The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why don't we (normally) include salt when making a starter?

Abe's picture
Abe

Why don't we (normally) include salt when making a starter?

I've heard of using salt to slow it down when feeding. I have also been told it isn't unheard of to use salt when making a starter from scratch. But 99.9% (a rough percentage) of recipes don't. Why?

Just to satisfy my curiosity I'm making a starter from scratch as follows...

  • Whole Rye flour 100%
  • Water 70%
  • Salt 2%

Each day I'll discard half and feed as above. 

So far it's been about 18 hours and it's fermenting nicely.  

I'll keep updating every now and again but what should I be expecting and how would this effect the final viable starter? Will it encourage more or less sour? Will it be stronger or weaker? Will it encourage more one type of lab and yeast than others? etc

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UPDATE: After 36 hours and one feed. Seems to be going very well. No discernible leuconostoc activity. It's a "controlled" ferment very much like a normal starter. But that could be because it's a very thick paste being 100% whole rye at 70% hydration. I'm using a very large tupperware container. It has doubled.  Please see photo above which I will change with every update.

Started with 50g whole rye flour + 35g water + 1g salt. It did grow over 24 hours but nothing remarkable (but then again it was just a small clump in a big container so wouldn't climb the sides just yet). It swelled to about 1.5x. Smell wasn't bad as such but - how to describe this - a slight smokey aroma with a fresh mowed lawn smell? Earthy, I think would be a good way to describe it.

24 hours in I fed it with again with 50g flour + 35g water + 1g salt, without discarding anything, after 12 hours it had much more activity and had doubled Has visible bubbles (enough to climb the sides now) and smells ok.

Not sure if I should just double the feed tonight (100g flour + 70g water + 2g salt) or begin to discard half and repeat the same feed. No difference really apart from the satisfaction of seeing it ferment more clearly and rise up the sides or save on flour.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Update 2: Arrived home to find the starter still peaked and with a lovely aroma. When stirring it there was no sunken in cavity (as one might find with rye when it appears still peaked but has fallen) but a lovely spongy texture. This was 48 hours after the initial mix and one feed in. So I proceeded onto the next feed which I decided to just add with no discard just yet. So the feed was as follows... 70g water + 100g whole rye flour + 2g salt. That was last night at 9.30pm.

This morning by 6am there was no discernible rise but on closer inspection there was some sponginess to it. I think we have entered the "quiet" stage and now we wait it out. Smell was fine, not like a freshly fed starter but definitely had some faint fermentation notes.

Some thoughts: 1. We have definitely not had any bad smells that usually comes off starters in the first few days. 2. A steady increase in activity till the first bubbling up. Nothing like the explosive activity from a leuconostoc stage but controlled, and strong, rather like an established starter. But this could be the nature of a low hydration rye starter unlike a high hydration wheat starter simply because of it being a thick paste. 3. Haven't avoided the quiet stage but it's not as quiet as previously experienced. It doesn't appear dead even if it hasn't risen up as such.

Will check up on it tonight 24 hours after the previous feed.

kendalm's picture
kendalm

separating yeast and salt when mixing a yeasted dough - ie salt to the left, yeast to the right. I never understood that, like the salt is going to poison the yeast, but I do it anyway - it's just sort of habit really. Maybe the next dough I'll break that rule just as you are doing with the starter - Any predictions - will there be a chemical reaction and explosion ?

Abe's picture
Abe

And from what I've seen, contradictory to tradition, the yeast does just fine. But not only is this experiment to see if I can make a starter including salt, I also wish to see if including the salt brings with it a quality to the starter. It could very well be we don't include salt because salt isn't needed at this stage. 

The only "explosion" I want to see is a very strong starter. 

kendalm's picture
kendalm

Here's a quick report on recent rebellious activity - yeast directly on salt prior to mix. Result - not discernable difference detected. The back story here is granted, working in a pretty warm kitchen but also using a newly procured block of 'expired' fresh yeast.  I'm glad it was expired according to the supplier as it presented a negotiation advantage and got me sweet smelling block with a good two weeks in it for 50% off - take that expiration date ! Here's the photographic evidence -

 

 

 

Abe's picture
Abe

I think that huge bubble is the yeast blowing a raspberry at the idea that salt or expiration date would hold it back. 

Nice one Geremy.

kendalm's picture
kendalm

fresh stuff lasts much longer than 3-4 weeks when chilled. Frozen of course much longer - this was 4 weeks old yesterday and smelled delicious. I had to twist their arms to sell it as though it was infected or something - hilarious - the huge bubble is something i rarely see in this mix - most certainly the higher temps - what I would do to be in England where 80F sends you all on benders - it's ground hog day in LA !

