When it comes to sourdough, there are many myths, misconceptions and mistakes circulating out there on the internet and in the inner circles of novice bakers.
Perhaps you’re aware of some of these myths, or maybe you believe them to be true? Either way, I’m here to debunk some of the long-standing myths surrounding sourdough and uncover the truth.
Whether you’re worried your starter is too young to use in a recipe, or fear baking sourdough is too hard to get started, I will address 10 of the most common myths surrounding sourdough. Are any of these myths lodged in your brain? Time for some real answers.
1: Making sourdough is really hard
I get asked if sourdough is really hard to make all the time and my answer is simple: no, it’s not.
One of the biggest myths doing the rounds is that sourdough is really difficult to make and the reality is that it's pretty easy. Throw some flour and water in a clean bucket at a good temperature, and voila! A few days later you’ll probably have a bubbling, tangy smelling sourdough starter all ready to use in bread. Yes, it can be that easy.
When it comes to actually making the sourdough bread, if you follow a true-and-tested recipe – like You Knead Sourdough’s Sourdough Bread Recipe – you can’t go wrong. The biggest mistake people typically make when baking sourdough is they don’t follow the recipe and the specific measurements of ingredients, which is why they may think it’s hard to get it right.
The old adage goes that “practice makes perfect” – which is also true – but, following the steps outlined in the recipe will always guide you throughout the process.
2. Your starter needs to be really mature before you can bake sourdough bread
Although there are sourdough starters out there that bakers pride themselves in being passed down through the generations, the truth is that sourdough starters can be used within a week of making them.
All you need to bake your own delicious homemade sourdough is a starter that can produce lots of bubbles of gas. It’s this gas that is going to help your dough rise during the baking process – as sourdough doesn’t use commercial yeast.
As to how you source your starter, that’s entirely up to you. On one hand, you could ask a baker friend to give you some of their mature starter, or you can use dried starter flakes or make your own from scratch using flour and water.
3. You don’t need to discard any starter
I, like most people, am not a fan of discarding ingredients or food. However, discarding some of your starter is part of its maintenance. Failure to discard a portion of your starter will affect its flavour and may cause too much acidity – which is detrimental to your starter.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can't do something with your sourdough discard. In fact, I have compiled a bunch of sourdough discard recipes for bakers who would like to get the most out of their starter, including these Sourdough Crumpets and Soft Sourdough Pretzels.
4. Sourdough bread is expensive to make
While sourdough bread may be expensive to buy at your local café or supermarket, this is not the case for people who decide to bake it at home.
The truth is that sourdough bread is relatively inexpensive to make, due to the small amount of ingredients needed to make it – water, flour and a pinch of salt. In fact, you can make your own sourdough starter using flour and water, which means you don’t need to spend money sourcing one to bake your own sourdough at home.
This means it can cost you pennies to make a loaf – assuming you’ve got a working oven and the baking essentials.
5. Sourdough bread is sour
The myth that sourdough is sour is something that has put many people off trying sourdough. Sounds gross right? Well, it’s completely false, because sourdough isn't sour unless you want it to be.
Sourdough’s signature flavour is actually tangy, as opposed to sour. It's relatively easy to control the flavour of your sourdough – as the flavour depends on the type of flour you use and what proofing methods are used.
If you've ever eaten a tangy loaf of sourdough bread, odds are it was proved for a long time, and probably contained rye, too. If you make your own you can easily control the tanginess and create the perfect flavour profile to suit your tastes.
6. You have to catch wild yeast to make a starter
This one always makes me giggle. This myth was started by seasoned bakers who wanted to troll newbies who are trying to navigate the world of sourdough – specifically, how to “catch” wild yeast.
The truth is, wild yeast is not something you can physically catch once you’ve made a sourdough starter. It’s already naturally contained in the flour, which is why feeding your starter – giving it more flour and water – is essential to keep it alive.
While there is wild yeast present in the air, soil and on the surfaces of things like fruit, much of the wild yeast in your starter comes from the flour you use. So, you are baking with wild yeast, but you don't have to catch it.
7. Sourdough starters are high maintenance
Sourdough starter is the natural yeast that makes sourdough bread rise, which admittedly needs some TLC so you can use them for baking. But, there is a misconception out there that sourdough starters are high maintenance and will easily die if you don’t give them constant attention.
In fact, a mature sourdough starter is quite difficult to kill, and it takes a lot of neglect before it starts to fail you. You also don’t need to feed your starter on a daily basis – especially if you’re not using it to bake regularly.
Your sourdough starter can be stored in the fridge for months on end if needed without a feed, and it will still survive to bake delicious bread when you need it. However, it’s best practice to feed your sourdough starter every two weeks if storing it in the fridge.
8. You can’t overfeed a sourdough starter
Unfortunately, this one isn’t true. You can, in fact, overfeed a sourdough starter. While regular feedings are important to maintain a healthy starter, if you feed it constantly then it will die and you’ll have to start from scratch with another one.
Each time you feed a starter, you thin out the population of microorganisms by adding flour and water, meaning the remaining yeasts and bacteria eat the new flour and multiply, rebuilding the population. But this takes time. It manifests as your starter bubbles and rises.
Unless you are reviving a dormant starter, you should only feed your starter when it is at maximum height and full of bubbles. If you tap the container on the counter, the starter should collapse as the gas escapes it. If you feed it too often, you’ll continue to decimate the population until it doesn’t exist, and you’re back at the beginning – a mixture of flour and water.
9. Sourdough starter is just for bread
While sourdough starter is designed primarily for baking sourdough bread, the discard can be used as an essential ingredient in a range of recipes. In addition to delicious bread, you can make easy and mouth-watering sourdough treats, such as pancakes, waffles, English muffins, donuts, soft pretzels, crackers, crumpets, pizza and scones. I could go on, but you got the point, right?
10. You need specialised equipment to make sourdough
While any baker worth their salt will have the right tools, it’s not essential that you have specialised tools to make good sourdough, like a flour mill or Dutch oven. As long as your kitchen is at the right room temperature (25°C – 28°C), you can leave the starter on the counter for its five-hour post-feeding resting period and then store it in the refrigerator. As for the rest of the essential tools and equipment, all you’ll need is a starter, flour, banneton basket, dough whisk and bread lame – all of which are included in our Complete Sourdough Starter Kit.
Now we’ve debunked all of the top sourdough myths, we’re going to share a truth with you…sourdough is delicious. If you’re feeling inspired and would like to try your hand at making your own sourdough bread, check out You Knead Sourdough’s Sourdough Bread Recipe and Sourdough Starter Recipe. We’ve also got all your sourdough baking essentials, so you can ensure you have everything you need to make the perfect loaf.If you need some more sourdough content in your life, be sure to follow us on Facebook and TikTok and check out @youkneadsourdough on Instagram and hashtag #youkneadsourdough so we can marvel at your sourdough masterpieces.