The Fresh Loaf

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Purchased Sourdough Starters

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Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Purchased Sourdough Starters

There's been a recent discussion in the forum about activating purchased starters from Sourdoughs International.  I'm curious - over time does a purchased starter maintain its unique flavour profile?  It would seem to me that the type of flour you use to feed your starter (as well as the water and perhaps feeding routine) would eventually change the starter's characteristics.  Can anyone who has used these purchased starters say whether they stay the same or change?  

Antilope's picture
Antilope

The bleaching process would reduce or eliminate cultures in the flour, giving less competition to the starter you are trying to preserve. This is just a guess, however.

You should dry some of the starter and preserve it, as long as it has the characteristics you desire. Then you can always go back to that point if the original changes.

I used Carl's Oregon Trail starter for over 5 years, before I started my own. I fed the Carl's starter with tap water and various supermarket flour (name brand and generic, bleached and unbleached, white and whole wheat and even occasionally rye) and it never changed flavor during the 5 years. I live in Sacramento, CA.

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Thanks for the info, Antilope.  Your experience is interesting, especially that you fed your Carl's starter using all sorts of different flours.  I think I'll send for some of Carl's culture and give it a try.  For others interested in Carl's, you can get a free sample of starter for the cost of a self-addressed stamped envelope.  Here's the link:

http://carlsfriends.net/

chris319's picture
chris319

The cynic in me wonders if there is any more to some of these starters than a little flour and baker's yeast. I have no experience with them so I don't know.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Wow-first time I had a post disappear and the Subject box stay.

My 40 yr old packet activated immediately but tasted/smelled very much like rancid flour. It was in 40 yr old white whole wheat flour, after all. I put it through a number of refreshes before it lost the rancid flavor and has remained my favorite and unique starter since. It has a very winey/beery flavor and scent when it is most active. It never made  very sour bread but I guess my feeding schedule seemed to influence that (though I didn't know that at the time). Very reliable and very delicious.

I believe all starters change over time as new cultures are introduced and establish themselves. They all seem to have some uniqueness but in my experience older cultures also seem to have more complex flavor.

So let's try to save this again. If it disappears, I won't try again.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

I've had the book  about 10 years. It came with an intact dried sourdough packet. I bought it from Ebay. I've tried a couple of times to get the starter to wake up, using a little at a time, so far with no success. I still have a few teaspoons of the dried starter. Maybe I will try again with bleached flour and pineapple juice.

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Thanks for persisting in posting your experience!  I'm curious - where is the Sourdough Jack starter from?

Antilope's picture
Antilope

Is a plastic comb backed book by someone from Alaska. The book of sourdough recipes is from the late 1960's or 1970's and had a small plastic envelope of dried starter (a couple of tablespoons of dry powder) stapled inside the cover. It is an Alaska sourdough. The recipes are for the usual sourdough things popular at the time, pancakes, biscuits, bread, waffles, etc.

Here's a link to the used book on Amazon: There are multiple editions of the book from the 1960's through the 1970's.

http://www.amazon.com/Sourdough-Jacks-Cookery-Other-Things/dp/B00IZHMEFY/ref=tmm_other_meta_binding_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Hey, thanks.  That's really interesting.  I love the cover photo on the book.  ;)

chris319's picture
chris319

Why bother with this stuff? A new starter takes a week or two and is perfectly doable.

I would still like to know the difference between C. humilis from California and C. humilis from a far-off land.

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Well, that's why I asked the question.  Wanted to hear from people who have purchased starters whether they produce bread with different flavours/characteristics than their own starters or from other purchased starters AND whether those flavours/characteristics are maintained over time.  Seems like those with experience are saying that's the case so for my part, purchasing a starter (or getting a free sample of Carl's) might introduce some variety into my sourdough bread making.  And it will be fun to experiment.

MichaelH's picture
MichaelH

No, they don't.

