The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Ed Wood Sourdoughs

Formula1's picture

Ed Wood Sourdoughs

On a whim I decided to purchased an Italian sourdough starter for Delivery was quick, great packaging & got it activated pretty quickly given the wordy instructions that came with it. I already have a starter I've been using for years that I made from scratch, but wanted to try something different. Figured getting a starter that's supposed to originate from across the pond should give me a different flavor profile & maybe that great Italian bread taste I fell in love with while in Italy last year. But then I realized, if I feed this starter with the same flour I've been using here, this " imported" starter will eventually just end up tasting like old faithful I've been using from my fridge. Am I wrong in assuming this? Will a starter that's supposed to be from another part of the world loose it's distinct local mojo unless it's feed the same flour it was cultivated from?  Will the Polish or Gaza starter eventually just end up tasting the same as the one I already have because feed flour  is local to my region?  Is it worth trying different ones, or once activated & feed local flour over time it will just all behave & taste the same anyways?

Has anyone tried different ones & actually noticed any difference? Thanks...

Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

I have seen mention that sourdough organisms are the same worldwide.  However, I have not seen a rigorous DNA analysis of these organisms from isolates around the world.  The DNA analysis is simple, and microorganisms can be single-cell isolated, and multiplied, with ease.  Finally, there are a multitude of available computer programs which can make an educated guess as to similarity between genomes.  I suspect, but don't have a clue, that money and personnel shortage are lacking in answering this question.  Sourdough organisms, which to us bakers are the Holy Grail, probably don't attract a lot of biological attention.

Hopefully, someone better informed than I can supply a fully informed, PUBLISHED, DNA analysis of our favorite organisms.
Doc.Dough's picture

There is a paper (which I can't seem to find at the moment) that looked at the differences between a large number of Italian sourdough cultures (~10 if I remember right) from different bakeries and used for different products. And there are any number of examples of cultures being successfully moved and maintained with a different type of flour. Remember that the population density is on the order of 10E7/gm for LAB and 10E5/gm for the yeast. And they control their own environment once they are the dominant species so it is really hard for something else to displace the main members of the population unless there is some condition that puts a lot of pressure on the dominant species (like not feeding it often enough will tend to favor acid-tolerant competitors).

I am not a fan of Ed Wood cultures. His instructions are best ignored if you already have some experience growing starter, and unreliable if you don't. I have observed that his starter is (at least occasionally) contaminated. Perhaps it is best to treat it like a new start and give it some pineapple juice for early acidification.

jcking's picture

Even with all the data we now have, if a certain bacteria was dominant, would it have the dominant impact on flavor? Flour is made up of many sugars yet raw flour isn't sweet. How do the different bacteria affect one another? Which bacteria, or combination of, does the tongue perceive?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

impact on flavour?  How does it become dominant?

Some studies should be done on our personal relationship with our starters.  How we behave with our starters.  When it comes down to which culture we inadvertently select to dominate our culture, flavour (as a reward) plays a very big factor.  When first starting to feed a starter before the starter is baked in bread, smell plays a big role.   How many starters have been discarded because their smell wasn't liked or wasn't recognised?   We are eager to bake and test the starter.  If the eventual bread flavour is not what is desired, starter feedings diminish, major feeding changes are made or the starter is ignored from lack of use.  The starter is often "abused" and may promote dominant bacterial changes in the starter resulting for better or worse.  

If we find a flavour profile we like, we tend/try to take better care of the starter.  What controls the flavour?  Does crust or browned sugars from these bacteria play a greater role in flavour?  Why do some of us react so negatively at a pale crust?  Lacking in flavour is assumed but there must be a reason for it.  And why is the mechanical device known as a toaster so popular?  Ever have a piece of toast that smelled funny while it toasted?  Did it get eaten?  Most bread flavour improves in the toaster.  Anyway, when our standard sourdough bread takes a flavour turn, do we in turn feed our starter differently?  I think the answer to that is ...  yes, we do.  For some starter caretakers that may mean that because of their own starter feeding behavior, their starters soon all taste alike.  

henkverhaar's picture

I understand that the 'pineapple juice' method is basically just a method to acidify early with a controlled, mild acidulant. Based on this understanding I started my Ischia culture (after struggling a bit with the Camaldoli culture - which may have been due to my skimping on the amount of dry starter used - I figured I didn't need to use the whole package to start a single culture, which in the end proved right) with some food-grade citric acid as acidulant. Worked really well...

