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Tips for Manipulating the Sourness of Your Sourdough

The term ‘sourdough’ refers to the process of souring or fermenting bread dough, not necessarily the flavor. Whether you prefer a tangy flavor to your sourdough bread or a more mild taste, sourdough starter and dough can be manipulated to produce a bread that tastes great to you and your family.

Make 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 more tangy finished product with more tang. 

Adjust the starter:

  • 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, or brown liquid layer that forms on a hungry sourdough starter. Retaining hooch can add acidity to sourdough.

Adjust the bread dough: 

While it may take a little trial and error, attempt to achieve a longer, slower rise by

  • Finding a cooler spot for rising the dough.
  • Punching down (degassing) the dough at least once, if not twice, before the final shaping of the loaf.
  • Performing 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 30-60 minutes before baking. Although many experts recommend that the 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.


Make a Less Sour Sourdough

These adjustments will achieve the opposite effect from those mentioned above, for a more mild flavor in the finished product.

Adjust the starter: 

  • Feed your starter regularly to minimize the alcohol content and reduce the overall acidity of the sourdough.

Adjust the bread dough:

  • Use more starter in the dough. A larger percentage of sourdough starter in the dough allows it to both rise in a cooler location and have a shorter rising time.  Both of these conditions aid in taming the sourness in sourdough by lowering acetic acid production.
  • The amount of starter may need to be adjusted 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.


Each sourdough starter is unique, so keep adjusting until you produce a bread that is ideally suited to your taste. 

Try these recipes and ideas for using stale or imperfect sourdough bread:


Sourdough bread slices on wooden table

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