The Fresh Loaf

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Will all sourdough starters I make eventually taste the same?

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Will all sourdough starters I make eventually taste the same?

Hi!

This is probably a stupid question, but I've just barely gotten up and running with sourdough, so bear with me. :)

I have a nice River Cottage rye sourdough starter bubbling away in my fridge (started with 1 cup dark rye flour and 1 cup bottled water), and I have a two day old culture of Reinhart's whole wheat flour/pineapple juice sitting my by counter looking slightly bewildered as a newborn baby. :) I eventually would like to turn the whole wheat starter into a white starter, but that's days away.

Having correctly or incorrectly read that sourdough starters take on the flavours of the environment that they are raised in (like kids), would there be a reason to make more than one type of white, or rye, or whole wheat starter? Wouldn't all my white or rye, or whole wheat starters eventually taste the same, theoretically, if they were raised in the same kitchen?

On one site I read a recipe for a starter that calls for milk, sugar, honey and beer - in my snobby newbie way I thought "*That's* not a real starter!", but is it? Would that be considered a "true" sourdough starter? I can see how that would add different flavours to a bread, but I thought a "real" starter was just flour and liquid.

I don't know who I'd be trying to impress with the "trueness" of a starter (I'm assuming there are no bread police, although on France, maybe.. :) ), but having read the well known bread books it seems that flour/liquid is thought of as the "real" way to produce a starter.

Any thoughts?

glora's picture
glora

Not a dumb question.  Many people think that if they cultivate wild yeast by using ingredients such as milk, honey, grapes etc, that their final loaf will have these flavor profiles.  These ingredients are generally used as a facilitator helping along the wild yeast that is found in the flour or on the grapes lets say.  Once the starter as been elaborated, it is then perpetuated and those ingredients eventually diluted.  If you want these flavors in your bread they must be used in the final dough that is mixed.  Hope this helps.

 

Gena

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I have 4 starters right now that are very similar but not identical. I used the same flour (Pillsbury unbleached  AP) for all of them but one was collected on vacation in Florida(named Beach),one was stirred up in my basement office at work(Basement), one cultured in my kitchen(Mine) and one was donated to me from someone who's family had it for 70 yrs(Knott). What I noticed is that over time they are becoming more similar to each other-even though they started with different characteristics and different flavors. Beach was very active and rose a loaf very quickly with some delicious mild tanginess. Knott smelled and tasted very complex-like a fine wine-very fruity. Over time Beach is less active and Knott is less complex.

That being said, a lot of flavor comes from how you make the loaf-preferment,retarding the loaf, a long rise.etc.

Another comment,though, is that I have also used fruit starter(made with fruit not flour) and it definitely imparts a fruit flavor to the loaf.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Thanks for the replies!

I did think that starting the culture with those different ingredients would add a different flavour to the starters, it goes to show just how much I still have to learn on this fascinating subject.

clazar123, I love the idea of having a fruity flavoured starter, I'll have to try it when I can find a starter culture made with fruit. It's interesting to read that your differently started cultures (I never thougth there would be a difference between one made in my basement and my kitchen!) are starting to taste the same. That's what I would *think* would happen as it picks up the flavours around the area you'd be working in.

I just really don't want to start 10 different batches of cultures in search of different tastes if at some point they'll end up tasting similar. I don't have the houseroom. :)

jcking's picture
jcking

Over time, if you treat them the same ( hydration, water, flour, temperature, feeding schedule and location ) they'll end up the same.

Jim

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Something I don't understand, and I know I'm going to sound ignorant (which I guess I am), but when you say different feeding schedules do you mean what time of day I feed them? Or how often I discard and feed up the culture?

Sorry, I have so much to learn!

 

jcking's picture
jcking

Don't believe I mentioned different. As long as everything is kept the same. Please tell me more about the process you've settled on.

You shouldn't be sorry about asking questions, no one here was born a baker. We all started with wet sticky hands and a lot of determination.