Zoologuy's picture

What has been published is the finding that Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis has not been found naturally occurring on grain from the fields. Human and fruit fly origins have been proposed. This leads me to several conclusions:

If Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis persists in sourdough cultures that contain it, it can't be being replenished by the flour.

Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis would be good choice for answering some of the other questions inherent in this thread.

It might be possible—and verifiable using methods mentioned elsewhere in the thread—to maintain a sourdough culture close to its original composition with careful feeding, i.e., a ratio of sourdough : flour : water at a conservative 1 : 2.5 : 2.5, or less (less flour and water), allowing the stable culture to maintain dominance unless overwhelmed by a large influx of extraneous species.

Could a novel species take hold, coexist with the culture and even eventually become dominant? Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis presumably did so, at least once.

A paper entitled “Monitoring the Bacterial Population Dynamics in Sourdough Fermentation Processes by Using PCR-Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis” can be found at Although it uses rye flour mixes the dynamics with wheat flours are probably similar.

Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

That paper is interesting, and, if I read it correctly, the species present are medium (the starter/dough and its growing conditions) dependent rather than world location specific. And, I suspect that those Lactobacillus species mentioned (some 10+ of them) occur worldwide. So, if you really want to attract a certain suite of organisms (L. sanfranciscensis/L. pontis seem to be the species of choice), you have to mimic the culture conditions favored by these particular organisms.

If the suite of species is determined by ecological conditions, then there would not be a selection based on competitive exclusion because certain species would have an advantage not based on initial numbers, but on growing conditions. Put another way, if these various species are always around (in your kitchen), the best adapted to your dough starter will eventually predominate in the mix no matter what. Neat.

On another note, I ordered a Polish starter strain from Ed Wood a couple of years back and, following his directions, it worked perfectly. It didn't produce bread any different from my 15+ year old starter so I just combined the two. If you are having problems making a starter from scratch, I'd suggest spending a few bucks and forget the "catching your own yeast" mystique. Just my point of view.


Formula1's picture

Very interesting reading thank you, I do agree about Ed's contamination issues, had one that went bad real fast & bailed on it. Like I said, did it on a whim  assumed  I'd get interesting exotic flavor profiles, but fell for the gimmick instead. Lesson learned.

Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

Formula1I don't know Wood personally, but I have had some email exchanges with him and I don't think he sees it as a "gimmick."  If any of us who has baked sourdough for decades had the chance to collect starter from bakeries around the world, we probably would and think we were on to something really special.  Just something like the Alaska starters found on the web.  In fact, back in the '60s as a student in the San Francisco area and just learning how to bake bread, three of us made up some agar slants and opened them up "secretly" in several bakeries.  We got plenty of organisms, cultured them, made bread, and really thought we were on to something.  As I remember, our sourdough was good and everyone's tasted the same depending  on our build conditions....just like today.  Just my two cents worth.Fred

ppschaffer's picture

Ed Wood, MD, a pathologist, has had a life-long interest in sourdoughs and early man's bread-making techniques. He is ultra-passionate about sourdoughs. At one time he published a monthly or so very informative newsletter; because "I've written what I have had to say" he no longer publishes it. He was the primary scientist of a National Geographic expedition to the Middle East to rediscover early man's baking techniques and to isolate sourdough starters. I'm a teacher of numerous sourdough bread classes at a local community college and have frequently written to Dr Wood with esoteric questions. He has always been more than very helpful and informative. Fifteen or so years ago I purchased five or so of his dried starters. They have always performed well. His books IMHO are very helpful and informative. There is no "gimmick"--he is the Real Thing.

grind's picture

Will a starter that's supposed to be from another part of the world loose it's distinct local mojo unless it's feed the same flour it was cultivated from?


