Tips for Manipulating the Sourness of Your Sourdough

Some people love the acidic flavor of sourdough bread and can’t get a loaf that’s tangy enough. Others prefer their sourdough very mild. And then there are those who fall somewhere in between.

Fortunately you can manipulate your starter to achieve your desired level of tang.


For a More Sour Sourdough

There are two main acids produced in a sourdough culture: lactic acid and acetic acid. Acetic acid, or vinegar, is the acid that gives sourdough much of its tang. Giving acetic acid-producing organisms optimal conditions to thrive and multiply will yield a finished product with more tang. Here are some tips to help achieve this:

  • Maintain your starter at a lower hydration level. Lactic acid-producing organisms seem to thrive in a wet environment whereas acetic acid is produced more abundantly in a drier environment.
  • Use whole-grain flours, which the acid-producing bacteria love.
  • Keep the hooch. The liquid that can accumulate at the top of your starter, known as the hooch, can aid in producing a more acidic sourdough.
  • Try to achieve a longer, slower rise. This may mean you’ll need to
    • Create a cooler rather than a warmer environment. Consider rising the dough in a cool basement or other cool area of the house.
    • Degas (punch down) your dough at least once, if not twice, before the final shaping of the loaf.
    • Let the shaped dough (in pans or baskets) do the final rise for at least four hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to an hour before baking. Although many experts actually recommend that your last rise be a quick one done in a warmer environment, you will have better “oven-spring” by putting a cooler loaf into a hot oven.

Because sourdough has so many variables due to its surroundings, achieving tangy sourdough bread will have to be done by trial and error, with the help of the above tips.


For a Less Sour Sourdough

Perhaps you don’t like the tang of sourdough because it is unfamiliar. Or perhaps your particular starter creates very sour bread and you’d like to minimize the tang. Either way, you can take a few steps in order to manipulate your sourdough into a less sour state.

  • Feed your starter regularly. This helps to minimize the alcohol content which will help reduce the overall acidity of the sourdough.
  • Give the dough a shorter rising time at a cooler temperature. The longer the rising period, the more acidity is produced by the organisms within the sourdough. By shortening the rise time and lowering the temperature you can minimize the acidity in the final product. In order to achieve both these conditions you will need to use more starter in the recipe .
  • A larger percentage of sourdough starter in the dough allows it to both rise in a cooler location (as stated above) and have a shorter rising time. This will aid in taming the sourness in your sourdough. You may find you need to adjust the amount of starter you use by season: more starter in the winter and less in summer.
  • Add baking soda. Baking soda is an alkaline substance. Adding it to sourdough neutralizes some of the acidity and gives the dough a little extra leavening boost.

Once again, each starter is individual, so play with some of the above steps to achieve your ideal level of sourness.

Sourdough Bread

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Sourdough Starters

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