One quick follow-up question to this postMy sourdough starter is bubbling but not rising, suggestions?: How do you know if your starter is bubbling because of yeast (and not bacteria)?

I've been feeding my starter at 100% hydration (35g spring water + 23g all-purpose unbleached + 12g whole wheat) as recommended by In Search of the Perfect Loaf for 17 days now. It bubbles nicely, but doesn't rise. A spoon full of it sinks in warm water, while flecks rise to the top (though all of them fizz).

Based on the popular answer here, I changed the hydration in an offshoot to make a stiffer mix (20g non-rising starter + 35g water + 30g flour). It rose by nearly double in a 28 celsius room in 8 hours. How do I know that this isn't because of bacteria?


  • Why would you want to know that? – rumtscho Jan 31 at 16:59
  • @rumtscho: "Why would you want to know that?" -- Why don't you ask everyone that question? – Lorel C. Feb 1 at 15:39
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    @LorelC. because for most questions, I can either answer them as-asked, or I'm not informed about the subject and can leave the answering to somebody else, but I don't need this information. Here, the question as-asked doesn't have a good answer, and if did, the answer wouldn't have much practical relevance in a kitchen, so I am pretty sure it is a XY question. If the OP tells us what he hopes to achieve with the information, I would have a chance to address the underlying problem. – rumtscho Feb 1 at 21:25
  • "the question as-asked doesn't have a good answer": It has a great answer, given below. And saying "why would you want to know that?" is not a very friendly/"nice" thing to say. – Lorel C. Feb 2 at 19:32

Unfortunately many kinds of fermentation produce CO2 as a byproduct, so the presence of bubbles hardly give you more information than 'it is alive'.

If what you want is a precise identification of what strain of yeast and bacteria are present in your starter, I see no easier way than looking under a microscope or making a laboratory analysis.

If you just want to heuristically determine if yeast or bacteria is present, the easier way is to guess from the taste and smell profile of your starter. The guess can be more or less polite depending on your training, just like in wine tasting.

For example:

  • alcohol smell hints for the presence of yeasts, the most common agents responsible for the alcoholic fermentation.

  • vinagre smell is associated to acetic acid, which is the subproduct of the fermentation of glucose by bacteria of the AAB (acetic acid) family.

  • acetone (nail polisher) smell is usually associated to the presence of ethyl acetate, the esterification of ethanol + acetic acid. Thus my guess here would be the presence of both bacteria from the AAB family and yeast, which produces the ethanol via the usual alcoholic fermentation.

  • sour taste / smell (like yoghurt) is usually associated to lactic acid, byproduct of lactic fermentation which hints the presence of bacteria from the LAB family.

These are the most obvious examples, but you could go fancier and try also to identify more subtle notes like specific fruits tones associated to some esters, etc. A good place to learn about those things are the ressources in brewing websites, specially in what concerns wild beer (lambic) - a process somehow similar to cultivating a sourdough starter. See for example this thread or this wiki.

Note that it is very likely that what you actually have is a combination of these processes. And as the acetone smell example shows, the combination of two processes can lead to more than the simple sum of their byproducts. It is also important to keep in mind that some of these molecules can produced by both bacterias and yeasts (like ethanol, although yeasts are usually more efficient). This is what makes a sourdough culture complex and unique. Changing the hydration of your culture, you also change the balance of bacterias and yeasts, since certain strains are more or less hydrophilic.

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    Great summary about the ecosystem within a raising dough. I've had the same conversation when talking to family about bread making and helping them make their own 'natural starter'. It's fun to try the different flavors from different locations. – RunThor Feb 1 at 21:08
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    Rather than acetone smell you should say ethylacetate smell. Is more sweet. What they have in common is to both enter nail polish remover so I understand what you mean. Perhaps call it that to give idea to s broad audience. Besides this pedantic note from a chemist (perhaps acetone might form indeed by the way) nice answer+1. – Alchimista Feb 15 at 10:06

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