Jim

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Jim, I fed my rye culture once a day, removing 1 cup of culture and replacing with 1 cup of dark rye and 1 cup of bottled water. This is how I interpreted the River Cottage instructions, which aren't really specific. Right now it's sitting in my fridge, the plan is to feed him once a week - he went in the fridge two days ago after having removed 1 cup of culture and having been fed 1 cup/1 cup.

The whole wheat/pineapple juice culture is again being fed once a day, I'm only on Day 3 so I haven't yet removed any of it yet. I plan to turn it into a white flour starter, thinking to feed it twice a day while it gets up and running, then putting it in my fridge and feeding twice a week.

I don't bake often enough to keep in on my counter, so they all have to go into the fridge.

I do feel a bit stupid for not being able to understand this without having to ask for it to be explained, but it's better to ask than to bumble along in the dark, but thanks for being understanding.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Something that becomes clear if you read the article on Pineapple Juice starter, is that every sourdough culture is a progression.  When you mix flour and water, certain organisms begin growing, and as they grow they change the acidity and starch/sugar content of the starter which allows other organisms to take over.  Every time you feed a starter (on just flour and water) you reset the clock, so to speak, to an earlier time in the progression.  Exactly what is growing in your starter depends on how often and how much you feed it.  The capability is always there for a different population to grow because the ones who don't like the conditions in the starter right now just go dormant until they do like them.  Everything happens faster at higher temperatures, which is why people who only want to feed their cultures every few days, or even once a week, keep it in the refrigerator.  Otherwise the change in conditions from one feeding to the next would be extreme.

If that was too technical, I apologize.  It was just something that surprised me at first, because I tended to think of starter as if it were a culture of some pure yeast and bacterial strains that I was maintaining.  It's not.  It's a mixture that changes dynamically according to how it is treated.  The realization was exciting to me, so I am sharing it.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

No, it's not technical, my late father was a chemist. It makes sense, I just hadn't thought it. Thank you for sharing it, it helped!

I notice the difference in the taste of my breads if I've forced a quicker rising than if I've let it rise in a cooler place for a longer time, so I guess it would be the same with the starters.

I check on my rye starter, "George", once a day in the fridge. I've noticed that he smells much more vinegary and sour than when I had him sitting up on my counter. I've been running the air conditioner in this weather, but he was still highly active. From the first day I started him he always doubled within two hours of being fed, but now maybe he has more time to develop more subtle flavours while the yeasts eat more slowly.

kalc's picture
kalc

Jim,

Going by what you are saying, if i maintain 2 starters, lets say, one with all purpose flour & another with WW flour, then i should get different charcteristics once stabilised, even in the same kitchen - is that right?

-kalc.

 

jcking's picture
jcking

Yes an AP and a WW will have differences. But the point I was trying to make was given a starter from anywhere in the world, they will change once you get your hands on it.

Yet do you need both. How often do you bake? What are your favorite breads? Unless you're baking different breads everyday what do you need? Plan your work - work your plan. A portion of your AP starter can be converted to a WW with a few feedings. Practical home SD bakers will keep a white and a rye starter, and a third at most.

The storage starter one keeps, like the foundation of a house, needs to be stable to achieve stable results. Keeping the process the same will stabilise it. And I mean everything. Weigh everything, temp everything ( room, flour, seed, and water) to arrive at a consistent temp (adjust water temp to compensate) and times between feeding. One must also consider their own lifestlye limits and plan according.

Jim

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

Say I have 3 different starters and I dry and store samples of each in the fridge.  Could I not refresh the storage sample periodically and therefore recreate the original starter?  I would have to make drying and storing samples a routine over several months I suppose.

FF

jcking's picture
jcking

Hey Bud,

I've just finished reading an old post, 3/06, of the Bread Bakers Guild of America (Yahoo Group). The posted question was about reviving refrigerated months old starters and dried ones. The answers tossed about came from J. Hammelman, D. Wink, D. DiMuzio and other professional bakers. Short answer; you can revive old/dried starters. Yet it's probably better/easier to just start a new one. Why? The old/dried starter will have very few viable yeast cells, less than an equal portion of fresh flour. Any bacteria left may have more of the undesirable strains.