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

Your question was ambiguous.  You didn't even know it.  You see....salt is salt until you start adding things to it.  Table salt often containing iodine.  This is not healthy for yeast.  Salt alone is not healthy for yeast, it inhibites it or kills it if enough is added.  Therefore, often, salt is added to yeast doughs after they have already risen.  The second rise had more yeast bodies and can tolerate the salt presence.  Morton's kosher salt is iodine free.  

Did you know that iodine was added to salt to prevent thyroid goiters?  I have a photo of my father's sisters graduation class in the early 1900's in Northern Minnesota where there was NO sea food and no iodine in the water or food and all of her classmates had enlarged thyroids, goiters from iodine deficiency.  We now eat shrimp and other shell fish that given us enough iodine and, then, just to be sure, the salt makers add iodine to their salt.

Abe's picture
Abe

I'm not sure if this is going to make any difference but I'm using sea salt. I'm not adding too much, just the same percentage as one would find in a dough recipe.

Well that is something we take for granted nowadays and don't see much of, if any. I'm wondering why especially add it to salt?

I've updated my progress above.  

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

low hydration, cold temperatures and salt.  LAB are particularly sensitive to salt. 4% and they die but yeast die at 8% salt  Plus, salt is hygroscopic meaning it sucks the water out of anything it touches and why it preserves food by killing off wee beasties on anything and sucking them dry.  So raw salt next to wee beasties means they dry up and die.  So the reason people do n0o put salt in their wee beasties home or levain is because no good of any kind can ever come from it except less wee beasties and less of what they do.  So don't do it....it is a waste of time.  It is just science but science will keep you from doing silly things: Abe-)

Happy non salting Abe

 

Abe's picture
Abe

Salt? Check. Cold Temps? No. It's quite warm at the moment I've chosen 2% salt as that is what you'd normally find in a dough (give or take).

Not sure what the purpose of it all is but I'm doing it all the same to see what happens. What kinda starter will I end up with? Stronger because only the fittest of the beasties are able to survive? More tangy? More mellow? etc.

Onwards and Upwards, Dabrownman.

I've updated my post above with a progress report.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

another part to your experiment....  temperature

At higher temps (progressing above 80°F) the bacteria in the starter get the upper hand over the desired yeast population, at least it appears that way in observing the starter.  I refer to this as a lopsided starter and is part of the nature of such starters and temporary.  Yeast are not encouraged to multiply and produce the desired gas once the bacteria reach a high concentration which can happen quickly when bacteria have their ideal temperatures.  

If temps or hydration can't be reduced to slow down fermentation, adding salt can slow down or even stop it depending on the concentration of salt.  Adding 2% salt is an interesting choice.  I believe 4% is the amount Reinhart found to control bacterial and enzyme growth in soakers (no yeast added.)

When starting up a new wild sourdough starter, sinking the pH into the desired range for optimal yeast growth is a goal and this is done thru a chain reaction of bacterial growth first.  Discouraging bacterial growth the first 24 hours ( or longer) may delay this chain of bacterial events.   This may be further emphasized with a rise in temperature that encourages bacteria over yeast.  A further comparison starting a salted starter and a non salted starter at higher temps could be interesting.

We do have a Loafer that baked on a boat using sea water with a wild starter.  I can't remember if the sd starter was started or fed consistently salt water but you might want to look up her posts.  I hope they are still here.  Unfortunately could not find files of:  All at sea.   Bill did some experiments using fresh water in an established firm starter:     http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/3308/seawater-sourdough-wheat-bread

Mini 

Abe's picture
Abe

It's fermenting at very warm temperatures. Definitely around 80°F. It's very warm at the moment but it's due to drop in a day or two to a more temperature. We'll see what effect this has.

I have chosen 100% whole rye at 70% hydration so it's a very thick paste. I'm adding salt not for the aim of allowing it down but more to see whether it'll still turn into a starter and what characteristics this starter will have. Be it stronger, weaker, more or less tangy etc. I've chosen 2% as that is what one normally finds in a dough (or near enough).

"When starting up a new wild sourdough starter, sinking the pH into the desired range for optimal yeast growth is a goal and this is done thru a chain reaction of bacterial growth first.  Discouraging bacterial growth the first 24 hours ( or longer) may delay this chain of bacterial events.   This may be further emphasized with a rise in temperature that encourages bacteria over yeast.  A further comparison starting a salted starter and a non salted starter at higher temps could be interesting".

Interesting! So what you're saying is that bacteria (good or not) is important for lowering the PH level. That is why leuconostoc activity is a necessary evil kinda thing.

