The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Young Starter vs Mature Starter

kap1492's picture

Young Starter vs Mature Starter

I just finished reading Tartine bread book and very excited to get started. This will be my first ever attempt and creating a SD starter, so I have a few general questions so I will lump them into this topic. The book discusses briefly the topic of mature and young starters. Correct men if I am wrong but eventually over time a young starter that is used and fed regularly will develop characteristics of a mature starter? Does this mean that a young starter has a mild flavor profile and a mature starter a sharper profile? If the latter is true, and say I am aiming for a young but developed starter's flavor do you have to keep starting a new starter from scratch in order to maintain the desired flavor profile? Is there a way to tone down a mature starter that has a sharp profile to a milder taste and vise versa? One more question about the initial starter steps in regards to the Tartine method. The book says to allow the starter to sit for 2-3 days or longer depending on how well the fermentation is progressing. During this period, should I agitate/stir the starter to prevent mold? I am like a little kid who can't wait and always needs to know "are we there yet".

Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

You either have the correct organisms or not.  That is really not a function of "young" or "mature."  Once you do have a good starter, if your build is short, say 24 hours as in a commercial endeavor, you need a high concentration of organisms for acid and flavor in a hurry.  If you stretch your build over time, the organisms will multiply on their own and so the starter age is not as important as long as you have the correct yeast and bacteria to work with.  If you develop a bad starter, young or mature will not will not work.

 Hope this is to your point.
kap1492's picture

So I just checked my starter just short of 24hrs and I noticed 1/8 of an inch liquid is covering the top. Does this matter or am I being paranoid?

Red5's picture

Robertson defines a starter and leavan as two different things. What he is referring to when talking about a young leaven, is the leaven that you make from the starter and the amount of time you have between first mixing it and using it. Tartine bread recommends using a leaven about 4 hours after you mixed it, or when it passes the float test. The reason for this is a leaven mixed and used at 2 hours, 4 hours, 6, 8,11,12,13 hours later will all have different flavor profiles. If you want a milder sweet sour, than using the young leaven at around 4 hours should provide that result. If you want distinct sour flavor, a more mature leaven would provide that. 

All of that has nothing to do with the age of your starter, which is the thing you will be refreshing daily.  Once the starter has developed into a consistant product, how old it actually is has little effect on the flavor. A starter at one-year old and the same starter at 10 years (all conditions being equal) will have the same flavor and leaving power. A really old starter passed down for generations has more of a flavor effect on your brain in the story it's telling rather than a flavor effect on your taste buds and salivary glands. 

kap1492's picture


Wow Red, thank you so much for explaining that. I kinda figured it was a mix up of sorts but that is what confused me. So question for you. I started a starter yesterday, so on the completion of day one there is about 1/8 of an inch of liquid  covering the top of the starter. Is this of any significance? 

pmccool's picture

While I don't have the Tartine book and therefore don't know Robertson's method for getting a starter up and running, there are usually two inferences to draw when a starter has a layer of liquid on top.  One is that the amount of water is greater than the amount of starter (amounts measured in weight) which allows the flour to settle to the bottom and leave a layer of liquid at the top.  The other is that the starter organisms have consumed the available food and need to be fed again with more flour.

In the first case, adding more flour will give the mixture a thicker texture and keep the flour in suspension.  In the second case, adding more flour will give the bacteria and yeasts the food they need.  


Farmpride's picture

HOOCH... that is another term for the liquid on top, it is alcohol or, just mix it back into the batch, freshen a bit and your on your way..not a problem.



kap1492's picture

Something is happening and I don't know if it is a good thing. The liquid on top has no alcoholic smell what so ever, it had somewhat of a brownish color to it. So today I decided to make some bread using the no knead recipe and something hit me and said place this starter in the kitchen so maybe you could get some yeast activity through the air. Mind you I started this starter on 1/25 at 2am and today 1/27 around 10pm I decide to take a peak. I was surprised to see some activity, not sure if it a good thing. There seems to be some activity in the form of bubbles on the top but there is a slight shade of grey/greenish color to some of it. Now in my mind, I think its mold but not sure what to think since I have never made a starter before. Here are some pictures, let me know what you guys think. Also I created a back up starter made with 2 tbsp of whole wheat flour and 2 tbsp of pineapple juice and covered it with cling wrap. Should I move this new starter away from this or just let it be. Need to know if I should pitch this.

Day 1 of starter just after mixing

Day 2 of starter 

Day 2 at 10pm well after I baked two loafs of no knead bread.

Red5's picture

Nope, looks fine. It just needs to be refreshed. 