I'm not an expert, but I think it would matter how you treat the culture, re inoculation percentage, hydration and number of feedings/x hours, temperature, flour(?), etc.  I don't think Mr Wood's business is a gimmick, but there are gaps in his presentation and even his actual baking instructions don't take into account the many variables that go into baking a loaf of bread.  Compared to JH, for example.

pepperhead212's picture



Correct me if I'm wrong, but the only way we could tell if a culture is "contaminated" is to open it in sterilized laboratory conditions, and add it to sterilized flour and water, and continue growing it under these conditions, until the organisms are isolated from the culture, to check for comtamination.  Any culture, cheese, sourdough, or whatever, is contaminated the second we open it, unless in sterilized conditions.  It would be interesting to see more studies done on that idea that no matter what culture you start with, it reverts to local organisms eventually - written in many places, but this is one of those things where samples would have to be checked in laboratory conditions, when starting the culture, once it gets very active, then months later, to test this theory.

I have gotten some cultures from Wood, and the one that is specifically for rye - from New Zealand - definitely makes a better sour rye than the others I have tried (making my own rye, using different whites).  I have made them side by side, and had taste tests, and that rye culture definitely came out on top.  And since I got that bread proofer, the temps he suggests have worked very well - much better than retarding dough in a refrigerator, which is an inexact science at home, unless we have a fridge set at 50-55º (which some of you may have already, and  I may do someday, for this and cheesemaking), that nobody will be opening but us. 

And as suggested by many here, I have taken some of these cultures and dried and powdered them, in case I get negligent, and kill the ones in the jars! 




davidg618's picture

For about two years, I used an Ischia Island culture (Italian) I purchased from Ed Wood. I fed it with bread flour for about one year. It began performing well in the first ten days, and never varied over its lifetime until a few months before it died. I kept it in the refrigerator, and freshed it weekly by discarding two-thirds of it, and feeding it's remains 1:1:1. Somewhere along the way, after reading someone's advice, I began feeding it First Clear flour. It continued to to perform well, and without noticeable change in the flavors it developed or proofing times for approximately another year. I used it to build levains, usually three progressive builds feeding every eight hour. I could successfully get more acid production if I extended each build time to twelve hours. Other than that I perceived no apparent changes.

Early in its third year it seemed to be losing leavaning power, but it continued to perform, and proofing times didn't change radically. My loaves were struggling for oven spring. After about two months--I hadn't kept notes--it was clear it was failing. Something was causing the gluten to fail in the levain builds. The third build would finish a runny mess. I tried to save it, but didn't know what I was doing. I tossed it, and bought a new starter (San Francisco) from E. Woods.

I initiated it following the instructions provided, but it was not developing well. I asked for help on TFL, and Debra Wink guided me day-by-day (on some days hour-by-hour) and saved my new starter. She also suggested I use a different refreshing practice. I now make extra levain each time I bake sourdough (every week to ten days) and completely replace my seed starter. Since then (almost two years ago, July 2011) I've had consistent performance both flavor-wise and in leavening power. I feed only with KA bread flour. I ocassionally make WW levains or Rye sours using my seed sarter, but they don't get saved.

The point is the two starters each were consistent, and generally stable from early in their active lives. A home baker, all I have to observe my starters is my subjective perceptions. Nonetheless, I think, until my first starter failed, and ongoing with my second starter they each established stable populations of yeast and bacteria early on. I don't think they took on a "local mojo" nor were their initial resident critters evicted by other yeasts and bacterias (unless it happened at initiation) but I'll never know. I've only their consistent performance as evidence.

Also, the first starter's failure resulted from chemical changes influenced (in a detrimental way) by my changing the feeding flour to First Clear flour, and my retaining a portion of the seed starter with each weekly feeding.  As I understand Ms Winks' analysis, with each feeding the seed starter increasingly favored bacterial development over yeast development, and the acidity increase triggered protease enzyme release, resulting in gluten deconstruction. The starter was not contaminated by other critters. If  I'd asked for help earlier, Ms Wink, probably whould have helped me save the first starter. I was just too quick to condemn it.

If want to follow the blow-by-blow recovery of the second starter, it starts here:

I've made Rye sours from scratch, but my two sourdough starters came from E. Wood. If I every need to, I'll buy again from E. Wood--but follow Debra Wink's Pineapple Juice Solution to initiate.

Specific to the original question: The main difference in the two starters is the 2nd one, from the start, exhibits greater leavening power. Proofing times got shorter, and I reduced the amount of levain I used in retarded doughs (15 hrs, 54°F) by half to keep the dough from blowing off the container's lid. Acid production seems to be about the same as the the first starter, but recall I refresh the new starter differently.

David G