(housebound, and still recovering) Jim

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

Did the doc perscribe bread-making therapy or are you just doing it because you can't help it?

I hope you are doing well.  We'll have to set up another 'Lanta bakery "inspection" when you are up to it.

Loren

jcking's picture
jcking

Not real happy with the Doc. Bakin' just a little. Reading a ton. Lookin' forward to a De Kalb market trip!

Will keep in touch; Jim

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Yes, agreed on that point, it takes a few days of careful feeding to bring them back from spores and to build up the yeast numbers.  But I find I'd much rather do that with my rye starter than to start a new one.  The new one has less rounded raw flavor.  With new rye starters, I tend to add walnuts to the bread dough to round out the taste until the culture is older.   After the initial wake up, putting the culture back on my old schedule, brings it back into shape quickly.  

Getting a healthy mixture of "wee beasties" is not always made feeding just one flour.   So if you are searching for a new flavor, change the way you handle your starter.  Then you suddenly favor some of the less dominant bugs and give them a chance.  So I might be in the group that says... if you want to keep your culture flavors separate, know how they were treated and fed... every last detail.  (sounds pretty geeky)  And do that to the best of your ability and hope it works.  I am sure that I have made subtle changes on my starter culture in the various countries where I have used it so that I return to my favorite flavor or favor my favorite mixture of beasties.  Water minerals change with location and so do ambient temperatures.  Even the fridge temps are slightly different.  

Staying flexible is also a key.  Even your own taste buds are affected with the food or liquids consumed.  Make it taste good to you and your bread eaters and then you'll be happy.   A good Baker knows that even baking the very same bread all year round will vary somewhat just because the ingredients will vary with the season.  Our taste buds will also send us in directions where we are most likely to pick up trace minerals that our body's lack.  Our body's requirements also change with the seasons and locations as our food supply changes.  I don't think of starters changing as a particularly bad thing.  There is a good chance that they change for the best.  

jcking's picture
jcking

Caution; multi-National starter on the loose :- )

Recently I've come round to the "geeky last detail" keeper of the storage starter. The more I read I'm leaning toward adjusting the degree of sour in the treatment/building of the dough. Further reading of reviving an old starter less than 3 months in the fridge; feed the old, start a new one and after a few feedings of each (active new) combine the two.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Well, in our house we're nut free as my youngest is allergic to them so walnuts are out. But I can see that using maybe different brands of flour would change the taste, and even different brands of bottled water.

So, for example, if I decided to make a starter with grape juice and fed it only the same brand of grape juice throughout it's entire lifespan, using the same brand of flour I'm assuming it would have a unique (not necessarily good) flavour than any other of the starters I make despite being raised in the same place. Given a slight changed based on slight changes in the flour or way the juice could be made from time to time.

I thought the hardest thing about sourdough would be not killing the starter. :)

 

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

No, no, a thousand times no.  The hardest thing about sourdough is restraining your imagination to fit within the confines of your refrigerator, your kitchen, a 24-hour day, and the appetites of whoever gets to eat your bread.  This apparently, for some people, includes ducks and dogs.  *laugh*

lumos's picture
lumos

If you want to dry your starter for storage, this is the great instruction on the method with a follow-up article on how to revive it.

jaywillie's picture
jaywillie

Just an FYI that if you continue to feed the rye starter with a cup of water and a cup of flour, it will get very loose. You should try feeding with equal amounts of water and flour BY WEIGHT, not by measure. I say this from experience -- what happens is that the starter looks dead because it is overly liquid. It may still be alive, but it will not rise and will not look alive.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

The River Cootage Bread Handbook, which the starter recipe came from, laid out that feeding ratio so that the starter is loose like pancake batter. WHY, I don't know, but the recipes in the book call for a "ladlefull" of starter (which is about 100mls, or 1/2 cup, or even 1 cup). I beat it this afternoon, and it was nice and thick like a thick milkshake.

