The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough: using lactobacillus from Yakult or dairy products for the starter?

bradley's picture

Sourdough: using lactobacillus from Yakult or dairy products for the starter?

Hello all. First post here!

I've never made sourdough before but have a starter in its early days. I was wondering whether I could inoculate a starter with small amounts of dairy product (ideally, unpasteurised) or even probiotic yoghurts, Yakult, Actimel etc, in order to boost the starting concentration of lactobacilli in the mix and hopefully cut the starter period down to a couple of days (or at least, make sure the mix picks up Lb before something else establishes itself as the dominant genus in the mix?). Has this been tried by anybody?

Many thanks for your experiences or opinions - Phil

Zeb's picture

Hi Phil

I've put yoghurt in my starter in the early days, I had exactly the same thoughts as you. Since then I have read up a bit more and realise that lactobacilli are called that because they are the bacteria that 'sour milk' but they are also present in other fermentation processes, like making kimchi and sauerkraut and so on, so they are not exclusive to milk and dairy. I hope I've got that right.

It didn't do my starter any harm as far as i remember but it didn't make it develop faster or anything.  It takes a few weeks for the starter culture to find its balance and for the different organisms to develop within the culture and there doesn't seem to be a way to rush this.  I recommend reading through the Debra Wink threads on this site as they are full of wonderful and detailed information about the processes involved.   If you want advice on starter nurture, the simplest thing to do is to post what you are doing in detail and then advice will flood in.

best wishes, Joanna

Edit: Just remembered something, Dan Lepard in the Handmade Loaf uses 2 tsps of yoghurt at the first stage of making a leaven and currants!  So that's probably where I got it from... I still have that starter going strong three years on now....

Mylissa20's picture

I've read a fair amount of posts that say that trying to boost your start with dairy or other things containing lactobaccili is pointless, but I do have a friend who feeds here start a dose of probiotics monthly, and she has the most beautiful starter you've ever seen.  She just empties a capsule into her start and stirs it in when she feeds it.  I'm on too tight a budget for that, but maybe the yogurt could be similar....

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... as an experiment, last night about 11.30 pm, I mixed 4 tblsp of stoneground rye with 3 tblsp of home-made plain yoghurt. Left overnight at room temp (about 78*C) in a small plastic tupperware pot. No water used at all.

This morning, at 7.30 am, lifted lid and breathed in - beautiful yeasty smell.

5 hours later - it's now coming up 12.30pm - the rye is full of lacey holes, rising steadily and the smell is richer than ever.

Will feed again with yoghurt and extra rye last thing tonight, then if things continue to look promising, will start 2 x daily feeds thereafter for the rest of the week.

Last time I started a levain, I had yeast production fired up by day 3 and could raise bread with it in only 5 days - that's the power of the Caribbean sun for you. But the speed of last night's creation with yoghurt in place of water, is just off the scale.

I realise the fabulous yeasty smell and healthy and rapid CO2 production may be misleading, and it's early days - but it's hard not to conclude yoghurt fast-tracks a levain, if used in place of water, and with a good ambient temperature.

Anyone else tried this ...?

All at Sea

dabrownman's picture

I used Clayton's Complete Book of Bread for my starter and one of the ways he wrote about called  'San Francisco Starter' was to put a cup of milk uncovered on the counter for a day then add 2 cups of  AP flour to it, leaving uncovered and that is it.  4-5 days it should be ready.   I used some WW and Rye when I started mine and it worked fine.  Routinely, every now and then,  I add some milk, potato flakes, whey water and yogurt to my starter when I feed it.  No worries.  

leostrog's picture

I prepare my grape-based starter before  a week. In first day  I added a pinch of dry starter  for Bulgarian yougurt to my grape-flour mix. It's gave me  fantastic results ! I mean to write post about this  in near futture.

pantone_000's picture

I'm having the same thoughts of adding a bit of Yakult to a starter. But haven't done it yet. Any feedback? Did it work?

I saw this blog and I might give it a try too.

Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

Pantone, that experiment is very interesting, and I may give it a try myself.  However, it has a fatal flaw: the cultures were all being fed unsterilized flour.  Some thirty-five or forty years or so ago a definitive study was conducted to determine the source of the yeast(s) and bacteria in a sourdough culture.  (I'm sorry, but I don't remember the title nor the authors.)  Until that paper was published everybody thought that the organisms came from the air in the kitchen settling into the flour/water substrate; that study proved that the source was in fact the flour itself.  The yeast and bacteria occur naturally on the grain from which the flour is made.  Thus, every time we add more flour we are adding more critters.  The experiment you cite could be vastly improved by using sterilized feedstock so that the source of the flora could only be the yogurt, pineapple juice, or flour in each respective culture.