That is interesting and i'll try to find those "all at sea" posts. Thanks for that other link too.

I've edited my post above and you see my starter 36 hours in and after one feed. So far it appears to be doing quite well.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

An experiment needs a control. Otherwise, well, what can you compare it to? Does it have one?

in this case it would be the same as the experiment posted but without salt, all other things equal, as that is what the experiment is about.  Then one can compare.  Does the salty one rises faster or slower than the non-salty experiment?  Or if the forthcoming doughs, breads etc are different when made from these new starters?  :)

 

Abe's picture
Abe

For now I'm just seeing if it works and the "control" is comparing it to others I have previously made though not a control as in side-by-side. The purpose of this sprung up from thinking about never seeing a starter recipe being made from scratch with salt. I've made plenty without so I'm just experimenting to see if it can be done. And if it makes for a tasty loaf :)

So far all looks very good. On schedule (although I hope I'm not counting the chickens before they've hatched) for a weekend bake. I will also be curious to see if it goes through a quiet period like a lot of starters do.

heino_h's picture
heino_h

I found this article quite interesting:

http://aem.asm.org/content/64/7/2616.full

Maybe it helps you to get an idea what you can expect from your experiment. It's a very nice experiment indeed and I'm looking forward to your results.

My guess is that you get a less sour starter because with salt added you slow down growth of "Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis" and other bacteria.

In Germany we use a similar method with adding salt (the "Monheimer-Salzsauer-Verfahren") not for creating a starter but for feeding the starter (usually one time, sometimes two or three times in a row in order to increase the beneficial effects) before using the sourdough in the bread. The result is a mild sourdough which mimics nicely but not perfectly the advantages of the way more complex "Dreistufige Sauerteigführung" without the effort of the latter approach.

I'm looking forward to reading what you find out and how you like the bread from this starter.

Greetings

Heino

PS: Sorry for my bad english, it's not my first language so please be patient with me ;)

PPS: I think we don't add salt to the starter because it's not that important how we start a sourdough but how we feed it over a long time. Adding salt simply slows down the development of a strong and healthy starter. It will likely work and it will be different but I think you could get the same results after a couple of feeds of a "normal" starter with salt added.

Abe's picture
Abe

First of all let me say your English is excellent and I understand you just perfectly.

That was no easy reading but from what I've read I'm basically making the starter more favourable for the yeasts. Something, which as you say, can be done with an established starter made completely without salt just by changing the feeding maintenance. I see from the article that bacterial growth was inhibited by 4% salt and yeast 8%. Since I'm doing 2% I can come to a logical conclusion that I'm just tipping the balance in favour of yeasts but not inhibiting bacteria altogether.

So does this mean i'll get a milder flavour sourdough but with an extra leavening boost? While bacteria has leavening abilities the real leavening power comes from the yeasts?

While I agree with your PPS and that the same thing can be done with an established starter we shall wee this experiment through to the end.

Since you know of similar processes for traditional Germen Sourdoughs can you recommend a recipe for me to try?

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Hi Abe i decided to consult my old technical school notes that date back 52 years funny enough the first entry is regarding Salt

 

This must have been fairly important for us young lads at the time to be the first entry later on there was another reference to the use of salt

 

the reference to 3 lbs of salt is related to a bag of flour being 150lbs (before occ health and safety)

i might add that keeping bacteria at bay was the main priority as mechanised bakeries were coming to the fore and now that we have turned full circle and some of the things the old guys passed onto the young fellows how they had long fermentation periods and before commercial yeast was readily available how they would grow their own or even  obtain it from Breweries. I believe there were laws that required brewers to make yeast available to bakers.

Incidentally the rule about keeping the yeast to one side of the bowl and salt to the other was well grounded  with commercial compressed cake yeast which has a water content of just over 70% because the salt would cause the yeast cells to rupture and create a puddle of imploding yeast and as stated previously salt does have the ability to attract moisture.  Dried yeast seems to be fine as the water is not present to kick off that chain reaction.

My thoughts are that with S/D cultures we are trying to attract a host of different bacterias and wild yeasts that form that great symbiotic relationship that allows us to harness their gas producing powers, Adding salt even at the rate that is accepted as the correct strength in the mixing of a dough may alter that early formation and exclude some bacterias in a starter.  I appluade your trial but as suggested may need to run a side by side experiment. 

Kind regards Derek

Abe's picture
Abe

And little did you know when taking these notes 52 years ago that they'd help a fellow TFL friend in his experiment. 

