Tips to Avoid Sticky Sourdough and the Science Behind It

Bakers and home cooks alike have long enjoyed baking with sourdough. But why do some sourdough loaves turn out sticky, soft, and gummy?

If you’ve ever experienced this issue, you may have been left scratching your head.

Let’s explore the science behind sticky sourdough to better understand what is happening in the oven. 


The Science Behind Sticky Sourdough:

Here are some of the factors which explain the science behind sticky sourdough very well:

1. It Starts With the Starter:

Sticky sourdough is often caused by an overly active starter or too much hydration in the dough.

A starter is a mixture of flour and water that contains naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria that feed off of sugars in the flour.

When these organisms consume sugar they produce carbon dioxide, which causes the dough to rise as it bakes in the oven.  

A starter that is over-fed can become overly active, meaning it produces too much carbon dioxide for its own good and can make a loaf of bread gummy on the inside.

To avoid this issue, be sure to only feed your starter when it has been sitting at room temperature for several days and has begun to look bubbly or frothy. 

2. Hydration Matters 

The amount of liquid in a recipe can also play a role in sticky sourdough loaves.

Too much liquid will cause a loaf to become gummy because there are not enough gluten strands present to create an airy texture inside the loaf once it bakes in the oven.

This can happen if you don’t measure your ingredients precisely or if you use wet ingredients like yogurt or milk instead of water in your recipe. 

To avoid this issue, be sure to measure all ingredients precisely, use water instead of other liquids whenever possible, and consider using less liquid than called for if your dough looks overly sticky before baking it. 

3. Kneading Is Key:

Kneading plays an important role in creating an airy texture inside a loaf of bread once it bakes.

When kneading by hand, be sure to knead until the dough no longer sticks to your hands or countertop before shaping into loaves and proofing them prior to baking them off.

Kneading helps create gluten strands which help give structure and lift inside a baked loaf as well as keep moisture from seeping out during the baking time.  

Can I Still Bake a Sticky Sourdough?

Absolutely! Sticky sourdough can still be baked off to enjoy either fresh or toasted. Simply shape it into loaves and proof as usual, then bake in the oven until fully cooked through.

sticky sourdough in a bowl

For a crispier crust, you can also place an oven-safe pan filled with boiling water on the bottom rack of your oven before you place the loaves in to bake.

The water will create steam and help give the crust a lovely crunchy texture. 

Should Sourdough Starter Be Thick and Sticky?

No! A healthy sourdough starter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

It should be wet enough to pour out onto a surface, but not so wet that it runs down your hands or sticks when you touch it.

If your starter is too thick and sticky, try adding more water to thin it out. If your starter is too runny, then it needs more flour to thicken it up. 

Why Is My Sourdough Dense and Gummy?

Dense and gummy sourdough can be caused by a few different things.

It could be that your starter was overly active, that you used too much liquid in the dough, or that you didn’t knead the dough enough before shaping it into loaves.

To avoid dense and gummy sourdough in the future, be sure to only feed your starter when it has been sitting at room temperature for several days, measure all ingredients precisely, use water instead of other liquids whenever possible, and knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands or countertop prior to shaping into loaves. 

How to Avoid Sticky Sourdough?

Sourdough bread has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many home bakers trying their hand at making their own.

However, one of the most common problems home bakers experience is ending up with a sticky sourdough loaf. This can be especially frustrating if you’ve spent hours tending to your dough only to have it come out of the oven too wet and gooey.

Luckily, there are several things you can do to avoid sticky sourdough and ensure that your loaves turn out perfect every time. 

1. Check Your Hydration Level 

The hydration level of your dough is one of the most important factors when it comes to avoiding sticky sourdough.

Too much water in the dough will make it wet and difficult to work with, while too little water will result in a dry and crumbly loaf.

Start by measuring out your ingredients carefully and double-checking that you’re using the correct amount of liquid for your recipe.

If you find that your dough is still too wet after kneading, try adding a bit more flour until it reaches the desired consistency.  

2. Knead Gently 

Another simple but effective tip for avoiding sticky sourdough is to knead gently but thoroughly.