What I did today, in preparation to bake on Saturday or even Monday, was to take 3 oz of that rye starter out of the fridge (I fed it last evening) and feed it 6 oz unbleached AP flour and 3 oz of bottled water. I thought I'd follow the program laid out in JMonkey's lesson on making sours more sour and see what happens, but I left the rest of the starter in it's 200% hydration.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Thank you all for your input, it has been a lot of help! I didn't realize it was such a complex system where changes in feeding times and what feed or even amounts fed could change the flavour nuances.

I was starting to drive myself slightly crazy with hydration and diverse feeding ratios, when I'm honestly happy with the bread my 200% hydration rye starter makes- okay, it could be a bit more sour for ME but my family liked it. It stopped being fun to grow "my bread babies" so I'm going to stop worrying about all the mathematical ratios and ironclad feeding schedules and just "go with the flow".

As long as I feed with the same amount I remove from the starter, keep it happy with feedings on a regularish basis, I will not stress about it. I'll just keep my white and rye starters happy, adjusting removed bits of  them into other starters for particular purposes and try not to kill them. Pretty much the same theory I go with when raising my kids.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

After having typed the above, I opened Hamelman's Bread looking for a recipe to make for tomorrow's batch. The page it opened onto was page 146, with a section titled "Building the Culture (also known as 'Elaborating')".

There, in light blue, was a clear and succinct explanation of the mathematical system of how much to feed a given amount of culture into a workable starter. I drove myself crazy for two days trying to find this information explained simply and easily, and there it was.

NOW I know why you feed a given amount of starter specific amounts of food to maintain the ratio you want. Did I mention a slightly trained monkey could be smarter than myself?

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Happens to me all of the time and I love it when the light bulb finally does go on!  It is like everything all of a sudden just falls into place and I reach a new level of understanding.

But with each new level of understanding there are always new questions and the cycle continues - hence bread baking is a life long adventure.

Don't know if you caugh any of the blogs on using fruit yeast that were being worked on this past winter but here is a link to one that will more than likely tie you into others.  You can start your own fruit yeast water with a mere handful of raisins and a cup of water and time.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/23441/yeast-water-amp-other-wee-beastie-bubbles-no-math

If you look for threads by Akiko you will find more info. too.  She translated a lot of work from Japanese into English.

Here is one of her links where she explains it all.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/23809/how-i-make-and-maintain-raisin-yeast-water

Have fun :-)

Janet

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

There are soem many more questions I have right now, I'm not sure where to begin. But as I love a good quest eventually I'll find them :)

I saw the raisin water starter here and in one of the Reinhart books, but I thougt I would use the pineapple juice starter for my first whole wheat/white starter. I'll try the raisn water next, I'm always looking for new flavours. :)

Thank you so much, Mini, you *always* give wonderful advice!

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

When you read the links you will see that the raisin yeast water is simply water with raisins and, once fermented, can be added directly to you dough.  It stays active in water form once made...no flour added until you intend to bake with it!  It is stored in the refrigerator and only needs to be fed every once in awhile though it needs to be shaken daily.

 Pretty simple but it won't give you a raisin flavor in your breads.  Just a less tangy loaf as the YW aren't as sour as flour starters are.

Janet 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

There are many roads to happiness. I think it should actually say : There are many roads IN happiness because it really is not about a destination but about the journey.Corny but true. Why try and reach 1 moment of happiness-why not be happy the whole time?

I say "Have delicious fun!"

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Now that's just hippie talk. Lol!!

jcking's picture
jcking

Hippies were responsible for the Artisan Bread Revival. The popular smoking material didn't hurt either {:- ))) Yes I still have my earth shoes.

I swear I didn't inhale; Jim