Just come back from work to find my starter waking up from a very short hiatus and maturing into a starter in just 3 days! Please see my post below and will update the main post tomorrow. 

I agree with you that a side by side experiment is best but I've made enough starters in the past that I can somewhat compare it to. This salted starter is the quickest so far! 

Can't wait for the first bake. Watch this space. 

- Abe

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Don't forget to make the adjustment for the salt already in the starter when you make your dough with this one.

Abe's picture
Abe

Also depends on how I treat it. To use it as a production starter or make a levain? 

I'm still thinking about a recipe to try it on. Rye or Wheat? Plain or Seeded? Etc

Abe's picture
Abe

That was the shortest hiatus I've ever had for a starter. It's waking up after a 12 hour "quiet period" and maturing nicely into a viable starter in just 3 days! In fact it never totally went to sleep. It just slowed down a tad at the beginning of the third day to slowly ferment and speed up by the end of the day. I haven't needed to discard yet! 

Started Sunday night and went through every predictable stage to wake up Wednesday night. We are right on target for a weekend bake. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That is simple, one you can notice small changes.

Warm starters will grow faster, both bacteria and yeast but bacteria tends to outperform the yeast normally.  Still can't convince me it's the salt only speeding things up.  I think you should take a sample daily and dry it.  if the starter turns out to be a form of grain "yeast water" or yeast only starter...  a laboratory bacterial test might prove useful sometime.  If you've got sd bacteria in there without the slower bacterial progression, you may have stumbled onto a short cutting trick.  Would be nice to know if symbiotic relationships are occurring between the little beasties.  Would like to know more about the aromas.  Have you ventured to taste it yet? 

I do know that adding salt to tap water will lower pH a little bit.  Learned that during my pool water balancing days... when adding salt, let it circulate a day before adding acid to lower the pH of the pool water.  Often needed less acid to correct pH.  Salt makes acids stronger.  So it could be that what little acid is being produced by bacteria is intensified with salt stimulating yeast growth sooner.  Maybe.

Abe's picture
Abe

Do Nothing Bread. A simple bread flour with low inoculation and no knead. Or something similar. Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough is also an option.

I have no doubt that the warm temps has something to do with the speed of this starter. It's been kept in the high 70's °F and it is whole rye to-boot. I think the purpose of my experiment, in my mind, was more if salt would slow it down or prevent it from becoming a starter. My conclusion is not that it has sped the process up but rather it didn't hinder the starter. Well, at 2% salt at least. But having said that your point about salting water for a pool needs less chemicals is very interesting and I wonder if there has been "some" of the same affect here. It would also be interesting to know the symbiotic relationship between the yeast and bacteria in this starter.

So last night I fed the starter at 11.15pm instead of 9.15pm like the night previously. So it's lagging behind by two hours time wise.

This morning (6.15am), like yesterday morning, not much activity when it comes to bubbling up the sides. But even though it's lagging behind by two hours it has a slight edge over yesterday. It has risen slightly up the side, has a good dome going on, more visible bubbles and it's all spongy again. We will see by tonight how much it rises. Smell is very nice. A usual starter smell but less alcoholic and more fruity. Haven't tasted it yet. Tasted my last one and haven't felt the urge to again.

Abe's picture
Abe

I tasted my starter! 

Appearance: got home to find it has risen twice as much as yesterday, inside all spongy, big air bubbles and the dome still holding almost 24 hours after its last feed. 

Smell: Fruity overtones with Earthy undertones. 

Taste! : Tangy and Earthy. Not as sour as my other starter but had a sherbet like tang giving way to an earthy taste. 

Sorry I can't be more specific. I'm not a connoisseur in tasting starters. That's the best I can come up with.

Edit: just occured to me. Tastes a bit like a dry oak aged cider. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That sounds like a good sign that there are bacteria making good headway in the starter.  The making of cider and starters have a lot in common.  They go through many of the same stages.  Here is a link about cider.  Note the similarities. (I was actually looking for a study on salt fermented cider to compare but didn't get very far....yet.)

Dropping about two hours of lag time a day sounds normal, yeasts are building, what's the feeding ratio again?

"earthy".  What vision do you see in your mind when you taste "earthy?"   (Trying to narrow this down.)

Looks like you'll make that weekend bake. Don't forget to gently poke that risen rye dome to make sure it hasn't fallen down inside.  The bubbles on the sides of the glass may also have a sagging appearance when it has fallen under a still peaked starter surface. 

Oh and something else to think about... many pickles and sourkraut are fermented in salt brine and so is kimchi.  Cabbage naturally fermented can also raise bread, I've done it. Think of them a "starters."  (So I guess there will be several loafers using thier naturally fermented pickle juice to make levains...and loaves.  Sounds pretty sound to me.)

