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What Is Souring?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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In addition to simply describing milk that has gone bad, the culinary term souring may be used to describe a method of food preparation. Souring is completed by adding an acid to food, rapidly modifying the food's chemical as well as physical composition. Once complete, the technique creates a similar result to pickling food.

Rather than souring foods, many products that require this flavoring process are instead pickled or fermented. Since both of these methods require a lengthier amount of time, chemical sourness is often implemented with the addition of lemon or lime juice, vinegar, and other acidic compounds. Using these agents not only drastically cuts time needed for product preparation down from days to minutes, it also makes the method of cooking more accessible to the home cook, who may not have the skills or materials necessary for lengthier applications.

Cooks should take note that the amount of time required to sour food can greatly vary, depending upon the food and the flavor desired. While some simple sour dishes only need minutes to complete, others may require hours for the full process. Either way, the method is still much faster to execute than traditional pickling or fermentation.

Fermented milk products are ironically a prime example of the souring process. Common household foods, from cheese to yogurt, are soured. Sour cream is an obvious chemically soured food item. Other much loved dairy products that require some type of sour agent in their preparation include crème fraîche, curds, and and cultured buttermilk.

Many grain products also feature sourness rendered from this method of food preparation. Sourdough and sour mash are some popular foods that feature the process. Other foods, from appetizers to desserts, may also require a sour element.

Souring food does not always include adding an acidic element. Some foods may sour on account of their own natural microbes. An example of this would be a very popular dairy food, yogurt. This type of souring should be heavily monitored, however, to avoid spoiling and possible health concerns.

When souring at home, a fresh lemon or lime is often recommended as the souring medium. Another easy alternative would be to substitute distilled white vinegar. Most foods do not require a heavy dose of the sour element. A small amount is usually sufficient to render the substance acidulated. Cooks may add additional drops of the sour substance to flavor according to their preferences as well.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for DelightedCooking, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By Chmander — On Aug 15, 2014

While I didn't know how to sour things before, as I thought all of it had to be done at a processing plant, it's good to know that there are ways you can try it at home. Next time I make a dish, and want to sour up some milk to add, I think I'll give it a shot. Honestly though, I feel a little safer buying the cultured products in the store, since it's done by professionals and there's less of a chance of getting sick.

By Krunchyman — On Aug 14, 2014

@Hazali - It's funny that you should mention yogurt, as I definitely agree. In fact its origin is very interesting, and really emphasizes your points, and the important ones in the article. Centuries ago, a man was traveling through a scorching hot desert, carrying a bag of milk. Even though he had finally reached his destination, by the time he got there, his milk had completely "spoiled". However, he decide to get a taste of it, and it was surprisingly edible. Though it certainly wasn't called "yogurt" at the time, regardless, it was definitely a step in the right direction, and it shows things can be created even through one's biggest mishaps.

By Hazali — On Aug 14, 2014

When food becomes sour or spoils, some people might see this as a bad thing, and may even decide to throw it away. However, it's not always the case that everything needs to be tossed. This article gives a perfect example. In the form of dairy products, curdled or sour liquids can actually be very beneficial, and won't always harm you. For example, cottage cheese. Obviously, it's processed to ensure that people don't get sick from the bacteria, but regardless, it's essentially curdled milk. The same thing goes for yogurt.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for DelightedCooking, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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