Baker Bettie

What is Sourdough?

Interested in learning to bake bread but asking yourself: What is Sourdough? Learn all the ins and outs of sourdough in this sourdough for beginners series! 

Loaf of sourdough bread

This is the first installment of my sourdough for beginners series. This is a series of articles that will walk you through the foundational knowledge of sourdough including what sourdough is, how to make a sourdough starter from scratch, how to maintain a starter, and how to start baking with it.

My hope is that by the end of this series you will have a solid understanding of how sourdough works and will feel confident trying your hand at it.

What is Sourdough?

Before we dive into making a sourdough starter and baking bread, its important to understand what sourdough is exactly. First let’s talk about yeast. Yeast is a fungus, and it is all around us. It is floating through the air, living in our bodies, and living in the soil and on plants, including a lot of food that we eat.

A traditional yeast bread can be made one of two ways: with commercially produced yeast, or with a natural culture, aka a sourdough starter. Commercial yeast typically comes in a dried form, or you can also find it fresh in the refrigerated part of the grocery store, and it is cultivated in a lab. It is a specific strain of yeast that has been bred for its ability to work quickly to leaven our bread. 

Sourdough bread is bread that has been leavened with a sourdough culture. This style of bread has a more complex sour taste than bread produced with commercial yeast, and it also has a longer keeping quality.

What is a  Sourdough Starter?

Sourdough starter a few hours after being fed, you can see bubbles in the jar

A sourdough starter is a natural culture of yeasts, as well as bacteria, that is used to leaven bread.  There are many different methods of creating a sourdough starter but they all generally consist of combining flour and water together.

There are natural yeast and bacteria living in the flour as well as in the air. These yeast and bacteria need 2 things to thrive: water and a food source. When water is added to the equation, the yeast and bacteria become active and start feeding on the starches in the flour creating co2 gases, acids, and alcohol. This is called fermentation.

As you feed your starter over and over again- the culture becomes stronger, collecting more yeast and bacteria, and it will eventually be strong enough to leaven bread

Sourdough Bread vs Yeast Bread

Sourdough bread after being cut into

You might be wondering what the benefit is of making a sourdough starter if you can easily make bread from dry yeast? Don’t get me wrong, I still love making bread from dried yeast, but there are a few reasons why making sourdough might be desirable.

Flavor: What Does Sourdough Taste Like?

The first and most obvious benefit of sourdough is the flavor. Bread made from commercial yeast contains one specific strain of yeast. This yeast does work very quickly and efficiently, however, it is going to create a less flavorful bread. A bread made with a natural sourdough culture will contain many different strains of yeast and bacteria. It also ferments for a much longer time and all of these things create a much more flavorful bread. 

You might not be surprised by the name of sourdough bread that it does have a sour flavor. However, bread bakers can control the amount of acidity in their bread by adjusting a number of things during the process.

Bread with longer fermentation times will have a more sour flavor than bread that are allowed to ferment quickly. Bakers will also adjust the amount of water in their sourdough culture to change the flavor to get their desired results.

Health Claims: Is Sourdough Bread Healthier?

Many people prefer bread made with sourdough starter over commercially produced bread because they find it easier to digest and believe it is an overall healthier option due to the natural fermentation. I am not a dietitian and don’t want to make any health claims, so I will let you do your own research and let you draw your own conclusions about if that is a benefit for you.

But I will also add that it is much easier to make sourdough bread with whole grains than it is with commercial yeast. The longer fermentation gives breads made with whole grains a much better texture. 

Interested in learning to bake bread but asking yourself: What is Sourdough? Learn all the ins and outs of sourdough in this sourdough for beginners series! 

Is Sourdough Difficult?

The last and most important benefit of making your own sourdough starter is that it is just so dang fun! There is something incredibly magical about mixing just flour and water together and watching it turn into a beautiful loaf of bread. 

There is a misconception that sourdough bread is very difficult. Sourdough bread can absolutely be easy! With just a few sourdough baking tools, and a little knowledge, you can absolutely do this! My goal with this series is to break everything down and make it as simple as possible.

The thing about any bread baking is that it can be extremely easy and can get about as complicated as you can imagine. We’re going to start with the basics and slowly build up knowledge and techniques so that you have a full understanding.

After you get your sourdough starter going you can start with my easy sourdough bread recipe. Then we’ll work our way up to more advanced recipes!

Now that you know exactly what sourdough is, you can read all about how to make a sourdough starter from scratch in my detailed guide! It is so much fun to get your own going!

Sourdough Resources

Some of my favorite sourdough resources I have learned from include (some of these are affiliate links): 

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5 comments on “What is Sourdough?”

  1. I am so looking forward to this series! I want to make the starter from scratch and am really interested in how to maintain it, even if not baking for a week or two.  

  2. Bettie,

    I’m in the UK. I have tried making sourdough bread twice now and seem to have come up against the same problem on both occasions. I’ll describe the second attempt…

    My starter was about 10 days old since inception. I took it out of the fridge in the morning, and fed it immediately. Within two and a half hours, it had doubled and was bubbling well, so I decided it was a good time to use it within the next 90 minutes.

    I mixed my flour and water (560g of 100% white bread flour, about 72% hydration) for a minute or two (the water had a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of olive oil added before mixing). It then autolysed for an hour before folding in 100g of my starter (thick batter consistency) and 12g salt.

    Over a further two hours, I carried out 4 stretch and folds. The gluten developed well and by this time, the dough was holding some shape reasonably well, and coming away from the sides of the mason bowl. No other kneading was carried out.

    I then left it to prove at about 24/25 degrees for a further 5 hours, covered in cling film.

    When I then looked next, bubbles were appearing on the top, and the volume had increased by a half, but the surface was not domed, and the dough had lost its structure and turned sticky again. As soon as I tipped it out of the mason bowl onto a floured surface, it just collapsed into a soggy mess.

    This is almost exactly what happened first time – it is the batch rise that seems to scupper everything. The only option I have at this point is to add a load of flour to make it even partly workable, but there’s just no surface tension left in the dough at all, so whilst it bakes, the end product is on the dense side and not well aerated at all.

    Any thoughts on where I might be going wrong ?

    Thank you



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