The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Are different starters REALLY different?

KristinKLB's picture
KristinKLB

Are different starters REALLY different?

Or is it a question of the way they're treated? I just wonder if the conditions are altered, don't the organisms just adapt to the new environment? If you have tried various cultures or started several, is it true they're different and stable?

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi Kristin,

Sourdough starters are still not well understood outside that they consist of a symbiotic mix of wild yeasts, lacto and aceto bacteria. Organisms which occur natrually on the wheat berries. When the grain is milled into flour these agents become a natural part of the flour unless processed out. Mixing with water will start the yeast and bacteria into their respective fermenting rolls. The types of wild yeasts and bacteria present on the wheat depends on where the wheat is grown and the specific types of natural wild yeasts and bacteria there. Starting this ferment in your kitchen will produce a sourdough ferment that is, at first, the specific "infection" indigenous on the original wheat berries. Over time the symbiotes will change being dependent on water, temperature, flour type and additional agents entering the culture. It will settle into a "comfortable" culture which will produce sourdough bread of the same taste and texture on a repetitive basis. It also means that the baker has been trained by the sourdough to not change anything lest they change the delicious stuff that they're producing. As you might have guessed, the number of different combinations of wild yeasts and symbiotic bacteria is such that each culture is unique....,

Wild-Yeast

 

Trishinomaha's picture
Trishinomaha

Three that are over a year old and one I just started and I have to say they do all have a different fragrance and taste - it may be subtle. The 0.5 starter I mentioned just got started last week from some dry starter I purchased on line. I swear - I'm not letting this collection go beyond four (which has happened in the past - =).

 Trish

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

I have an all purpose based starter and a potato flake based starter that I "birthed" about 18 months ago.  They are as different as day and night.  The AP (Okie) is wildly active and will take over the kitchen if you are not careful.  The potato flake based (Spuds)is sullen and laid back but gets as much rise as Okie and oven spring is just as good.  Tastes are entirely different.

I have about 20 different starters that people have sent me and they vary widely in activity and taste.  One from NY is really active and has a medium SD flavor.  Similar to Okie.  I have one from Texas that is so strongly flavored that my SO refuses to eat it.  Same with one from Oklahoma City.  I have one from Nevada that is really active, but very, very mild in SD flavor.

I have several "commercial" starters that I can not detect a bit of difference in the activity or the flavor.

All but Spuds are feed with all purpose flour and filtered water.  Spuds is feed with potato flakes, sugar and filtered water.

For testing purposes I use the same basic recipe in order to have a base for comparison.

Bob, Tulsa, OK

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

So, to a guy who's just starting to nurture a new starter, what should I look for in terms of smell?  Right now, 4 days in, it's decidedly sour (reminds me a lot of yogurt, which is probably the lactobacilli doing their thing), but has no hint of yeast, and very little bubbling is happening (it doubled up beautifully on day 2, but it's quieted down since then).

I assume I should be shooting for 1) increased volume, and 2) distinctly yeasty, yet sour odour.  Is that correct?

somegeek's picture
somegeek

FP,

My starter didn't 'take off' until roughly 10 days in. As I understand it, the first 4-5 days is the bacteria doing it's thing. Then the yeast will start to take over. I was feeding my AP/water starter with 1/2C each of flour and water and by weight that's much more water than flour. My starter seemed to like me feeding it with equal parts of flour and water by weight. Ended up feeding it 1/2C distilled water and a generous 3/4C+ flour per feeding.

Another thing which helped was to place my starter jar in the oven and turn on the oven light. Heat from the light maintained 78ºF in the oven and the starter really took off. Just don't place the jar next to the light as the radiant heat will surely take the jar past that temp. I put my starter in the opposite corner of the oven. Room temp in my house is upper 60s.

If I start another starter, I will use smaller quantities since it will achieve the same. 2Tbps vs 1/2C.

Good luck and report back with your results.

Hans - AKA bread noob

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

Well, 7 days in, and while my starter isn't yet as wildly active as some I've seen, there's definite signs of yeasty life going on: lots of tiny bubbles, and about 50% rise after 12 hours, with a mild sour-yeasty smell.

Now, it's interesting to note that these changes came about after I made a few small adjustments to the feeding schedule two days ago (before which it was very sour, but had no signs of yeast activity).  1) I switched from 75% white 25% rye to 50% white 50% rye (obviously that'll change once it's fully established), and 2) I increased it from 100% to roughly 120% hydration.  Whether these changes are the cause, or it's simply a coincidence, I have no idea.  Either way, my starter lives! :)

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

So how do you manage multiple starters?  Do you keep them all stowed in the refrigerator and feed them only when you're going to use them?  Do you keep them on the counter and have a production-line feeding?  Or WHAT?

