The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Favorite commercially available starter?

SofiasDad's picture

Favorite commercially available starter?

Hi all, This is my first post on this forum. I have been busy reading many other posts to see if my burning question has already been answered BUT people seem to skip over this part in most discussions.

Until last year I owned the King Arthur Flour sourdough starter and kept it alive and happy for three years and used it every ten days or so. I can't honestly say I ever noted any detectable tang in the breads I made with it - I have no doubt I was not using it correctly. It died when we moved to San Diego and I haven't replaced it yet.

I wonder if I should buy from KAF again or try the Carl Griffith, Goldrush, Ed Wood, Fermented Treasure starters. Does anyone have a strong preference?


Thanks in advance, Michael

JIP's picture

I have KAF and love it.  I agree tha initially mabyt it was a little mild on flavor but I thin that is more how you use it.  My main bread is a country-style loaf from Nancy Silverton's book and I retard them over night in the fridge and I get plenty of sour tang and great flavor.  You also might want to check your feeding schedule because a starter becomes yours pretty quickly after you buy it because of the flour and water you feed it.  No matter where your starter comes from the yeast in it generally comes from the flour you are feeding it and if you took 5 different starters side-by-side and feed them for a while on the same schedule with the same flour after a while you would not be able to tell the difference between them.

Yumarama's picture

JIP wrote:
if you took 5 different starters side-by-side and feed them for a while on the same schedule with the same flour after a while you would not be able to tell the difference between them.

Has this in fact been tested by anyone? I see this view expressed often, so you wouldn't be the first person to suggest this, and I'm not trying to put you on the spot here, it's just that you mention it with great certainty.

But I've never seen/read from anyone who's actually checked to see if this really does happen. It seems to be based more on supposition than anything concrete. I've also seen the opposite claimed but again, no documentation to back that up either.

If you happen to know where there is such evidence presented, can you share? It would be nice to run into someone who can point to some actual evidence about this view.

apprentice's picture

"Regional uniqueness is a fortunate characterisic of sourdough bread. The ambient yeasts and bacteria in one area will naturally differ from those in another, and breads from different locations have a subtle distinctiveness of their own. Although there is a symbiotic stability between the yeasts and bacteria in a healthy culture, if a baker gets a knob of mature sourdough culture from another baker halfway around the world, it will lose some of its original characteristics once the recipient baker has refreshed and worked with the culture in his home environment..."

From Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, p 352-3

ehanner's picture

This would be expected since the flour used for refreshing is from a different area of the World or at least a different miller.


Yumarama's picture
Yumarama wrote:
One, the famous San Francisco culture, was extensively studied in an attempt to simplify the sourdough process for commercial bakers. This simplification could not be achieved. There was no way the flavor could be maintained unless the lactobacilli had ample time to multiply and produce flavor compounds and acidity. Some important information did result from this research: it was determined that sourdough cultures are symbiotic and stable.  They do not change if taken to another geographical location, nor do they change from contaminates in the air.

Now clearly, there's a potential business agenda behind this claim - if the starters sold were not going to be any different from each other, there'd be no point in selling several different types, nor buying any. But the end result is that it purports that the characteristics of a starter do NOT change due to addition of "foreign" flour (what you add to what was originally fed, say, Tasmanian flour).

I have no idea which side has the issue correct and which is off the mark.

There's been some discussion that home bakers, who put their starter through the somewhat traumatic process of refrigeration, allow the lacto to be overtaken by the 'locals' BUT a starter fresh from Area X with a set character that is kept on the same as it was in the Area X Bakery does not suffer that refrigeration traume and therefore has a yeast+lacto culture that is unlikely to be overtaken by new and weaker visitors.

Not that any of this is of particular import to me, personally, I'm not about to order Fancy Brand Name starters. But it would be good to get a definitive stance on that issue. I'm just con-fuzzed by the contradictory viewpoints. They are so diamtrically opposed that it just leaves on wondering where actuality sits. Maybe both schools are off the mark and some third (or fifth?) viewpoint is closer to facts.

caviar's picture

This is not wild yeast for bread story but it might be informative.

There was  a cheese "Liederkranz" that was made in New Jersey quite a few years ago, adelicious strong cheese that was purchased by the Borden Company. They tried to make this in there plant, I think in Wisconsin, but couldn't get the same cheese using the same formula. The finally solved the problem by returning to New Jersey, scraped down the walls of the old plant and transported that to their plant in Wisconsin.


caviar's picture

The cheese was actually made in New York originally not New Jersey as I stated previously. Sorry about that.

The production was discontinued some years ago, unfortunately, due to lack of demand for a "smelly" cheese or was it because the right yeast petered out?

plevee's picture

I have raised my own starters as needed from rye flour & water for the last 20 years.

Intrigued by Alpine's claims for's Ischia starter from Italy, I bought some a month ago and really think it performs better than any of my home made starters.

It activated promptly, raises bread extremely well and makes delicious breads. I store my starter in the fridge & it revives very quickly with a single feeding. I don't like sour tasting breads but I am sure you could manipulate the fermentation to make your breads more sour if that's what you want.