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Hi MichaelH.  Sorry, I'm not sure what question you were replying to but am interested.  ;)

SparrowBread's picture
SparrowBread

I bought a Yukon and a San Francisco strain from Sourdough Intl. about a month ago, hoping to produce breads with different flavor profiles. The Yukon strain was completely different from anything I had worked with before.  It had a creamy yellow color, an extremely loose texture, and a complex, interesting bouquet. Sadly, after activation and regular feelings, it developed a very dark hooch layer and became pasty grey. It didn't smell bad, it ended up having little smell at all. I fed the Yukon the same organic flour I feed my own starter, and the San Francisco strain took to it just fine, so who knows what happened.  It's currently hiding I. The back of my fridge. I'm hoping for a miracle.

As for the San Francisco sourdough strain I purchased, it imparts a very mild (compared to my own 9 year old starter) sourdough flavor to my baguettes. My guess is that this is due to it being a young starter. Like you, I am curious how my starter will evolve. The more I feed it and nurture it in my Seattle environment, won't it just evolve into the strain I already have?

 

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Very interesting.  Thanks!  I'd be interested in hearing more as time goes on about how/if your SF starter evolves.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

It will affect the living yeasts that are in the packet and may be enough to cause their demise.

I believe c.humillis from California and C. humillis from a faroff land are the same organism and will product very similar results. What is different are the supporting microorganisms present in the culture that can cause very different flavors in the resulting bakery. And if California moves to a far-off land and is exposed to the local cultures and fed the locally stored flour, the supporting culture can change a lot.

I do notice a large difference between cultures. I have grown enough of my own to see it. I once had a culture I called my Wild Child. Once I fed it, it would EXPLODE into activity. It was a sprinter and, unfortunately it didn't seem to have the stamina to raise anything for more than a few hours so great for pancakes but not for bread unless some commercial yeast was there to carry the baton forward. After a year or so it died of starvation-the thing was constantly hungry and I missed too many feedings.

Sourdough Jack became a commercial enterprise in San Francisco in the 60's.Packets were sold and sent all over the world. Mine was in this dark,dusty jar in the summer sun (90F that day) at a flea market and had obviously been to many flea markets prior and not sold. I was very surprised at the level of activity I had when I finally activated it. I waited about 3 years because I had just gotten into breadmaking and not yet into sourdough. I waited till I felt ok with using sourdough/natural levain. 

Jack initially produced breads that were a different flavor profile from my other cultures. The other cultures were about 3 years old at the time. Jack bread was remarkably similar in taste to a culture(named Knott) I had gotten from a friend that was a continuous culture for about 40 years! Over time, my other cultures are acquiring the same complex flavor as Jack and Knott.  So I believe that all cultures will develop different flavors and nuances over time and if they become old enough, they are more stable and less dramatic in behavior.The complex,pleasant nuances are probably a mix of other lactos and yeasts that move into the neighborhood and contribute to the taste.

So South Africa and Bulgaria cultures will probably have their unique flavors for a long time but will change over time. My opinion.

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Thanks, Clazar.  I haven't used bleached flour in years.  Your observations about the various starters you've used are very interesting.  And I love the story about Sourdough Jack too.

I just sent away for some of Carl's Oregon Trail Starter so I can do my own experiments.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

a lot over the years since it was started in SF in 1973.  For several, actually many years over that time, I wasn't even around to take car of it and my Mom and others did so who knows what happened then.  I'm guessing I have folded in at least 25 - 40 other starters into the first one - 3 different ones this past year alone.  It has lived all over the USA and overseas too.  I never keep to a feeding schedule or feed it the same stuff form one feeding to the next now a days. The only thing that is fairly consistent recently (except for panettone), over the last 1 1/2 years is that it is 100-125 g, kept refrigerated 36 F at 66% hydration for at least 4 weeks before refreshing, using part of it 10-20 g to bake a loaf a week.

It is usually fed some kind or mix of whole grain flours except when it gets some unbleached white just to throw it off its game now and again but it can get other stuff other than grain too like potato flakes, rice, beans etc.   It doesnt seem to mind as long as the odd things are less than a third if the mix.   The 4 week stored  cold starter always produces the most sour bread regardless of what it was fed 4 weeks earlier. 

