Sourdough Bread and Starter FAQ's

1. Why is my sourdough starter not bubbling after feeding?

As your sourdough starter has been dried it can take a little while for it to become active, so it can take a few feeds for it to become strong again. The room temperature can affect how long it takes for your starter to bubble (it takes longer if it is cold). After rehydrating your starter with water and adding the first portion of flour, wait 24 hours. If there are no bubbles in your starter it doesn't mean there isn't any live yeast, they might just be weak. Give it the feed as described in the starter instructions and wait another 24 hours.

Hopefully at this stage there are signs of life and bubbles beginning to show. If not, try one more feed and wait another 24 hours. If there are no signs of bubbling (i.e. little air pockets when looked at from the side) and the starter isn’t expanding, reach out to us and we will help you get your starter back on track.

Please note that if the starter is kept in a cold room, then it might take longer than 24 hours to bubble. The ideal temperature for your sourdough starter is approximately 25°c.

2. How long is the bulk fermentation time for your starter?

The time it typically takes for sourdough bulk fermentation to take place depends on the room temperature. If you allow the bulk fermentation process to play out at normal room temperature, then it usually takes between 3 to 5 hours. However, in a cold room bulk fermentation can take up to 8 hours or even longer and you can judge when the process is complete by the size of your dough. Always aim for around 30%-50% rise during this stage.

3. What is sourdough bread?

Simply put, sourdough bread is slow-fermented bread that requires no commercial yeast in order to rise. Instead, it uses a sourdough ‘starter’ – a mixture of fermented flour and water that contains wild yeast and good bacteria – to rise. While sourdough bread is made from a live fermented culture, or a sourdough starter, it also includes three main ingredients: flour, water and salt.

4. What type of water should I use to make sourdough?

People often ask us what kind of water to use in sourdough and we always tell them to use filtered water. There’s no need to waste your money on fancy mineral water, or distilled water, because filtered water works the best. And, we don’t recommend using tap water for your starter, as tap water has a higher concentration of chlorine which may inhibit or kill your sourdough starter.

5. How do I store sourdough bread to keep it fresher for longer?

If you’re wondering how to keep sourdough fresh, then you should ideally store your freshly-baked sourdough loaf in a cotton bread bag, or even a tea towel, so that the bread can breathe. Store your sourdough bread in a cool place so it can maintain its moisture, but it’s never recommended to store your bread in the fridge, as it stales quicker.

6. Is sourdough bread healthy?

There is a lot of discussion around whether sourdough bread is healthy and the simple answer is yes. Sourdough is a more natural alternative to normal bread, as it doesn’t contain any additives such as milk, oils or sweeteners. The naturally occurring acids and long fermentation make sourdough bread more digestible and easier for the body to absorb and it’s said to have a better effect on the blood sugar and insulin levels than regular supermarket bread.

7. How to feed a sourdough starter & how often?

Once you’ve successfully created your own sourdough start you need to feed it once or twice more before using it in your sourdough recipe. A typical sourdough starter feed is a 1:1 flour:water ratio (i.e. 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of filtered water) every time you feed.

To store this starter at room temperature, you’ll need to stir the starter thoroughly, mix until smooth and then return it to its jar and cover. You’ll need to feed the starter twice a day; every 12 hours. You could push this out to once every 24 hours if it’s a cold room (although it will stay strongest if you feed every 12 hours).

When you’re ready to bake, remove the sourdough starter to bake with once it's doubled in volume and bubbly, then feed the remaining starter. At this point you can revert to your usual 12-hour feeding schedule.

For more information about how to feed your starter, check out our Sourdough Starter Recipe.

8. How do I store my sourdough starter?

You can store your sourdough starter in the fridge or in the kitchen at room temperature. Regardless of where you choose to store your starter, it’s best to first transfer it to a jar with a loose lid (so the gases created during fermentation can escape), like a medium-sized glass jar, or a mason jar. If your plan is to bake sourdough bread daily, then we recommend storing your starter on the kitchen counter.

You can also store your sourdough starter long term by following these simple steps:

  1. Feed your starter, as if you were going to bake it and let it rest
  2. Spread it out to dry on parchment
  3. Dry it out completely until it is brittle
  4. Break it into small pieces by hand
  5. Store it in an airtight container
  6. Store in a cool, dry place until you want to revive it

9. What makes sourdough sour and how do you make it less sour?

Sourdough gets its signature sourness from its ingredients. Sourdough is a live fermented culture of lactic acid bacteria and yeast, mixed with flour and water. The yeast within the sourdough produces carbon dioxide gas, which leavens the dough and the lactic acid bacteria produces lactic acid, which is what gives sourdough its sour flavour.

If you want to make your sourdough less sour, then you can add baking soda to the mixture. Baking soda is a strong alkaline, which means that it neutralizes the acids, as well as the sourness, in the sourdough. This will reduce the sour flavour of your sourdough, while also boosting the rising power of your bread.

10. How do I know if my sourdough starter is bad?

If you can see an orange or pink streak in your starter, then this is a sign that your sourdough starter has gone bad and should be thrown away. Similarly, if your sourdough starter starts to smell bad, or you notice the presence of mould, then this is another indication it is off and should be discarded immediately.

11. What is the best proofing basket for sourdough?

The best proofing basket for home bakers is a banneton proofing basket. Constructed of 100% rattan, banneton baskets are the ideal choice for air circulation. Rattan helps to draw moisture from the surface of the dough to achieve a crunchy crust, without losing its shape. Meanwhile, there are no chemicals in the natural rattan, so you can rest assured that your homemade sourdough won’t be exposed to harmful chemicals, like they would with, say, plastic.

