, and add some more flour and water to the nearly empty starter container and put it back in the fridge

- rise dough overnight on the counter (at cool room temperature)

- shape loaves first thing in the morning

- rise dough in oven with light on (quite warm) for about 2 hours

- bake

I don't feed my starter any other time as long as I'm making bread about once a week.  I feed it extra if I'm going to skip a week or go away, and throw it in the freezer if it's going to be more than a few weeks.  The only thing that changed in this routine to make my bread more sour was that I used about twice as much starter for the same sized batch of bread.  Note that I was making very un-sour bread for a long time with this starter, so I expect even seemingly not-sour starter probably has the acetic acid bacteria in it, just waiting for their chance.

I'll check in here now and then to see if anybody else chimes in, I find it interesting (and kind of funny) that this is so hard to sort out.  Everybody's process is different and there are a lot of variables.  On another thread on another site, people are citing all kinds of authorities about firmer vs. thinner starters and lactic acid bacteria (which it never occured to me would be in bread).  It took me a long time to think I should just try using more starter, but that seemed to do it for me.


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