Sourdo only sells the Ischia with another Italian starter (which I haven't tried yet) and with shipping it was $22. I've never tried commercial starters before but have been very pleased with this one. Whether it will revert to being the same as my old starter from the organisms on the flour or in the air remains to be seen.



mlgriego's picture

These are the only starters I have used so far and I have had excellent success with all of them.  I am currently using the San Francisco starter which I totally neglected for at least 6 months and was able to reactivate in a couple days using his method of cleaning a culture.  I did notice a difference in the flavor of the ones I have used (maybe 5 varieties) and I especially liked the Bahrain, South African on whole wheat and the tried and true SF.  I used the Russian for bread made in my bread machine and it works as described.  I have the two Italian cultures mentioned by Patsy but due to a lack of time and space have not activated them.  My bread rises fast and high part of which I attribute to the higher altitude in Santa Fe versus Tucson where I started using these.  Still, the stuff is really hard to kill and it works beautifully.  My co-workers at the UofA would buy up every loaf I could bake on a weekend and most were whole grain breads.

I do plan to capture my own using the method described on this forum by Debra Wink when I have enough time to spend baking more often.  I want to see how well it does and how needy it is in comparison to what I have used so far.  Since I have used Ed Wood's formulas most often I am working on learning to use some of the formulas posted on this group and in the many great bread books I currently own.

Melody G in Santa Fe

longhorn's picture

I started with Woods French culture from a Paris bakery about six years ago. It has always been very mild and absolutely delightful. Not the fastest sourdough around but not the slowest either. I keep it in a BP 100% culture and use if for just about everything.

ehanner's picture

I would suggest that you make your own starter, harvesting the abundantly available yeast and bacteria in Whole Wheat and Rye flours found in every bag you buy.

There are many people with strong opinions about the continued viability of a strain from this place or that but little evidence in scientific terms. The one thing there is plenty of, is evidence that the way you feed and use your starter in your dough can dramatically effect the flavor you get in your bread. The technique you use is much more important than the source of the culture, regardless of the exotic story that comes with it.

If you need convincing, consider that the sfbi has the advanced class build their own starters on day 1 and bake with them on day 4, using just the commercially available flour they use, and water.

I suggest you read Shiao-Ping's blog post from sfbi, Debra Wink's Starter post (part 1-2) or sourdolady's many excellent posts on the subject. Once you have built your own and used it for a while, you can decide if you want to "invest/waste" your cash and try out a culture from some other distant location.


SofiasDad's picture


I am aware that this is the top of the mountain in sourdough cultures but it seems random to me. I am not trying to be argumentative because I have never done it or met anyone who did. It just seems an advanced skill when I have a weak sourdough baking track record. I will try Debra's pineapple juice method just for fun and see what happens. Thanks for your reply! MJH

dmsnyder's picture

My first starter was Ed Wood's San Francisco Sourdough starter. It activated quickly. I was amazed that my sourdoughs really did have the distinctive San Francisco Sourdough flavor.

Once I started feeding that starter with whole grain flours (WW and Rye), the distinctive flavor was replaced with another flavor profile. I assume, a different set of yeast and lactobaccili became establish.

I've always wondered whether the SF SD flora would have been maintained over several years if I kept a starter that I only fed white flour. I'm thinking it might be worth the investment to find out. Has anyone done this? Do you think the difference in what the starter is fed could account for the controversy regarding Wood's claims?


dustinlovell's picture

I certainly can't speak to the scientific questions here, but I do know this: I purchased Ed Wood's authentic San Francisco sourdough starter and made one of my own. I fed them on the same flour and water and roughly the same schedule for months, and using the same recipe, the starter I made produced a faster rise, while the one I purchased produced consistently better flavor. David, I wonder if you took your San Fransisco starter and began feeding it white flour again, would the SF sour flavor return? I can't imagine there would be enough yeast and bacteria in flour to overcome such a high concentration as exists in a healthy starter. Wouldn't the flavor profile rely more heavily on the type of flour used? I live in Utah, I've had my starter for about six years, and it still produces the SF sourdough tang. Usually a day after I bake, but it's definitely there.

montanagrandma's picture

I have gotten several dried starters from people on this site that were kind enough to let me try theirs to see if they would change after a time. I found out that most of the starters still taste the same as when they were sent to me. I have made sure that I kept back enough dried starter to re-test again.(at a much later date)

They still all taste a little different than my homegrown one.

So after a 2 month trial period, they have not changed their own characteristics with the additions of water and flour from my area.

My original post is below;


dghdctr's picture

Monica Spiller is a an expert on what she calls "barm" (which is just the British term for sourdough starter) and she's been freeze-drying it for years very successfully.  I resuscitated a jar of her granules in only two days time on several occasions -- back before I knew how easy it was to grow my own.  Still, it is very convenient, and she is very happy to correspond with you by e-mail about any issues you may encounter when you've purchased her dried starter.

It's flavor was very, very good.  I believe she feeds hers with organic whole wheat flour, but I used it to innoculate a white starter, which was excellent as well.

If you feel compelled to purchase one, you couldn't do better than Monica's, in my opinion:

If you're game to start your own, try looking for Debra Wink's blog here at TFL.

--Dan DiMuzio