If you try the experiment yourself, may I suggest ensuring you do everything possible to achieve sterile conditions.  One method that I thought of is to prepare the feedstock separately from the cultures and to heat it to a temperature that would kill any organisms present before introducing it to the individual cultures.  Mixing the flour and water, and microwaving to 170°+F would probably do the trick.  This would help to ensure that any flora came only from the original mix rather than the feedstock; making a single batch to feed all target cultures would also ensure parallel conditions.

As for some of those odd ways of starting a culture, I question what is being created.  It must be remembered that there are nearly two hundred identified and named species of the genus Lactobacillus.  Only a few of those are useful in sourdough baking.  Indeed, some are present in saliva and are one cause of tooth decay, others are found in the human intestinal tract, while yet others are present in the female vagina -- hardly what we use in bread.  Yogurt is made by introducing L. delbruekeii and Streptococcus thermophilus, as well as others, to the milk, while cultured buttermilk uses L. lactis, none of which are useful inbaking, insofar as I know.  While more than one species of bacteria have been found in numerous studies of  cultures from various commercial bakeries, all of them, I believe, found L. sanfranciscensis (of San Fransico sourdough fame) to be dominant.  Furthermore, it is hard to imagine how the yeast we need in our sourdough, Candida millerii primarily, would be present in any of those materials, but maybe I'm wrong.  As for grapes, grape flour, currants, raisins, coconut flour, coconut milk, etc., I have no idea what flora is in them, but I would be willing to bet that it is not L. sanfranciscensis.

Finally, as for those who have tried to jumpstart their starter with baker's yeast, brewer's yeast, or beer barm, I'm sorry, but all you have created is your own private culture of Saccaromyces cerevisiae, namely baker's yeast.  Now, there is nothing wrong with that; it works fine, but your bread is definitely not sourdough.  Real sourdough has a pH of about 4.5, which gives sourdough its sour flavor and which is totally inhospitable to baker's yeast.

Pantone, I didn't mean to get off on a long exposition of this, but your interest in repeating the experiment set out in that blog caught my attention.  I, and I am sure others, would be very interested in what you find, but be sure you establish better controls over contamination than the original experimenter.

Looking forward to seeing your results.

pudianna's picture

Hello Capn Dub,

First I realize it has been a long time since you made this post to However, If after all this time you still exist, it would be most appreciated if you could provide some insight into this whole process - for the benefit of beginners, like myself.

I ask this favour because from your post, you seem knowledgeable in this area and I was wondering if you could be so kind to as to provide some basic, a-b-c, "how to do it successfully" instructions that might get myself, and hopefully others, onto the path of making authentic and respectable examples of sourdough bakery.

If you are indeed still willing and able to reply then thanks in advance.


rel's picture

Well, the fastest way to sour starter begins with regular package yeast. One packet, 1/2 cup flour, few tablespoons of water. Mix, put in large jar, put on lid...put in refrig.

Next day, Day 2, add a tablespoon or two of flour and 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice...the real stuff.

Next day, Day 3: make bread.  You could have added yogurt day 1 but it wasn't necessary. By changing the pH on Day 2 only the low pH yeast survived and that is all that counts.

a.  most flour has spores already associated with does the "baker-yeast" you mentioned. None of them are pure strains of any one yeast or bacteria by any means. A few sets of selective media cultivation will show you that.

b. it is the pH that is the game. Create a flour-sugar low-pH environment guess what? Only the low-pH tolerant species survive. Let's call that an "ecological niche."

c. your refrig is full full full of ALL types of bacteria, yeasts, fungi..... and the older the frig, the more "blue cheese" you put in it, the more "moldy" veggies you threw out...the more spores are there... and in the cold moist environment they last a long long time.  But you are constantly re-populating them every time something goes "moldy"  especially cheeses and veggies.

Easy is Better where I come from.

rel's picture

Well, the fastest way to sour starter begins with regular package yeast. One packet, 1/2 cup flour, few tablespoons of water. Mix, put in large jar, put on lid...put in refrig.

Next day, add a tablespoon or two of flour and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice...the real stuff.


Next day, Day 3: make bread.  You could have added yogurt day 1 but it wasn't necessary. By changing the pH on Day 2 only the low pH yeast survived and that is all that counts.