Skip to Content

Does Sourdough Starter Taste Better With Age?

We’ve all conjured up that traditional image of an age old sourdough starter that has been passed down from generation to generation. I certainly wondered if my newbie sourdough starter would somehow be less powerful or less flavorful than some really really old ones. Let’s talk about if this is really true or not…

The flavor of a new sourdough starter increases and improves with age, with its flavor at full maturity at a few months old. After reaching full maturity, a sourdough starter of a few months old can be just as flavorful as a starter of 100 years.

So, now we know that potentially there is no flavor or strength difference in a sourdough starter that is a few months, or 200 years old, is there is still any benefit using an old starter compared to a fairly new one? And why do many of us insist that using a much older starter does make a difference?

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you may want to use a much older sourdough starter over a new one
  • Why all sourdough starters are certainly not the same
  • What actually affects the flavor of a sourdough starter

Why Does An Older Sourdough Starter Taste Better?

As I mentioned earlier, a starter of a few days to a week old will not have the same delicious flavor compared to one that is a few months old. This is because the delicate balance of the micro-biome in the sourdough starter has not developed fully yet. And it’s this micro-biome that gives sourdough starter its wonderful unique flavor.

A sourdough starter is considered mature within a few months. As it ages, the starter’s micro-biome will change. The flavor of a starter that is a few years old will have the same depth of flavor as it did when it reached its full maturity of a few months. 

So, when we talk about a ‘young’ starter, we really mean one that is less than a few months old. But anything beyond that, is considered mature. A common myth that people believe is, “The older a sourdough starter is, the better flavor it will have”. But this is simply not true!

But the next question would then be…

Why do Different Sourdough Starters Have Different Flavors?

Although people tend to believe that the age of a sourdough starter is what affects its flavor, it’s actually a bunch of other factors. Here are some of them:

Location & Environment Affects the Flavor of Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starters that come from different kitchens, countries, and environments will have a unique flavor from one anotherIf a starter is fed and maintained in the same environment, its flavor will stay the same.

If you move a starter to a new environment, its flavor will develop into a similar flavor to one cultivated in that area. The microbial origin of the starter from that environment won’t stay with it; it will evolve to its new environment. 

Although you may not be able to do much about the location of your sourdough starter, there are some things that you can do to change the flavor of your sourdough starter…

What Else Influences The Flavor Of Sourdough Starter?

The following factors will all affect the flavor of your sourdough starter:

  • The type of flour used
  • The starters hydration level
  • How often it is fed
  • The temperature your starter is stored in 

Let’s take a look at how each one of these affect the starter:

How Different Types of Flour Affect Sourdough Starter

Using different flours will affect the flavor of your sourdough starter

Playing around with different flours is one of the easiest ways to affect both the flavor and the activity levels of your sourdough starter.

Whole grain and rye flours add additional nutrients to sourdough starter, which can improve the rise and tangy flavor of your sourdough bread.

If you want your breads to have a stronger, more tangy flavor, add in whole grain and/or rye flours into the starter. Not only will it enhance the flavor, but it will also make your sourdough starter more active, because the starter now has access to so many more nutrients which are found in whole grain.

NOTE: To learn how to affect how sour your bread tastes, check out my article “18 Ways to Make Your Sourdough Bread More (or Less) Sour

But it’s not just the use of wholegrain or rye, and it’s also not just the tanginess/sourness that can be affected.

The actual flavor of the bread will be different depending on what type of flour you use. And there are so many to play around with, including:

These flours are just a few of the different flours you can use in your sourdough starter, including the wholegrain or the white flour version of each one. To learn in more details about the different types of flours and their properties, check out my flour guide here.

NOTE: I talk much more in depth about using these different types of flour in my course, Path to Sourdough Mastery, where you can get step by step instruction on using each one. You can check it out here.

Each type of flour will create differently behaving sourdough starters in terms of:

  • how much the starter rises and falls
  • the flavor
  • the texture
  • how active it is

Feeding Schedule of Sourdough Starter Can Affect Bread Flavor

How often you feed your starter will affect its taste. The more often you feed it, the milder its flavor will be. And if you feed it less, then the amount of acetic acid and hooch it produces will increase, heightening its sourness. 

Feeding Style Can Affect Sourdough Starter

The more oxygen you expose your starter to, the higher its acetic acid production, increasing its flavor. When you feed it, mix in the flour and water vigorously to increase its oxygen intake, and this will increase its flavor.

If, however, you prefer a more mild flavor, then give it a much more gentle mix when feeding it. 

Hydration Levels of Sourdough Starter Affects Bread Flavor

Another way to affect the flavor of your sourdough starter is to play around with the hydration level. If you reduce your starter’s hydration level, the acetic acid will increase, and the flavor will be tangier.

And this works the other way around too. If your starter is very wet, it will have a milder yogurt taste since the lactic acid produced will increase.

Here’s a quick summary table showing you the different ways you can influence your sourdough starter:

What Affects
Sourdough Starter
Milder FlavorTangier Flavor
Hydration levelHigher hydrationLower hydration
Type of flourWhite flourWhole wheat flour
Mixing styleGentle mixVigorous mix
ScheduleFed more oftenFed less often

NOTE: If you’re not sure when the best time is to use your sourdough starter, check out my article, “When to Use Sourdough Starter at its Peak to Make Great Bread

If you’re struggling with your sourdough starter, I have a “Sourdough Starter Troubleshooting Guide” with details on all of the common problems that bakers come across when trying to establish a strong sourdough starter. You can check it out here.

What Are The Benefits of Having a Really Old Sourdough Starter?

Some sourdough starters have been passed down through the generations

The benefits of having a 100-year-old starter are its history and the different environments it has come from. This starter’s story is what makes it more valuable rather than its flavor.

Although its flavor is not any more unique and richer compared to one that is six months old in the same environment, it is always nice to know the history of your sourdough starter and the collective effort that has been made over generations to help bring your baked goods to life. 

Another advantage of having an old starter is that it is always available to be used and it is fully mature. So, there is usually minimal time required for it to be strengthened or prepared before being able to use it.

The starter is a significant factor in giving sourdough its flavor. A rich flavor will be formed after a few months of maturing the starter. A starter of a few years will be as flavorful as this.

A starter can be kept for hundreds of years. It can be passed on through generations in a family. This is significant and symbolic to families that are prominent bakers.
A starter’s flavor can be unique due to other factors such as the flour used, hydration, how often it is fed, and the method used to make it. This will contribute a delicious sourdough bread.  

Hi, I’m Aysha

I love spending time making the most helpful content I can so you can become a better sourdough baker.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve learned, consider saying “Thanks!” by leaving me a tip here. I appreciate your kindness and support 🙂