Why Does My Bread Taste Like Vinegar

Nothing smells better than a freshly baked loaf of bread. And for some baking enthusiasts, no scent is worse than bread smelling like vinegar! Are you are wondering why your bread tastes like vinegar, too? Then you’ve come to the right place!

This post will answer why your bread tastes like vinegar and how you can eliminate it. Don’t worry; your friend didn’t add vinegar as a prank, it happens naturally!

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Why does your bread smell like vinegar? Has it gone bad? Should you discard it?

No! Bread giving off a vinegary odour is a common occurrence, and it’s nothing to be concerned about. It’s caused by over-fermentation of the dough or combining several acidic ingredients in a recipe.

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Why does your yeast bread taste like vinegar?

During yeast fermentation, gas is produced to make the dough rise. But it’s not just gas that is created! Carbon dioxide is produced alongside alcohol (we’ll come back to why this is important in a moment. As dough develops, enzymes break down starches in the flour to produce Lactic and Acetic acid bacteria. These then produce acetic acid.

Vinegar is a composition of acetic acid and water. So there will always be a trace of vinegar in every loaf of bread. In most examples, the acetic acid content is low and the vinegar odour is not noticeable.

When the dough is left to ferment for long periods the alcohol produced can come in contact with the microorganism, Acetobacter. This is a genus of lactic acid bacteria found in the environment, especially near sugary plants. Acetobacter reacts with oxygen and alcohol to produce acetic acid. This is the process followed that produces the vinegar in our cupboards -no wonder our bread smells like it!

Why sourdough bread tastes like vinegar?

Acetic acid is produced through the natural development of a sourdough starter culture. In a starter, acetic and lactic acid bacteria and wild yeasts combine to mature the dough, produce gas and make delicious bread. 

Letting a starter sit at its peak before refreshing or using it to make bread increases the number of acid bacteria in the culture.

Acid growth in a starter over time

Depending on the environment that the starter is kept in, the starter can taste more vinegary. Acetic acid prefers a warmer temperature, around 95F (35C), whereas a starter that is cultured cooler, say 77F (25C) will contain more lactic acid and taste more like yoghurt.

The hydration ratio of the starter will also have an impact on the vinegar vs yoghurt (or acetic vs lactic acid) battle. Stiffer starters have a higher population of lactic acid bacteria, whereas high hydration starters will be more vinegary.

Diagram showing the affects of temperature and hydration on the flavour of sourdough

How to stop my bread from smelling like vinegar?

You can follow these few steps if you notice that every loaf of bread you bake smells like vinegar. All these measures are effective in helping to reduce the smell of vinegar that develops in bread.

1- Let your dough rise for a shorter time

Set an alarm so that you don’t forget to check on your dough! The longer you leave your dough to proof, the more chance of developing a vinegary odour if you over-proof it! Use the poke test to check if your dough is ready.

Push your finger gently into the dough
Push your finger into the dough. It should spring back in around 3 seconds. If it springs back straight away, it needs longer to rise.

2- Proof the dough at a cooler temperature

Another hack that you can try to remove the vinegary smell in your bread is by proofing it at a slightly cooler temperature, which you usually do. For less vinegary bread, proof it between 77-95F (25-30C), no higher.

3- Reduce the amount of yeast in your bread

Another tip to reduce the vinegary smell in your bread is to reduce the amount of yeast you put in. There could be a possibility that your bread requires less yeast than the recipe demands. So, reduce the amount of yeast you add to your bread mixture by 10% and evaluate the difference.

Moreover, if you are using active dry yeast, proof it first by adding it in lukewarm water and a bit of sugar to activate it. You will notice that it makes a huge difference if you use lukewarm warm instead of cold.

4- Do not let your starter reach its peak

Only let your starter rise 75% of its possible rise before feeding or taking for bread. This will lower its population of acid bacteria.

5- It’s okay to not do anything about it!

Lastly, if you can withstand the vinegary smell of your bread, then consume it as it is! Some people, especially sourdough bakers struggle to achieve a vinegary smell! They’d be jealous of you, so maybe just give it a go and see if you can enjoy it! Moreover, there are no bad health effects of eating bread that smells like vinegar, mainly because it isn’t rotten. So, enjoy it as it is!

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