12. What to serve with sourdough bread?

Tangy, crunchy sourdough on its own is delicious. Toasted and served with poached eggs, or beneath some smashed avocado, sourdough is a key ingredient in some culinary staples we have all come to know and love.

But, just what should you serve with sourdough? Well, the possibilities are endless. However, we compiled some of our favourite sourdough bread serving ideas and toppings for you:

  • Bruschetta: chopped fresh tomatoes with garlic, basil, olive oil and vinegar served on top of toasted sourdough. There’s a reason bruschetta is an Italian staple, it’s bellissimo!
  • Grilled cheese sandwich: made with butter, cheese, mayonnaise and sourdough. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
  • Classic Reuban: filled with pastrami, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and pickle goodness.
  • Bread and butter pudding: an artisanal take on the traditional dessert, it will be a hit with your guests at your next dinner party
  • Topped with peanut butter, blueberries and banana: this might just be your new favourite breakfast food

Sweet and savoury. Spicy or sour. There is no right or wrong way to eat sourdough, so mix and match yours with your favourite kitchen staples and create your own sourdough recipes. Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram @youkneadsourdough on Instagram, so we can see your culinary masterpieces.

13. What's the best container to use for my sourdough starter?

For home bakers, the best sourdough starter containers would be medium-sized glass jars or plastic containers with lids. You want a transparent jar, so that you can keep an eye on the progress of your starter and want to ensure that your container has a wide mouth, so you can easily feed the starter and pour it out when needed. It also allows for easy cleaning, once you are done with your starter. I usually opt for a mason jar for my own starter.

It's important that you use either glass or plastic and not metal, as metal can be reactive and negatively affect your starter.

14. What can I do with the excess sourdough starter after feeding?

As a sourdough starter generally consists of half flour and half water, you can use your excess start in any recipe that includes flour and water - which is quite a few when you think about it. Many people use their sourdough discard in the following recipes, including pancakes, waffles, cookies, muffins, crackers, pretzels and even batter for fried chicken. So, if you’re like me and don’t like to waste a thing when it comes to baking, then you can rest easy knowing that you can lend your sourdough discard to a range of delicious recipes.

15. My starter doesn’t have bubbles. Is my sourdough starter dead?

Sourdough is a living thing, so a healthy sourdough should be bubbly and active. If you see some bubbles in your starter, then this is a good sign, as it means your sourdough starter is alive. However, if your starter doesn’t have bubbles, it doesn’t mean that it is dead, it could just mean that it’s not strong enough.

How do you fix a sluggish starter? Usually with minor adjustments to how often you feed your starter or the temperature at which you store it will help to troubleshoot any issues with your starter and help to reactivate it.

16. What is the brown liquid on top of my sourdough starter?

People often notice a dark liquid on top of their sourdough starter and we can assure you it’s totally normal and harmless. This sourdough starter liquid is referred to as “hooch” and it’s a naturally occurring alcohol that sits on top of your starter to indicate that your starter is hungry. All you need to do when you notice sourdough hooch is pour it off and discard it, prior to stirring and feeding your starter again.

17. What’s the sourdough float test?

The sourdough float test is a good indicator of whether your sourdough starter is at peak yeast activity. You conduct the sourdough flotation test by dropping a small amount of your starter into a room-temperature cup of water and if it is able to float, then this means that your starter holds enough gas and is active. However, if your sourdough starter sinks in the water, then you either need to let it sit longer to develop more bubbles or feed it again and try the test again in 6 to 12 hours. Keep in mind that even if your starter passes the float test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready to use.

18. My sourdough starter smells like acetone. What should it smell like?

If your sourdough starter smells like acetone, or nail polish, this means that the lactic acid bacteria in the sourdough has produced copious amounts of acetic acid, which gives it the chemical smell. This is a fairly common occurrence, so it is nothing to worry about, it just means that it’s time to feed your starter with flour and water. Once you feed your starter the chemical, or ‘pear drops’, smell should go away. If the smell doesn’t go away, then it may be time to start again.

If you’re wondering, what should my starter smell like? I would say, you should expect it to smell sour. So, if your starter starts to smell too vinegary, or like acetone, or in some cases vomit, then it means that you need to feed it.

19. Should my sourdough rise in the fridge?

If you want to make an extra sour-tasting sourdough bread loaf, then you should cover it and pop it in the fridge immediately. This will allow the dough to slowly rise for up to 24 hours. However, be mindful that leaving your sourdough too long in the fridge will reduce the sourdough strength and might affect the flavours of the bread.

However, we always recommend using a proofing basket for your dough if you can, as it is the best way to control the temperature. They act like miniature greenhouses for your dough, so you can go about your day while your dough grows big and strong.

20. What is the difference between sourdough bread and normal bread?

The main difference between sourdough and normal, supermarket bread is that sourdough doesn’t require commercial yeast.

Meanwhile, sourdough offers various of health benefits that normal bread doesn’t, including:

  • Sourdough is easier to digest than bread that’s fermented with baker’s yeast, due to its prebiotic content
  • Sourdough has a better effect on blood sugar management due to the fermentation process and higher fibre content
  • It is more nutritious than normal bread, as fermentation improves the bioavailability of the fibre minerals, so your body can access the grain’s nutrients more readily
  • May reduce the risk of heart disease, due to its high fibre content