The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Does choice of sourdough starter feed really affect the bread's flavor?

Melissa.cox10's picture

Does choice of sourdough starter feed really affect the bread's flavor?

I recently made a sourdough starter using the KAF method with organic whole rye and AP flour. It has been textbook perfect but expensive  to maintain as I live in India where imported Western flour is not cheap. I have switched over to feeding the starter with local Indian atta (durum) or maida( white flour) depending on what we have around in the kitchen. The starter doesn't seem to mind and due to the heat here is actually a bit over sour. But I've read on so many baking  websites of people feeding starters with rarified ingredients: grapes, potatoes and whatnot and insisting that this is much superior to cheap flour. 

Is this true? Will using Indian flatbread flour to feed my starter negatively affect the taste of my bread? I am a San Franciscan trying very hard to duplicate the taste of home here in Mumbai.

Laurentius's picture

Hi Melissa,

Do you like your bread? Does your friends and family enjoys your bread? When we have lemons, we make lemonade, lemon pie, use it on our fish or whatever. As long as you try your best to make the best possible bread you can with the materials that you have available to you, what more can you ask of yourself. Don't worry, be happy.

junklight's picture

I think Laurentius point is a good one - there is a lot of "cargo cult" behaviour around food in general. 

Often there isn't a right or wrong answer - does it work for you? is the key question.

Sometimes of course you work out that things other people do is beneficial and it is worth taking them on board.

For sourdough you are basically maintaining a colony of yeast and bacteria. These are localised and may even change overtime depending on how strong the strains are.

 It turns out that very few people are paying precise attention to what makes up that colony so feeding them random things is very hit and miss (if you can listen to this fascinating programme on sourdough - you might not get it directly but I can find it in itunes podcasts as well). Obviously whatever substrate (flour, etc) adds to the bread taste as well - but your ingredients are just as likely to be interesting in that regard anyway

The great thing about bread making is that there may be some paths that are better than others but even the less good ones can produce tasty and interesting results 



dabrownman's picture

starter the KAF and feed it huge amounts of flour all the time and in AZ we were using way more flour in starter feedings than in bread and that was very expensive!  Now we maintain no more than 80 grams of a stiffer starter in the fridge and feed it once every two weeks now by using 1o g of starter, 40 g of flour and 30 g of water - let it sit out for a couple of hours and then in the fridge it goes.  This lets you bake 3 times using 20 g each time to start the levains over two weeks.  I also have another SD Desem starter and YW that I bake with too.  This much easier and cheaper to maintain and use with virtually no waste or throwing away of starter.

dabrownman's picture

What you feed your starter changes the taste of the bread.  My Desem starter only gets fresh milled red winter wheat berries and my rye sour is fed only rye berries home milled.  The rye is occasionally fed some white minced onions,  per a post David Snyder made about rye sour.  If we take the Desem and build a white flour levain with it and take the rye sour and do a rye levain build ....and make the same bread with both of them, you should easily tell which one was made with the rye sour - at least my apprentice thinks so since we have never tried it out.   The desem  has much less sour to begin with and if not fed with WW it loses sour.

BurntMyFingers's picture

... where I am visiting at the moment. Just want to add that the grape and potato methods are to start a starter, not maintain it. There's a pretty good article on durum in Wikipedia that says it's high protein (good for feeding) but low in gluten (which could adversely affect the rise of your bread, depending on how much of a preferment you use). Don't know enough about maida to guess. Wikipedia, again, suggests it's low in protein. (I am traveling or I would look at Hamelman's Bread book which as I recall has a section on specific flours.)

If you're keeping small quantities of starter such as dabrownman describes (and which sound like the way I do it too) a little expensive flour will go a long way. The bigger question is what flours you then add to make your bread. It may be that a mix of durum and maida somehow produce an approximation of a KAF flour that's suitable to your environment and affordable. And if you're making good bread that satisfies you, that may be what's going on.


Melissa.cox10's picture

Dabrownman and burntmy fingers for suggesting a much smaller starter on a reduced feeding schedule but continuing to feed with the imported flour.  I made a rye sourdough last night with my indian flour starter and as you both predicted the rise and flavor was not as good as when I was feeding it only KAF rye meal. my question now is: do you all keep different starters for different breads: one for rye, one for whole wheat, etc.?

As far as using  Indian flours for yeast breads - I have tried and they are just not intended for yeast breads: the rise is poor  and the crumb is crumbly.They make great flatbreads though. 

dabrownman's picture

and used multiple levain builds toward what ever  kind of bread I was making.  If it was a white bread on the bake schedule I would  take 10 grams of starter for 1 loaf of bread and add 40 g of AP flour and 40 g of water to it, mix well and let it sit out  for 3 hours.   At the 3 hour mark I would add 40 g more of AP but only 20 g of  water and let it sit out for about 3 more hours until it doubled and was ready to use at 150 g total.  Winter time takes longer - up to 6 hours per feed.  If making WW bread I would feed it WW.  If rye I would feed it rye.

I recently made a new WW Desem starter using Joe Ortiz's method that included cumin, milk, water and WW. Otherwise I would have 1 starter.

I use durum atta in breads but not a lot of it.  The yellow color it imparts is nice.  About 20 -25% is as much as we use in breads now with the rest being bread flour to up the gluten.    If using durum atta and WW then I would add some vital wheat gluten, 1 tsp per cup of WW, also to up the gluten.  You can also sift out some of the bran in the durum atta which will help the rise.