When it comes to the names of food, you may never know what the origin is going to be. Some names of food are simply what the ingredients of the food are, such as with fettuccine alfredo — a dish that combines both fettuccine noodles and alfredo sauce.
Other names of food might indicate who commonly ate the dish, such as with fisherman’s pie, which was a dish that fishermen and sailors would eat.
Throughout this, there are some names that simply state the obvious features of what the food is. Take, as an example, sourdough bread. Sourdough bread usually has a tangier, more sour taste to it than most other bread does, especially compared to your standard sandwich bread.
While the origin of this bread’s name might be obvious, it may not be quite as obvious how this kind of bread came to be or what is in it that gives it its sour undertones.
The Science of Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is a bit of a different kind of bread than most other kinds. It has a tendency to have a harder crust and the dough of the bread has some sharp undertones that you will not usually get with other kinds of bread.
The ingredients of this kind of bread are the same as with most other loaves of bread, including wheat, yeast, water, and salt, so what gives it such a different taste?
There are two things to consider when you are learning about sourdough bread and where it comes from. For one, most people who make sourdough bread will use something that is known as a sourdough starter.
This will have most of what you need for bread but it will be tailored to a sourdough bread taste. Therefore, the preparation of sourdough bread isn’t entirely the same as how you would make sandwich bread.
Additionally, what sets sourdough’s baking process apart from other breads is the fact that you will refrigerate the dough. This refrigeration process will alter the fermenting process of the bread as it rises.
When bread usually rises, there is a mild amount of lactic acid from the fermentation process. In sourdough bread, however, the refrigeration process allows for more acetic acid to be produced.
Acetic acid has a much stronger and tangier taste than lactic acid and it is what gives sourdough bread its iconic name. When making sourdough bread, it is not only important for you to use the sourdough starter, which will have the ingredients needed to allow acetic acid to be produced during fermentation, but it is also important to allow for your sourdough bread to ferment in the fridge for the specified period of time.
Doing these things will allow for your sourdough bread to live up to its name, having a soft dough with a tangy undertone to it that many people can appreciate. If you want to make your sourdough bread have an even stronger taste, there is some manipulation that you can do to create this effect.
Altering the Sourness of Your Sourdough Bread
There are a few different ways that you can create an environment for acetic acid to thrive while you are preparing your sourdough bread. You can make sure that the sourdough starter will have optimal conditions.
This includes making sure that there is more flour than water as acetic acid prefers a dry environment. You can also use whole-grain flours whenever you can, as the bacteria that produce acetic acid favor this kind of flour more than any other kind.
You can also make sure that the bread dough provides an optimal environment for the acetic acid. Keep in mind that altering the bread dough is going to take a fair amount of trial and error, as each adjustment you make to favor the production of acetic acid will likely have other effects on the bread as well.
Always make sure that you are storing the rising and fermenting bread dough in a cool location, preferably in one of the coldest spots in your house. A cool environment will slow down the fermentation process, allowing for more acetic acid to be produced before the bread has finished fermenting.
Your ultimate goal with this is going to be to achieve a long, slow rise so that the bacteria that produce acetic acid have a long period of time to do so before you cook the dough.
You will also want to try and punch down (also known as degassing) the dough at least once, preferably twice, before you get the final shape of your loaf. This will help to enhance the sour flavor of your sourdough bread, although it might take a little bit of extra involvement.
And finally, you will want to work with the final rise a little bit more as well. You should allow the final rise of the bread to be least four hours as a minimum, although overnight will have much better results.
Once that has been completed, you should take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 to 60 minutes before you place it in the oven. This will not only help the taste of the bread but it will also give it a better oven-spring.
What About Reducing the Sour Taste?
If you prefer a milder taste to your sourdough bread, there are certainly ways that you can alter your bread and ingredients to have this effect.
If acetic acid is going to be the stronger, tangier acid produced in sourdough bread, then you will want to aim to promote the production of lactic acid instead. This will still give sourdough bread its characteristic taste but it will ensure that the taste is mild.
In general, you will want to opt for doing the opposite of everything you would do to get a stronger sourdough taste. This includes creating a starter environment with more moisture in it by increasing the feedings.
You will also want to use more of the starter when you are adding it to the dough so that you can have a shorter rising time so there isn’t as much time for the acid to be produced during the fermenting process.
And finally, you can add a small amount of baking soda to the recipe. Baking soda is a natural alkaline substance, which means that it neutralizes and counteracts a high acidic content. Since the acid in sourdough bread is what produces a tangy taste, adding baking soda to the recipe will reduce that.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.