Sourdough bread has a sour tang, but it can also take on flavors similar to yogurt or vinegar.

Some people also describe sourdough as tasting roasty or yeasty, and perhaps the most unique flavor is artificial banana (there’s an explanation for that!).

Ultimately, sourdough bread has a very complex flavor profile that is absolutely divine. Yeah, it sounds kind of weird, but let me break down how sourdough gets its flavor.

Sourdough Bread Flavor Why Does It Taste Sour

Sourdough vs Commercial Bread

Most commercial bread is pretty flavorless – it’s really just a vessel for whatever you put on it. When it comes to sourdough, all you need is a pat of butter, and you have a flavor explosion!

That’s pretty amazing, considering sourdough bread is typically just flour, water, salt and sourdough starter.

sourdough bread ingredients
A bowl of sourdough bread ingredients – flour, water, salt, and a blob of starter!

The sourdough starter, which is full of wild yeasts and helpful bacteria, is what gives sourdough bread its flavor profile. The type of flour will also impact the flavor profile, but the starter is really the star of the show.

Note: some storebought bread is labeled sourdough, but it’s not actually sourdough. A sourdough flavor is added, but an actual sourdough starter isn’t used to leaven the bread. Keep an eye out for this!

Related: How Long Does Sourdough Bread Last? + Storing Tips

What Sourdough Tastes Like

Sourdough bread doesn’t taste sour in the way you’re probably thinking – it’s more of a tang, but it’s very pleasant. Homemade bread is amazing in itself, but adding sourdough elevates it to a new level.

Sourdough bread can take on yogurt, vinegar, or roasted flavors thanks to the proteolytic processes of amino acids, the conversion of glutamine to glutamate, and the conversion of arginine to ornithine by lactic acid bacteria during baking (“Sourdough Microbiome Comparison and Benefits” 2021).

People describe the tang of sourdough in different ways, and the flavor profile varies depending on the individual’s unique sourdough starter.

sourdough starter

That’s right—your mom’s sourdough bread will likely taste different from that of your local bakery. Let’s explore why!

Sourdough’s Microbial Community

Sourdough gets its unique sour flavor profile from the microbial community in the bread.

All of the science going on while the bread ferments brings the pH level down to 3.5, which is much lower than conventional bread’s pH of 6. Lower pH levels contribute to that sour tang.

The acids present in the sourdough also add unique flavors. Lactic acid is responsible for a yogurt flavor, while acetic acid can add a sharper, more vinegary note.

Read more: 27 Top Benefits of Sourdough Bread + Why It’s Good For You

How Sourdough Starter Gets Its Flavor

While all sourdough starters have a combination of wild yeasts and helpful bacteria, they’re not all the same.

The Baker

There are many factors that go into this, one of which is the actual baker! Researchers have found that the microbes on a baker’s hands are the same microbes found in their sourdough starter.

bakers hands impacting yeast in sourdough

Not only that – recent research has found that the yeasts also vary depending on whether the baker is male or female.

The Environment

Another major factor is the environment. Your sourdough starter will pick up the wild yeasts in your kitchen, which vary greatly from place to place.

Related: How Long to Proof Sourdough in the Fridge (+ Tips)

Your Water and Flour

Others say the starter shifts depending on the water and flour used or even the climate.

There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the community of microorganisms in sourdough starter, but The Global Sourdough Project is working pretty hard to unpack it.

The Yeast

The Global Sourdough Project got 560 samples of different sourdough starters from around the world. They analyzed them and discovered over 70 different types of yeast!

While much is still unknown, you can learn about some of those yeasts here. The types of yeast in the sourdough starter contribute to the final flavor profile, and each sourdough starter is slightly different.

stirring sourdough starter with a spoon

As an example, Wickerhamomyces anomalus adds an artificial banana smell.

I also found it very interesting – and a little gross – that several of the yeasts found in sourdough starter are also found on bugs like flies and mosquitos.

The Bacteria

While we typically think of yeast when it comes to bread making, sourdough actually contains more lactic acid bacteria (LAB) than yeast. According to a 1996 report, the LAB to yeast ratio in sourdoughs is generally 100:1.

Researchers have also found more than 50 species of LAB in sourdough bread. LAB is responsible for fermenting the bread, which leads to the sour tang and helps preserve the bread.

pre shaped sourdough

Where do these different types of bacteria come from? A lot of this is still being researched and discovered, but flour may play a role:

“The LAB developing in the dough may originate from selected natural contaminants in the flour or from a starter culture containing one or more known species of LAB.”

The sourdough microflora: biodiversity and metabolic interactions (2005)

I feel like we’re living in the middle of some really cool discoveries.

Decades from now, this will probably all be much clearer, but for now, we have to accept that sourdough is somewhat of a mystery.

Sourdough Recipes and Their Flavors

Finally, your unique sourdough recipe – most notably, the flour you use – will impact the final flavor.

I’ve found that using 100% unbleached bread flour gives the mildest sourdough flavor. I make it the most, and it’s my family’s favorite. That’s also what you tend to see the most on social media.

If you want a ton of extra flavor, add a mix of bread flour, rye flour, and whole wheat flour.

My favorite proportions for a more intense flavor are 700g bread flour, 200g rye flour, and 100g whole wheat flour—that’s enough for two loaves of bread.

There are tons of different flour combinations you can try, and I think you should experiment!

You can also do what Claire Saffitz did once – just mix together all the random flours in your kitchen to clean out that cupboard. You’ll end up with a unique loaf of sourdough, and that’s part of the fun.

why sourdough tastes sour


How sourdough gets its flavor is way more complex than I thought before I dug into the research. The types of yeast and lactic acid bacteria play a role, as do your water, flour, and climate.

Even the individual baker will impart unique flavors into their bread based on the microorganisms on their hands.

It’s really cool stuff! I hope you enjoyed reading, and enjoy your sourdough!

Related: The Oldest Sourdough Starters (And Why It Doesn’t Really Matter)

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