The only thing about the Tartine book I didn't like was that I felt he was too vague on the starter creation. Dude spends like 40 pages talking about one loaf but when he talks about the instructions for a starter it boils down to "add some water to a handful of flour and mix until it's batter-like and leave it for a week" The problem with that is my idea of a batter and his, and yours, is going to be different; depending on your flour and other issues, it may take exactly a week, or less, or more than a week. I never got a starter going with the Tartine instructions. 

In your case, what you have going is working, it's just a matter of developing it. My advice would be to weigh out 2 oz of the starter you have and mix in 2 oz of water, and 2oz of flour. Start doing this once a day until you see the starter rising and falling regularly. In the first week or two, you may notice a period where nothing happens. This is normal. Just keep feeding it daily and on week 3 (or sooner) you should see it behaving consistantly. 

As far as mold...depending on how warm it is where your starter is being kept, it will take a few days of a starter being left untouched to form mold. Long story short, unless you actually see mold, don't worry about mold. If you're feeding it daily this will never be a problem. And even if you do find mold on your starter one day, just pick out the moldy part (like you would on a loaf of bread) and just keep on feeding.

kap1492's picture

After seeing some good progress with a crust forming on the top, I marched on and started my first feeding 2 days ago 1/27. Since then the only significant thing to happen is the smell has went from a tart vinegar smell to almost a yogurt like smell noticed yesterday and today. Since there was nothing noteworthy yesterday, I decided to hold off on the feeding yesterday. When I mixed it today was the texture has almost a gummy consistency, so it seems that something is going on. Since the creation I have had some cling wrap on top. Today I decided to replace the wrap with a plastic lid with a few holes poked and placed it in a cool oven with a temp of 81. I am going to wait a few hours to see if the agitation has done anything. I am contemplating feeding it today, but I don't want to no feed it for 2 days in a row. Should I hold off for another day of feeding or just carry on with the feedings? I have been feeding it with 150g of WW flour/white flour mix with 150g of water. Is there a possibility that I am using too large of a feed that it is causing this to slow it down?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The temperature and the rate of feeding of fresh flour make all the difference.  Better to skip a day or two if temps are cool than to feed everyday keeping the pH of the flour and water mixture high.  After a period at 81°F, I would feed it.  Add a little more water to speed fermentation.  I just did an experiment starting a starter not with 100% hydration but over 400%.  Per day (warm day) one level spoon of flour to two spoons of water.  It was practically milky and the flour did separate from the water the whole time, no rises and other practical indicators but I sloshed it around a couple of times a day.  Patience is the key.  Letting the starter alone enough is the other.  

A feeding of 150g or 5g doesn't make a difference but you will soon have a huge amount of goop.  I would stir & reduce the amount to about 30g (throw the rest into the compost) and add 20g of water and then about every day add just 5 g of flour and a spoon or two of water.  Much more manageable.  

If around day 5 or 6 it smells like a little wine or beer is developing, then test it by taking one tablespoon of just stirred starter with ten times the amount of flour and equal weights of water (15g +150g+150g).  Place in large jar or measuring cup with at least 4 times the space above it. Mark the top and see what it does in 12 hrs.  Normally nothing in the first 4 hours, then it starts climbing the jar until it levels out and forms a dent in the top.  Mark that point.  Then it is ready to be used or an hour later, no problem.  Mix up a batch of dough, let it stand for an hour and if it is late in your day, cover and pop into the refrigerator.  Deal with the dough when you have a large block of time to watch it like after a good night's sleep.  The left over starter can be fed and allowed to peak again before feeding.  This is when it is good to reduce the amount of starter to a small amount to maintain it (equal amounts of starter, water and flour) and when planning a bake, build the starter as needed.

jcking's picture

See Mini's point? "but I sloshed it around a couple of times a day." Yeast don't have legs or wings, they can't move. At the start there are very few of them. Once they've fed on the surrounding food, they stop growing and become cannibalistic (producing alcohol). Stirring up the soup will give them access to more food and they will grow (a chopstick works well). Stirring also affects the bad bacteria that need the surface air to grow. So stirring can be a win-win.


baybakin's picture

I'm noting that your starter looks like it is a very high hydration, perhaps as high as 166% or so.  Chad keeps his around 100% hydration (although I remember him saying in the book this is slightly variable).  Are you weighing ingredients to make sure you are using an equal amount (by weight) of flour and water in your feedings? I've never gotten hooch on top of a starter at 100% hydration, but have gotten it at 150%+

kap1492's picture

I am feeding the mix of WW/AP flour 150g and 150g of water. Since the book was very vague, I searched tartine starter on the web and found this website.

The only reason I used these measurements is because I like to have an exact amount of what I am adding. Two reasons I guess, on being that since this is the first time going at it and I don't want to mess it up. Second is I am the kind of person that likes to be precise. To cut down on the total amount, I am going to add 30g of flour mix and 30g of water to 2 oz of the starter. We will see.