For liquid I use water, milk, NFDMP, potato water, grain soaker water, citrus juice, other fruit juices etc. but usually a mix of water and a little bit of something else - no more than 33% again.  I rarely put beer in the starter but have on occasion.  So, my starter is always changing by design. just to keep it at the top of its game and I try to figure out what feed and liquid produces what kind of result - that is the fun part.. 

Potato water and whole wheat makes for the most sour with potato water and whole rye mixed with wheat #2, the 3 rd most sour is rye and potato water.  Best rise is potato water, potato flakes and whole oats mixed with rye and wheat - 82F.  Least sour is white flour and water kept at room temperature.  Most active is whole spelt and oat with whole wheat and rye with potato flakes, soaker water and prune juice. - at 82 F.  I suspect the spelt is a big contributor and i put a little bit in every feeding it seems.

The combinations are really endless and the bread changes as a result.  It is fun to play with just to see what happens since it is near impossible to kill the wee beasties, 

I just try to save some of the dry ingredients from other stuff we are making in the kitchen to grind up for some of the dry food and save the soaker water from grains and dried fruits.  What you inoculate your starter, levain and bread with and how much of it makes a big difference.   I'm guessing there are about 100 billion breads out there left to bake.  Plus it is boring doing the same thing all the time with so many different breads still out there to make :-)

One thing is for sure  - it's not 1973 and SF anymore! 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Dabrownman-I really want to stop by for lunch someday-your posts are so lovely! I wish I lived near you!

That description is a testament to the resilience of yeast and the fact that it doesn't HAVE to be measured,weighed and consistent to produce lovely breads! I have been chastised on occasion for not being precise about my recommendations on the care and feeding of my starter. AS you stated-it really is hard to kill the wee beasties.

Have fun!

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

and welcome for lunch anytime. They too change every day so Lucy doesn't get bored eating the same table scraps:-)

Happy Baking. 

golgi70's picture
golgi70

There was a moment in time that I believed a starter from France or SF was the key to making "their" bread.  And in a sense it's true.  But over time I've learned that it's all in how the starter is maintained that we develop a "planet" of yeast and bacteria that are there because of their care (how they are fed, how often, and with what).  There are so many little details that will manipulate a starter's makeup.  Time, temperature, type of flour(s), inoculation, feeding schedule, environment etc....

I think these packets come from someone who has developed the culture they like but without having the specific routine and flours they used I think it's bound to change.  I also believe from experience that a culture becomes comfortable with a routine and after some time desires that routine opposed to another.   So if you are planning to make a major change to an existing starter you are probably better off starting a brand new culture with these changes opposed to changing the stable culture.  

Happy Levaining

Josh

BurntMyFingers's picture
BurntMyFingers

I too purchased the Sourdough Jack book on a trip to SF sometime in the 70s, with the little packet attached. I used it for years to make pancakes (excellent) but not for bread as I recall. Then lost it on a move, too young to appreciate what a tragedy that was. Exciting to think I might get a new/old one on Ebay.

I currently have 5 starters because I can't bear to throw any out. Two are purloined from Jeffrey Hamelman at King Arthur, there's a Cheeseboard from San Francisco, a hybrid capturing wild yeasts from my former home in SF and my current one in upstate New York, and the whole wheat starter used for Tartine breads. When Hamelman heard me talking about this he said, to the room at large, that nobody needs more than two starters, a wheat and a rye. I find the proofing characteristics of the starters differ but the tastes are far more influenced by hydration, temperature and other factors. I expect that any starter soon takes on the characteristics of its home.

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Thanks for all the input.  It's been an interesting discussion.  :)

Celia Kelley's picture
Celia Kelley

Just curious.  I have just begun really learning about starters.  I originally began with a recipe where you make a very liquid starter with warm water, flour and commercial yeast.  The recipe said to only feed it when you used it with however much you use and that the hooch was actually a good thing.  After that I started to learn feeding processes and now I've learned how good for you natural yeast is vs commercial.  I have actively fed my starter now for the past couple of months slowing developing a better process and it is very healthy.  So does anyone know if the commercial yeast is gone from my starter now?  Does it have the same health benefits?