Kneading helps develop gluten strands which provide structure and support for your dough as it rises and bakes. It’s important not to overwork the dough as this can cause it to become overly sticky or gummy.

Once you’ve kneaded your dough, put it aside in a warm place covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel so that it can rise properly before baking. 

3. Using Bread Flour 

If you’re still having trouble preventing stickiness in your sourdough loaves, try switching up the type of flour you use.

Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour which means that it will produce stronger gluten strands when mixed with water during kneading—making for less gummy loaves overall!

Just make sure that if you switch flours, you adjust any other ingredients like yeast or salt accordingly so as not to throw off the flavor or texture of your finished product. 

What Is Sourdough Made Of?

Sourdough is made from a combination of flour, water, and wild yeast. The starter is a mixture of these three ingredients that have been allowed to ferment over time.

This fermentation process creates lactic acid bacteria which gives sourdough its distinctively tangy flavor. The longer the dough ferments, the more complex and flavorful it becomes.

Many bakers also add salt to their sourdough dough to enhance the flavor and create a more consistent texture.

In addition, some recipes call for additional ingredients such as milk, honey, olive oil, or butter to give the bread a richer taste and a softer crumb.  

Whatever ingredients you use in your recipe, proper handling, and preparation are key to avoiding sticky sourdough and achieving success in the kitchen.

What Is the Secret to Sourdough Bread?

The secret to making sourdough bread is all about understanding the science behind fermentation.

  • Knowing how to maintain your starter to keep it active and healthy is key to creating a consistently good loaf of sourdough.
  • Additionally, using the right type of flour and adding additional ingredients like salt or olive oil can help create a flavor profile that is unique to your recipe.
  • Lastly, the correct amount of kneading, rising time, and baking temperature are all important factors in achieving the perfect sourdough loaf.

What Kind of Flour Is Best for Sourdough Bread?

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular choices. 

1. Whole Wheat Flour 

Whole wheat flour is a great option for anyone looking to make healthier, more nutritious sourdough bread. It contains all parts of the grain, including the bran and germ.

This results in a denser texture in your finished product that is also higher in fiber and protein than white flour-based sourdough bread.

Whole wheat flour can be difficult to work with because it absorbs liquid more slowly than other types of flour.

For this reason, it’s important to pay close attention when kneading your dough so that it doesn’t become too dry or wet.  

2. White Bread Flour 

White bread flour is milled from hard wheat varieties such as durum or red winter wheat.

It contains less fiber than whole wheat flour but has a higher gluten content, which makes it ideal for sourdough bread because it helps give them its signature chewy texture.

White bread flour also absorbs liquid more quickly than whole wheat flour, resulting in a softer dough that is easier to work with and shape into loaves.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-work-with sourdough bread recipe that won’t take too long to make, white bread flour may be your best bet. 

3. Rye Flour 

Rye flour is another popular choice for making sourdough bread due to its earthy flavor and slightly sweet taste.

Like whole wheat flour, rye contains all parts of the grain including the bran and germ, which gives it its distinctive dark color and nutty flavor.

Rye does not contain as much gluten as other types of flour so it can be challenging to work with if you’re not used to using it in baking recipes; however, its unique flavor makes it well worth experimenting with! 

Is It Cheaper to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread?

Making your own sourdough bread is a relatively inexpensive process, especially when compared to buying pre-made loaves from the store.

Most of the ingredients you need to make sourdough can be found at local supermarkets or specialty stores for just a few dollars each.

Additionally, you only have to buy the supplies once in order to keep your starter active and produce multiple loaves over time. This means that you can save a lot of money in the long run by making your own bread at home, as opposed to purchasing it from the store.

Ultimately, if you are looking for an economical way to enjoy delicious sourdough bread, why not give it a try and see how much you save? You may be surprised at how easy and affordable it is to make your own. Good luck!

What Is the Main Ingredient in Sourdough?

The main ingredient in sourdough bread is a combination of flour, water, and wild yeast.

