What is sourdough and how is it used in bread?

March 26, 2023

What is sourdough and how is it used in bread?

Sourdough is a natural leavening agent consisting of flour and water. It’s also called starter, levain, masa madre, lievito naturale, or Sauerteig. Sourdough gives structure and flavour to the bread.

Sourdough gives structure and flavour to the bread. Many questions still exist about sourdough. And yet it's easier than you think. We will answer these questions and propose some simple recipes.

Getting started with sourdough, how do I get started?

You need a 'mother dough' that you use to make sourdough. This mother dough or 'starter' is simply a mixture of flour and water. Combining these two ingredients activates the wild yeasts and bacteria naturally found in the flour. Over time, these micro-organisms are so prevalent that they can make the bread.

Do you want to receive a mother dough starter? Contact your baking technology adviser for a sample.

You can also make a mother dough with apples and sultanas or based on elderflower, pears, peaches, etc. So long as the basic raw materials are pesticide-free, you can get started.

The process of making the mother dough takes six days. Patience and attention are the keys to success.

Once you have a mother dough, you have to keep 'feeding' or 'refreshing' it. It must be refreshed every day to keep the micro-organisms active. To do this, mix one part of a new recipe with one part sourdough.

If you don’t refresh it for several days, the micro-organisms will go into sleep mode, and you won't be able to use it again immediately. After refreshing the mother dough, it is reactivated for use.


Is sourdough healthier than regular bread?

Various studies have shown that fermentation of certain (wild) yeasts and lactic acid bacteria positively affects the release of various substances such as phenols, sterols, vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, fats, proteins, bioactive peptides (these are small protein fragments) and starch. It allows these nutrients to be better absorbed into the body.

If we only compare the nutritional value of sourdough bread with similar bread to which yeast has been added, there are hardly any differences. They provide roughly the same amount of calories, fibre, vitamins and minerals. So sourdough bread is not necessarily healthier than bread made with yeast.

What is the difference between sourdough and pre-ferment?

The trick to making really good sourdough is the correct ratio of lactic acid to acetic acid bacteria. This is know-how. Too many acetic acid bacteria create a sour taste; this is called sourdough. Moreover, the choice of grain type affects the flavour of the sourdough. Rye sourdough produces a more acidic sourdough flavour than spelt.

Sourdough vs yeast bread

A leavening agent is needed for bread to rise. This can be yeast, sourdough or a combination of both. The long leavening time gives sourdough bread a distinctive, full, ripe flavour. Sourdough bread is somewhat firmer than yeast bread because yeast gives the bread more volume. The baker uses yeast to convert the sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide. This gas, also known as CO2, creates bubbles in the dough. These gas bubbles push up the dough. This is the leavening of the dough.

Recipe inspiration

Epistar Tradition French baguette

Baguettes are authentically French. To create authenticity, French bakers use a ‘levain’ or sourdough.

Dossche Mills also uses 'levain' according to the French style. It’s an excellent way for artisan bakers to differentiate themselves from industrial baguettes. These Tradition Française flours, Epistar Belle Meunière or Epistar Emeraude, combined with a long baking time on the oven floor and characteristic incisions, create a thoroughly traditional French baguette.

Tradition Française flour forms the basis of this recipe, with the addition of 25% liquid sourdough.

Focaccia with rosemary made using Tradition Française

Focaccia is a traditional flatbread from Liguria. Italians love it as a savoury bread to accompany meals. Its tender texture, crispy base, olive oil, sea salt and aromatic toppings evoke an authentic Italian feeling. Equally authentic is the way the baker rolls out the thick dough and indents the surface by hand. Hence the dimples in the bread. Most importantly, focaccia is a type of bread that you, as a baker, can vary endlessly. Sun-dried tomatoes, bell peppers, pesto, Parmesan cheese, rosemary, Herbes de Provence, etc. all these southern finishes match this bread wonderfully.

Good to know:

  • Time means flavour. So give the dough enough time to develop.

  • You can use sourdough in combination with baker's yeast or pure. If you use sourdough pure, your bread will need 24 hours to rise before baking. If you combine it with baker's yeast, you can shorten the rising time.

  • Keep your sourdough active every day

  • Experiment: from bread and baguettes with sourdough to crispy bread rolls, croissants and more.

Start to desem

Discover what you can make with sourdough in our range of recipes.

To the recipes