Sourdough Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is sourdough?
A. Sourdough is an ancient method of capturing wild yeast to leaven baked goods. A sourdough culture is originally created by mixing flour and water and allowing the mixture to sit on a counter, preferably by an open window for a period of time to capture wild yeast. Once established a sourdough culture is easy to care for, will generally last indefinitely and can be used to create a variety of baked goods.
Q. Where did your sourdough cultures come from?
A. Our sourdough cultures originated all over the world and carry the unique yeast from their respective geographic regions.
Q. What ingredients do your sourdough cultures contain?
A. Sourdough cultures contain water, flour and wild yeast. We use only organic flour and filtered water to perpetuate our sourdough cultures.
Q. Why use sourdough instead of commercial yeast?
A. Sourdough has several advantages over commercial yeast:
Q. Are your sourdough cultures dairy free? Vegan?
A. Our sourdough cultures contain no animal byproducts.
Q. Do you carry a gluten-free sourdough starter?
A. At this time we offer a Brown Rice Flour version of our New England Sourdough Starter. Please note, although this starter is maintained with brown rice flour, it may contain trace amounts of gluten. Click here to view a recipe for gluten-free sourdough bread.
Q. Are sourdough cultures reusable?
A. Yes, our sourdough cultures are traditional starter cultures and are meant to be used for many years. We even know someone who has had their sourdough culture for over 30 years!
Q. Some sourdough starters available online involve just adding a small amount of powder to each batch. How are your sourdough cultures different?
A. So-called sourdough cultures that require you to add some powder to each batch are manufactured yeasts of sorts not true sourdough starter. We sell only traditional sourdough cultures.
Q. I found instructions online for making a sourdough starter from scratch. What are the advantages of purchasing an established sourdough culture?
A. Although it is possible to create a sourdough culture from scratch (as discussed in Nourishing Traditions), using an established sourdough culture has several advantages. First, it’s easier. Creating a starter from scratch involves a lot of effort over a seven-day period (feeding the starter each day, switching containers, etc.). Second, it is faster to use an established culture as it can generally be ready to bake within 1 to 4 days (no changing of containers required). Finally, with an established starter, you can be assured that the sourdough culture will have a pleasant taste. Not all wild yeast is created equal and we don’t all live somewhere with pleasant tasting yeast so capturing wild yeast where you live may not yield the desired effects.
Q. What are the primary differences between sourdough starters?
A. The primary differences between the sourdough cultures are the types of flour they were created using (white, rye, or whole wheat) and the different wild yeast from their respective geographic regions. Several cultures do have some unique properties:
Q. Which sourdough culture should I choose if I want to make whole wheat bread?
A. Our Flemish-Style Desem sourdough is cultured with whole wheat flour and makes delicious whole grain bread. However, any of our sourdough cultures can be converted for use with whole wheat flour. Click here for more information on that process.
Q. Which sourdough starter is best for making sandwich bread?
A. Any of our sourdough cultures work well for making sandwich bread.
Q. Are your sourdough cultures very sour?
A. Actually no, they are only very slightly sour (with the exception of our Ischia sourdough culture which is just a bit more sour than our other sourdough cultures). Sourdough actually refers to a method of capturing and perpetuating wild yeast rather than the dominant taste which results. Our sourdough cultures come from all over the world and given the geographic differences, and different varieties of wild yeast available, each sourdough culture has its own unique taste. Sourdough provides a way to utilize wild rather than commercially grown and processed yeast in baked goods. It is also very cost effective as it requires minimal care to perpetuate indefinitely. If you desire a truly sour taste to your baked goods, there is a method to develop the sourness of the sourdough culture for a specific baking project and instructions for doing so will be included with your order. Keep in mind that the sourdough bread purchased in most stores is not a true sourdough and rather has been made by adding a sour tasting substance to the dough.
Q. How many sourdough cultures do I need?
A. You only need one sourdough culture. It is tempting to purchase and use multiple sourdough starters but unless you have a very specific reason for using more than one sourdough culture, we strongly recommend sticking to just one. Since sourdough starters do require weekly care, it is easy to get overwhelmed with multiple sourdough cultures. You can easily convert part of your starter to work with different flour types (see below for instructions) so even if you only buy one sourdough culture, you can have a sourdough culture made with white flour and one made with whole grain flour if you so desire.
Q. The descriptions for the sourdough starters refer to things like making french bread, pizza, etc. Do I need a separate sourdough culture for each of these things?
A. No! Ultimately sourdough is simply a leavening agent (like commercial yeast) so it is incredibly versatile. A single sourdough culture can be used to make a variety of baked goods (bread, pizza dough, biscuits, cookies, etc.) so there isn’t generally a need to maintain than one sourdough culture.