Wild yeast is the key to giving sourdough its distinct flavor and texture, as it ferments and activates when combined with moisture and warmth.

This process creates lactic acid which gives the dough it’s signature tangy taste.

Flour acts as the base for the dough and provides structure, while water helps to activate the wild yeast.

Depending on the recipe, other ingredients such as salt, sugar, herbs, and spices can be added to give sourdough its unique flavor.

Which Sourdough Starter Is Best?

The type of sourdough starter you use will depend on many factors, including the type of bread you are making and the flavor profile you are looking for.

For example, a wheat-based starter is ideal for white or multigrain loaves, while rye starters can produce dark and heavy sourdoughs with a distinct tangy flavor.

Generally speaking, some of the most popular sourdough starters include Wheat and Rye Starters, French Starters, and San Francisco Starters. Each has its own unique flavor profile that can be used to create a wide variety of recipes.

Ultimately, you should experiment with different starters to find which one best suits your needs and tastes.

Is It Ok to Freeze Sourdough Bread?

Yes, freezing sourdough bread is an effective way to store it for a longer period of time.

To freeze sourdough bread, slice it into smaller portions (if desired) and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place the wrapped loaves in a freezer-safe bag or container before transferring them to the freezer.

When you are ready to enjoy the bread, simply remove it from the freezer and let thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

Once thawed, you can reheat the slices in a toaster or oven for a few minutes to bring back their crunchy texture.

How Long Does Sourdough Bread Last?

Sourdough bread can last for several days in the refrigerator. If stored correctly, it should remain fresh for up to five days.

To help extend its shelf life, make sure to wrap the loaf tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store it in an airtight container.

If you have leftover sourdough that you don’t plan to eat within five days, consider freezing it for later.

Wrapped loaves will last up to three months in the freezer before they start to lose their freshness and flavor.

Where Sourdough Goes Wrong: The 4 Common Mistakes

Here are four of the most common mistakes made when baking with sourdough and how to avoid them in the future.  

1. Using Too Little Starter 

One of the most common mistakes when baking with sourdough is using too little starter. A lot of recipes out there suggest using a small amount of starter, usually about 1/4 cup for one loaf of bread.

While this may be enough for some recipes, many other recipes require more starters to achieve the desired result.

Adding more starters will help create a better flavor and texture in your final product. 

2. Not Enough Hydration 

Another mistake when baking with sourdough is not adding enough hydration or water to your dough.

Many people think that because they are adding liquid ingredients like milk or yogurt, they don’t need to add additional water to their dough mix.

However, this isn’t true! You should add enough water so that your dough has a good consistency- not too wet, but not too dry either. A good rule of thumb is 1 ¼ cups of water per cup of flour used in your recipe. 

3. Overworking the Dough:

When you’re kneading your dough, it can be tempting to keep kneading until it feels nice and smooth, and pliable in your hands—but resist the urge!

Overworking the dough will result in a tougher finished product with less flavor. The key is to knead just until all ingredients are combined- no more than 10 minutes total should do it! 

4. Not Preheating Your Oven Properly 

The final mistake made when baking with sourdough is not preheating your oven properly before putting in your bread loaves.

Sourdough needs an extra hot oven for best results – about 500 degrees Fahrenheit – so make sure you preheat it for at least 15 minutes before you put your loaves in to bake!

This will ensure that they rise properly and get nice and crusty on top while still remaining soft inside.  


Baking with sourdough can be tricky business if you don’t know what you’re doing! But by being aware of these common mistakes and taking steps to avoid them, you can ensure that every batch comes out perfectly every time!

Sticky sourdough doesn’t have to be a mystery anymore! Understanding how starters work, being mindful of hydration levels, and properly kneading your dough prior to proofing it can help ensure that each batch of sourdough turns out light, fluffy, and delicious every time!

Understanding these principles will help any baker take their skills with sourdough up one notch higher – so go ahead and get baking!

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About the author

Natalie is a food enthusiast who spends all of her time trying out new recipes, testing out new appliances, and making her kitchen as awesome as possible. She is a professional writer and blogs here about her love of food & kitchen.

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