Abe's picture
Abe

My starter is still a bit slow at rising but seems quick(er) to turn to a sponge. So smell and appearance are quite normal for a fermenting starter timewise. It's just the rising that isn't quite there yet. Question is if I try a bake tomorrow or Sunday.

Feeding ratio at the moment, and has been the same for two days, is:

  • 172g starter @ 70% hydration (70g water + 100g whole rye flour and 2g salt)
  • 70g water
  • 100g whole rye flour
  • 2g salt

So in other words I double it. Within a couple of hours I begin to see small bubbles, a ripening in the smell and a change in the mixture. But 6 hours later it's only just begun to start to rise. Then slowly through the day it's rising and so far I'm seeing a little extra rise each day. Even if not too great a rise at the sides of the jar the bubbles and dome are more impressive. So far when mixed to feed again I haven't found it sunken in the middle. Just a healthy looking and lovely smelling sponge.

Awaiting your advice Mini for my weekend bake. Does it sound good?

I've learned there are so many things one can use as a starter in our kitchens. It fascinates me.

Thanks for the link!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

depends on how one looks at it.  Yes, you doubled the amount of starter but it was fed less than its own weight.  To me a doubling feed would be twice the weight of the starter culture.  172g of starter with 240g water (cough cough) 344g of flour with 2% salt.  Water ain't food it's transportation infrastructure.  :). Obviously this should be smaller... how about 40g starter, 56g water, with 80g flour and 1.6g salt ?  Or equal weights starter and flour?

Try splitting the starter if you want to continue to underfeed part of the starter and compare to feeding less starter with more flour.  Time them and compare.  Or try using a tiny version of your recipe and see how it rises.  

If you're making an all rye loaf, you may want to peak before 8 hours are up. Wait.... that would be an unsalted rise, the salt might be suppressing the enzymes letting you get more gluten strength for a longer period of time.  Hmmm.

Abe's picture
Abe

Yes! I've been doubling the starter but halving the flour. Been going against my own advice that a starter should be fed 1:1:1 or higher (as a healthy feed) as I didn't wish to overwhelm the starter when so young. So perhaps now is the time for me to keep 85g starter and feed that 170g of flour + water. Will see if that helps. My usual procedure is poorer feeds slowly increasing to healthier feeds to encourage the PH level to drop and only when viable will a very small amount of starter will have no issue in fermenting a big feed.

I think it's going to be a Sunday bake with a healthy feed, as above, tonight and will be starting the preferments for this recipe. I know I said a "Do Nothing Bread" or a Hamelman Vermont Sourdough but I think I'd like a rye bread this week. The perferments won't have salt in it and the starter amount will be very small so won't adjust the salt in the final dough.

Do you approve of the recipe?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Don't be afraid to taste the various stages before and after mixing them together.  Both for sourness & texture.  Ha! I give you permission to do a lot of spitting at the sink.  :)

Mini

Abe's picture
Abe

LOL. You should have seen me when I was doing a taste test last night.

Well i'll have results come Monday.

Time to put this starter to the test.

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Roll on Sunday

 

Abe's picture
Abe

Started the first sponge on friday night and now into the second. Sunday is the final dough and bake. 

But while we wait for that I put together a no knead bread on friday night and baked it today. 

Still cooling but from the looks of things a success. So from Sunday evening till just Saturday afternoon I made this experimental "salted" starter and baked its first loaf. 

Will cut into it tomorrow and have a taste. 

Abe's picture
Abe

 

Will cut into it tonight 24 hours after being baked and will probably make a new post with the crumb shot. Everything seemed to go very well indeed.

Didn't go for the fancy shaping with flour and a banneton. I just moulded it with wet hands and final proofed/baked in a silicone pouch. Next time i'll go all artisan.

Smell while baking was very aromatic. I know we use caraway seeds in rye as they have similar flavour. While it is apparent in other rye breads I've done this one had a stronger sweeter smell more reminiscent of caraway. Haven't tried it yet but I think it's going to be sweet giving way to a pleasant sour.

The two stage sponges was interesting. The bowl I used was too big and wasn't see through to show if it was behaving as in the recipe. But when stirred it was evident that all went well. Loads of bubbles and smelling ripe.

When mixing and shaping it might as well have been 100% rye even though it has some bread flour in it. Even though this was supported a bit like a loaf pan I wasn't expecting very good rise. Oh boy was I wrong. I'm sure it would have been flatter if proofed in a banneton and baked freestanding but even though it had support it still rose above expectations.