The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Starters

acrosley's picture

Sourdough Starters

Good Morning.

I love  to bake, but I've always stayed away from home baked Artisan breads until now. I've been doing some reading and I think it's about time I took a more serious stab at some real fresh baked bread.

I was wondering how much merit is there to the geographical origin of sourdough starters?  Is there a reason to buy starters that claim to be from San Francisco, Italy or France, (which, for all I know they really are), or am I just as well off starting one of my own in my kitchen?  Is the flavor of a particular sourdough more the function of how active the cultures are, or are there other regional factors that can affect flavor?


dabrownman's picture

yourself.  The store bought starters only stay that if you use the same flours and live in ths same place they came from.  Since your store bought starter will convert to yours anyways you might as well save the money and start your own.

Weware thoug SD bread baking is habit forming.  Happy Baking.'s picture

Even if you buy one of those you cite, by the time you've fed it a dozen or so times at home with your chosen flour (mix), it will have taken on many if not all of the characteristics of your local terrior that would define one you started from scratch yourself. 

Save your money, start your own and enjoy the exercise.  

OR, buy more than one and tell us how they compare after a few weeks!


Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

You could order one or more of the products from New York Bakers, which is owned by a frequent poster here, and get a free dried starter with your purchase. Stan, the owner, is one of the co-authors of "Inside the Jewish Bakery", a book many TFL members have purchased.

G-man's picture

If you want to keep the same flavor, you'll also have to order flour from the supplier they used to make the starter, as well as the same water.

 You could, hypothetically, use it to build a very large batch of a mother culture, then separate that culture out into much smaller pieces and freeze it. However, there's no guarantee at all that it will retain its unique characteristics. Another idea would be to create the large batch and then, after it had risen and started falling, divide it into small, sterile jars that then go into the refrigerator. Canning the starter for use later. The unique flavors probably wouldn't last much longer than 2 or 3 cycles, but it would sure help resist contamination when not in use. 

 The problem, of course, would be that the pH of the starter might not be low enough to keep out the nasties.

acrosley's picture

Great - thanks for all the feedback.  Looks like I'll be starting my own!

I've found 4 or 5 different starter methods online.  Anyone have and favorites? 

MangoChutney's picture

The only one that is substantially different is Debra Wink's Pineapple Juice method.  The rest only differ in the ratio of flour to water and in what amounts to different esoteric hand gestures over the intrinsic magic of growing the yeast and bacteria that are already present on the grain.  In other words, they all work.  Just pick the one that appeals to you most.  *smile*

acrosley's picture

I'm between Debra Wink's Pineapple Juice method or Professor Calvel's Starter which requires dried malt.  I may just try both if I can get my hands on some dried malt today.

Some say to add a packet of commercial yeast to seed the starter - others say not to because it could actually inhibit the growth of wild yeast.  Any thoughts one way or another?


MangoChutney's picture

I can't see any purpose in adding malt to the mix.  Debra Wink's method is the one I would choose if I had to choose between those two.  She provides good arguments in favor of her method, with some scientific background.

I got my starter's innoculation from using whole wheat crushed to a very coarse meal as my first mix with water.  After that I used flour milled from the same grain.  My belief for why this was a better way to proceed is that the very rough milling the first time minimized damage to the flora and fauna on the grain, while still exposing the starch within for the culture to use as food.  Later feedings only had to provide starch and other nutrients.

But this is so much hand-waving in one sense, because others have grown perfectly good starters using commercially milled and refined flour.

The argument about using commercial yeast can become quite heated.  I say you don't need it, and believe that it may inhibit the growth of the naturally balanced community which is desired.  Others say it makes no difference in the end.  I find it a miracle of baking that you can produce your own leavening without resorting to buying yeast from the market, and so I prefer not to use it at all in my bread.  That's just my preference, though.

placebo's picture

Why? Because it works and you don't have to go out and buy dried malt, which is probably harder to find and more expensive than pineapple juice. If you have ascorbic acid, you could use that instead of pineapple juice.

As far as commercial yeast goes, I'm not sure what the point is of spiking the starter initially with it. Your goal is to cultivate the wild yeast, so why bother with commercial yeast?

I'll disagree with the advice of the others about obtaining a starter. Once you successfully make your own starter and learn about more about starter, you'll see how easy it really is, but just from reading various threads here from people having trouble getting a starter going, you should realize that it's the first major stumbling block many encounter in their adventures in sourdough. If your primary goal is to make sourdough bread, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble initially if you can get your hands on an established starter. That way you can see how a starter typically behaves, how to care for it, etc., and you can always try to make your own starter later.

Obtaining a starter doesn't necessarily mean buying a starter. Ideally, you can find someone local to you who'll give you a bit of starter for free. Perhaps you can ask for some on craigslist, a local mailing list, or even here.

dabrownman's picture

like sourdouglady's orange juice method and Joe Ortiz's WW method where you use a little cumin, a tsp of milk WW and water.  I don't use as much WW and water to keep the amunt of starter down as he does and it works every time.'s picture

Deb Wink's method is tested and proven.  It's simple, commonsense and doesn't require reagents any more exotic than pineapple juice.  Another source of mild acidity can substitute. 

Among the convenient features of starting your own SD culture is that you're really letting contaminants have their day, not doing the usual American thing of trying to sterilize your house with sprays and potions that are "antiseptic".  You want septic.  But controlled, in a very easy way.  Another convenient feature is that every time you feed your culture, you're also reinoculating it, since the flour/feed contains those welcome contaminants.

Don't stress too much over it.  If you miss a feeding, no big deal.  The bugs will be patient and respond when you get around to it.  They're infinitely more forgiving than, say, your cat.  Just mix some fairly unadulterated flour with some fairly unadulterated water (+ or - juice/acid) and let the bugs do the rest.  Wink's protocol is basically that.  Go for it.

And look forward to the day (sooner than you think) when the 40 ml you mixed up in the morning is suddenly 80 ml in the afternoon.  Time to bake!



Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Hi There,

Pineapple juice method for me...........has never let me down to this date.........Pete

LindyD's picture
LindyD (good reading before you start - but if too technical,  skip to part two) - (the actual directions are in the lower portion of this posting)

Debra Wink is a microbiologist with expertise in sourdough.   Peter Reinhart revised his books to include her instructions after reading her suggestions.  

She's also a member here and recently  taught a weekend class on sourdough at the King Arthur Flour Education Center.

Toss out everything you've read on the Internet  - you really can't go wrong following her expertise - just be patient.

highwaymanco's picture

i can't disagree with anything said above...

i began my own starter a couple years ago...

i just followed instructions for capturing wild yeast from the air, i feed it every 3 days or so and feed it everyday for a couple days before i bake bread with it...

no hocus pocus and i have never had it fail me...

i also share the throw away part with friends

pretty simple stuff...

and very rewarding 

acrosley's picture

Thank you for all the great advice.  I went with Debra Winks method and got things rolling last night.  I'll keep you posted on my progress over the next week or so.

Can't wait to bake my first baguette!