Q. What is the difference between fresh and dried sourdough culture?
A. Fresh sourdough culture is a portion of live, recently fed sourdough. It is shipped with a cold pack to ensure proper temperature is maintained and must be fed immediately upon arrival. Fresh sourdough culture can be ready for baking within 36 to 48 hours. Dried sourdough culture is shipped in a powdered form and is shelf stable for at least several months (keep in a cool dry place) so it does not have to be used immediately. Dried sourdough culture is more appropriate if you are very busy or are planning to give it as a gift. Dried sourdough culture can be ready for baking within 3 to 4 days. Dried sourdough culture is also available for international shipping.
Q. What is involved with caring for a sourdough culture?
A. Sourdough cultures should be fed with flour and filtered water approximately once a week. If you use your sourdough culture to make baked goods during the week, the process involved will feed the sourdough culture for the week. If you do not use the sourdough culture for baked goods during the week, the feeding process is simple and takes only a few minutes.
Q. Where do I keep my sourdough culture?
A. If you use your sourdough culture daily to make baked goods, you can keep it in a container on the counter. If you only bake with your sourdough culture a few times a week or less and don't want to feed the starter everyday, it should be kept in the fridge with a tight-fitting lid.
Q. How do I feed my sourdough starter?
A. Simply remove your sourdough culture from the refrigerator. If a dark liquid has formed on top, discard the dark liquid. You may need to discard portion of the starter as well to make room for the flour and water. Mix in the equal amounts of water and flour. Stir vigorously ensuring you incorporate plenty of air. Allow the starter to sit lightly capped at room temperature for a few hours then return the starter to the refrigerator.
Q. Can I use freshly ground flour to feed my sourdough starter? To bake sourdough bread?
A. Feeding your sourdough culture with freshly ground flour is problematic as sourdough culture prefers aged flour. Therefore we recommend placing your freshly ground flour in a bowl on the counter covered lightly with a dish towel for several weeks before using it to feed your sourdough culture. Once it is time to bake bread, you can use freshly ground flour as the flour portion of the bread recipe.
Q. How is working with sourdough different than working with commercial yeast?
A. There are a couple of fundamental differences between baking with sourdough and baking with yeast:
Q. What is "fresh sourdough starter" called for in most recipes?
A. Fresh sourdough starter is a term often used in recipes to refer to recently fed, active sourdough starter. Refrigeration places the sourdough starter in a state of hibernation which allows a starter to go at least a week without being fed, but also yields the yeast temporarily ineffective as a leavening agent. To bring the starter out of cold-induced hibernation and ensure the yeast are active enough to properly leaven bread, the sourdough starter should be fed at least three times to fully activate the yeast prior to using the starter for a baking project.
Q. How do I make truly sour tasting bread?
A. All of our sourdough cultures can be used to make truly sour baked goods. Creating truly sour bread involves a long fermentation process, including multiple feedings, and a long rise process (generally 12 to 24 hours). Despite the long process (usually over the course of 2 to 3 days) the results are well worth the effort. Click here for more information on this process and how to make truly sour bread.
Q. How do I make bread that is light and fluffy (not small and dense)?
A. The key to making light and fluffy sourdough bread is a long rise time (generally 4 to 24 hours depending on temperature, environmental conditions, your exact sourdough culture and the level of sourness you desire). Click here for more information on making a light and fluffy sourdough bread.
Q. How do I switch a sourdough culture from using white flour to whole wheat flour rye flour, etc.?
A. If you want to feed your sourdough culture with a different type of flour than the one the culture is currently accustomed, follow these simple steps:
Q. My sourdough starter has developed dark liquid on top. Is this normal?
A. Yes, the liquid is a form of naturally occurring alcohol. Simply discard this liquid prior to working with your starter.
Q. My fridge was too cold and I accidentally froze my sourdough culture. Can it be saved?
A. Freezing normally won't harm your sourdough culture and in fact is a way to preserve the culture long-term if you need to take a break from caring for your sourdough culture. Simply defrost it in your fridge (a slightly warmer part of your fridge) and then work with the starter as you normally would.
Q. I was keeping my sourdough starter in the oven (turned off) to keep it a bit warmer than my house temperature. Unfortunately the oven was turned on by a family member. Can my sourdough culture be saved?
A. Unfortunately heat is normally fatal for a sourdough culture. Depending on the exact circumstances, you may try feeding it to see if it bubbles up (a sign it is still alive) but most likely you will need to discard it and obtain a new culture.
Q. How do I take a break from feeding my sourdough starter?
A. There are several ways to preserve your sourdough culture if you are unable to feed it weekly for a period of time: