The Crucial Role Of Sourdough Hydration: A Beginner’s Guide

Sharing Is Caring!

Sourdough baking is an art that combines science and tradition to produce delicious, crusty loaves with a distinct tangy flavor. Among the many factors influencing quality, sourdough hydration stands out as a key player.

 This post contains affiliate links. This means I may earn a commission should you chose to sign up for a program or make a purchase using my link. There is no added cost to you but your purchase through my links helps support our content! Not to worry- I truly believe in and/or use everything I promote! Check out our disclaimer and disclosure page for more details.

First off, we can’t breakdown sourdough hydration without first understanding what it actually means. The term hydration in bread making refers to how much water or liquid is in the dough. The more water or liquid, the higher the hydration percentage is.

Hydration is a critical aspect of bread-making, especially when it comes to crafting the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. The hydration level determines the texture, crumb structure, and overall quality of the final product.

Due to the natural fermentation process of sourdough bread, the dough is going to be much wetter than yeast doughs. However, it shouldn’t be so wet that you’re unable to handle.

low hydration sourdough

Effect of Hydration Levels on Bread Structure

Hydration levels profoundly impact the structure of the final loaf. A higher hydration level results in a more open crumb structure, with larger air pockets and a chewier texture. A higher hydration is typically used for traditional artisan bread, such as sourdough. Conversely, a lower hydration level produces a denser crumb with smaller air pockets and a firmer texture. This is typically used for things like sandwich bread, where a soft, closed structure is desired.

The relationship between hydration and gluten development is central to understanding this phenomenon. Gluten, formed when water combines with flour’s proteins, provides the structure necessary for trapping air during fermentation and baking. Higher hydration levels encourage gluten development, yielding a more extensible dough that can stretch and rise more easily. On the other hand, lower hydration levels limit gluten development, resulting in a tighter crumb structure.

Calculating Hydration in Sourdough Bread

best hydration for sourdough
High hydration sourdough – open crumb

I never used a scale in baking until I started in my sourdough journey. Using a precision scale to measure out the ingredients actually makes sourdough baking so much easier! This is primarily due to the fact that using Baker’s percentages for the hydration of your actual bread recipe is incredibly easy and is done using weight.

What Is Baker’s Percentages?

Baker’s percentages, also known as baker’s math or formula percentages, are a standardized way of expressing the ingredients in a bread recipe in relation to the weight of flour. This method is widely used in the baking industry and provides a consistent and scalable approach to creating and adjusting recipes. Understanding baker’s percentages is essential for bakers to easily scale recipes, maintain consistency, and experiment with different formulations.

Check out our article for a full break down of Baker’s Percentages

Calculating Hydration Using Baker’s Percentages

Baker’s percentages offer a standardized way to express ingredients’ proportions in relation to the flour’s weight. Hydration level is typically expressed as a percentage of the flour weight. To calculate hydration:

  1. Determine the hydration percentage you want it your loaf (see some determining factors below)
  2. Use the weight of your flour (typically 500-600g for one loaf) to determine how much water is needed to achieve your desired hydration.

For example, say I want to create a recipe that uses 500g of flour and a 75% hydration. The amount of water needed would be calculated like this 500 X 0.75 =375g of water to achieve 75% hydration.

Determining The Best Hydration Level

sourdough hydration
Low hydration sourdough – tight crumb

There are many factors that go into how your final loaf will turn out, hydration being a large factor. Using different flours does play a role in the texture and structure of your bread, but for this article’s purpose, we’ll just stick with how the hydration level itself effects the final loaf.

Hydration Levels and Their Effects

  1. Low Hydration (50-60%): Low hydration doughs are firmer and less sticky, making them easier to handle and shape. They typically result in a tighter crumb structure and a denser texture. These doughs are ideal for bread varieties like bagels and sandwich loaves.
  2. Medium Hydration (60-75%): Medium hydration doughs strike a balance between workability and crumb structure. They produce loaves with a slightly open crumb and a chewy texture, making them versatile for various bread types, including rustic boules and batards.
  3. High Hydration (75% and above): High hydration doughs are more challenging to handle due to their sticky consistency but yield loaves with a light, airy crumb and a pronounced flavor profile. These doughs are characteristic of artisanal sourdough bread and require advanced shaping techniques to maintain their structure during fermentation and baking.

Adjusting Hydration for Additions

When incorporating additions like sugars into a sourdough recipe, it’s essential to consider their impact on hydration. Sugars attract water molecules, increasing the dough’s overall hydration level. As a result, bakers may need to adjust the hydration percentage to achieve the desired consistency and texture.

For instance, if adding honey or other sweeteners to the dough, it’s advisable to reduce the water content slightly to compensate for the additional moisture from the sugars. Conversely, when incorporating dry ingredients like nuts or seeds, it may be necessary to increase hydration slightly to ensure proper dough hydration.

sourdough hydration chart

Best Hydration Level for Sourdough Bread

The most ideal hydration level for your sourdough bread is really going to depend on your experience level and what you’re looking to get in that final product. There really is no right or wrong way of hydration.

My best advice for figuring out your unique sweet spot of hydration, is to always document when baking. Not just the ingredients and amounts that go into it, but also the process and times of fermentation. This way when you do find that perfect loaf, you can more easily duplicate it and get perfection every time.

In the world of sourdough making, mastering hydration is key to unlocking the full potential of your loaves. Understanding how hydration influences both the sourdough starter and the bread recipe empowers bakers to tailor their approach, resulting in artisanal loaves that showcase the perfect balance of texture, flavor, and crust. So, experiment with hydration levels, observe the changes in your dough, and embark on a journey to sourdough perfection.

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

Get A Free Guide To Preserving Farm Fresh Eggs!

Learn to preserve the abundance with this FREE guide containing over 10 different ways to turn those fresh eggs into a shelf stable product you can use all year round!

Come See What We're Up To On Social Media!

Check Out Our Latest Products

Subscribe To Our Email List

Our Latest Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More To Explore

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top