Rosalie

AnnieT's picture
AnnieT

Rosalie, I was determined to be a "one starter" baker but somehow I have ended up with three! One is labelled SDO for Sourdough lady's starter and the other two are labelled Y for yoghurt which is how I created my first one. One of these is fed 1/4c starter to 1/2c water and 1/2c StoneBuhr bread flour and the other one 1/4c starter to 3/4c water and 1c flour. They live in the refrigerator and come out to be refreshed the night before I want to bake. Last night I did indeed have a production line feeding - not that I need them for baking but I noticed hooch and figured I had been neglecting them. My house is really cool - no sign of Summer yet! - and they sat on the counter until bedtime then back into the refrigerator. They do smell slightly different but I haven't tried a scientific test to see which I like best. So they are rather like pets but require less attention - and they do earn their keep, A.

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

A couple years ago I had a tour of our local House of Breads.  They keep two vats of sourdough starter side-by-side on a counter and treat them identically - dipping into them equally for baking, and feeding them the same flour and water at the same time.  But, they say, they occasionally behave very differently.  In fact, they keep two vats (probably 5 gallons each) as insurance.

Rosalie

hullaf's picture
hullaf

I have three starters but they all are off of the same main one begun three years ago. But then I change the ratios now and then to experiment, such as 1:3:4 as Reinhart does. And then with different flours like Daniel Lepard does. So, three different stiff starters, started at different times, and now that summer is here in TN, hot and humid, they are growing fast and furious.  

Michael Pollan wrote in "The Botany of Desire" that we as people don't always do the changing of the environment, sometimes it evolves to be more tasty and desired by us. As Wild-Yeast said above, "we have been trained by the sourdough not to change anything . . ." So, in the end, we have starters that are appealing to us, but which organism is being maintained? It's so nice to have biodiversity.   Anet   

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

Most of my starters are in the dried stage.  I keep them in ziplock bags in a large plastic container on my counter.  I also have frozen some of each one (in wet stage) as an experiment.

I keep the ones I use regularly in jars in the refrigerator.  I usually take them out and start feeding them on Thursday evening for a Saturday bake.  I like to feed them twice a day to build them up prior to use.

When I remove what I am going to use, I feed them well and stick the jars immediately back in the fridge. (as per Mike Avery's method).

I do not keep large amounts stored in the fridge, preferring to build them up as I need them.

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

I've just recently diversified with my starters so that I now have 3 (and a sourdough pate fermentee which I keep in the 'fridge).  They are all at 100% hydration at the moment - one white AP, one organic whole wheat, one organic whole rye. 

The whole wheat and whole rye are recent additions (in the last week or so).  I decided against making the starters by converting portions of the white starter but rather starting from scratch for each starter.  Whether this was necessary is debatable but as luck would have it, the approach I chose has worked out very well.  

The rye starter has a rich fruity smell (sometimes alcoholic when I've left it fermenting too long!) and is by far the most active.  The wholewheat starter is slightly less active and smells decidedly sour and yeasty.  The white starter smells almost hay-like and very yeasty when fully mature.   

It's likely that one or more of the starters will get stored in the refrigerator at some point but I'll have to work out which ones I use more often before I decide.

I've only baked once with the new rye starter.  The result was a 'fresh' almost fruity flavour (not in a sweet sense)....but that may have more to do with its' age  than inherent qualities of rye.  We'll see.

If one follows the reasoning that each type of starter / grain has it's individual balance of micro-organisms - then I would guess to take advantage of the diversity, it makes sense to match the starter with the flour used in the bread you're baking (eg rye for rye bread)...but that's just me guessing.  I'm still pretty new to this multiple starter thing.  It'll be interesting to see how it progresses. 

FP 

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Actually, I was wondering about not matching starter to bread type.

In particular, if you take a small bit of pure rye starter and build it up with whole wheat flour to make whole wheat bread.  Wouldn't that lend an interesting flavor?

But if you take the rye starter and build it with rye flour and then make a loaf with ww flour, then that's a typical flour proportion for rye bread.

Rosalie

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

I must plead ignorance about mixing and matching but it sounds good to me!  I'd happily give it a go. 

So far I've only tried making a white wheat bread (with a large proportion of rye starter) and it was definitely different to the usual results I get from a white starter...but I'm still learning :) The rye and WW starters are less than 2 weeks old.  

One thing I'll say for my new rye starter - it's far more active than any other starter I've used.  After mixing up a 46% rye dough (with 1:4 starter:flour ratio) and leaving to proof for just under 4 hours,  it'd already started to pop the lid...oops!  Here's hoping it bakes well.  It looked a little deflated after shaping.

FP 

 

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

That seems to be the general experience, at least judging from the reading I've done... starters just *love* rye flour.  In fact, one tip I've come across over and over for perking up a lazy starter is to feed it with a bit of rye a few times.  Maybe more organisms on the grain or something? *shrug*