The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Zambian Starter, now available in Canada

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canuck's picture
canuck

Zambian Starter, now available in Canada

So, since the last post (which was quite some time ago), we moved back to Canada after three years of living in Africa.  I had a really good sourdough starter going in Zambia, it was reliable and very active, and I didn't want to just dump it.   I looked around and found some pages which described how to dry starter for transport, so that's what I did.  Here are the steps:

 1) I shmeared (thats a technical term,ha) a thin layer of starter all over a piece of baking paper, which I put on a cookie sheet.  In a couple of days it was pretty dried out and started lifting off the baking paper.  I let it dry out another day and then it was really dry and coming off the baking paper in big flakes.

 2) I took all the flakes, put them in a zip-lock bag and crunched them up into something that was close to powder.  it was a little a chunky, but still fine.

3)  I packed the zip-lock into our baggage and hoped for the best.  With all the airline paranoia I was a bit worried about explaining a bag full of white powder to the customs agent.  "Well, it is organic, and I use it...to..um....bake."  Sure, what will the sniffer dogs think? Luckily, nobody looked at our bags and the starter made it to Canada without any questions being asked. 

4) After we got home, I simply mixed the dried out started with some water and some flour in a covered container and let it sit.  At first, nothing happened, but after a few days a few bubbles appeared,  I then fed the starter some more and let it sit, and it became more active.  A couple more feed and refresh cylcles and it was going good as new.

 So, now we have Zambian starter in Canada.  I've used it a couple of times and it works great, so I'm pretty happy.  I'm no yeast scientist, I wonder if there are that many different strains of yeast that something that started in Africa would be very different than a starter started in Canada, from the "kind of yeast" point of view.  Anyone care to venture a guess?

 

 

Comments

Kuret's picture
Kuret

The microbiolocigal diversity in general here in our world makes it strange to think that this starter whould be the same as a starter cultured in canada. But It will probably have a culture very similar too all starters around, different starters provide different results but do it with the same raw materials.

I think it is similar to selective breeding of grains etc. you might come up with one that tastes great but rises slowly and on the contrary one that rises fast but tastes like commercial yeast. Different strains of the same basic organisms.

 With that said, we should set up a TFL international starter excange. For those in need of a starter and those just curious about how starters abroad are performing.

canuck's picture
canuck

Hey, a starter exchange is a great idea.  I'd love to try it some time, but are there any issues with sending packets of white powder across national boundaries?

 

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

On the topic of importing starters, it's generally believed that a starter imported from another region eventually becomes overrun with local yeast varities and so loses any of those unique characteristics.

On the other hand, I'm not 100% convinced there really is a big difference between various starters, and that any such claims are really a product of marketing as much as anything else (after all, how can you maintain the legend of SF sourdough if anyone could replicate it :).

Pablo's picture
Pablo

I've read that the yeast that starts a starter is both on the flour and in the air.  I was hoping for a sense of place by capturing some local spores.  I can relate to the thrill of bringing sourdough starter with you.  Good job.

I'm Canadian as well, in the Okanagan.  We immigrated from the states 3+ years ago.  Citizenship applications are in.  I'm going to try to get a local bread club going.  I figure we could maybe meet once a month and have a tasting with whatever anyone baked for the event, discuss the sorts of things that are discussed here, share starters, etc.  Celebrate bread.

:-Paul

canuck's picture
canuck

I really like the idea of capturing "local" flavour in baking, much like the terroir idea in wine, where the land and local microclimate make a difference to the taste of the final product.  With bread I would guess is that "locality"  is more recipe bound, where "local" specialty breads from any one place reflect more of the climate and terrain in the types of grain that is traditionally grown (i.e. more rye from cooler and wetter climates).

I wonder how much differentiation there is in flavour with say wheat flour produced in different parts of the world, or different parts of the country.  I'm sure different strains of wheat produce different tasting flours and breads, think hard red spring wheat vs. softer winter wheats.  What about local micro-variations based on soil and the like?  I live in the breadbasket of Canada, but the flour available is all totally homogenized for consistency, protein and taste, and so there isn't much of a chance to find out if Hard Red Spring Wheat grown in the Red River Valley ends up tasting different than the same wheat grown in Saskatchewan.

At least with Wheat or other grains there is at least the theoretical opportunity to put this idea to the test, with sourdough yeast it's a bit of a crap-shoot, at least without a micro-biology lab.   I am willing to try to find out, as long as I get to eat the final product ;)

 

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Yeah, I keep hearing about these "Heritage Grains" being available.  I have yet to see any, but I haven't looked very hard, either.  At the local natural foods stores there's "Unbleached Organic White Hard All Purpose Bread Flour".  The help at the store is pretty sure it's flour.  The label says it's Canadian.  It's an OEM repackaging of some giant mill's output I imagine.  I don't know how to find out any real info about the flour that I'm using.  I'd like to know the name of the guy/gal that ran the milling machine.  I'd like to give him/her a baguette.  I think that grain production and mlling is a step up from local organic farmers like at a farmer's market in terms of amount of land needed and equipment in order to make a living.  Or so I think.  I am so totally willing to pay more for a product that was produced by humans who are interested in what they are doing.  I think, as conciousness changes about food and locally grown becomes more of a consumer imperative we will see easier access to specialty flours.  I sure hope so.  Like organic veggies are now decently available at larger supermarkets due to consumer demand and willingness to pay a premium for something other than factory farming.  Eggs is another one.  I'm very happy to pay more to get eggs from chickens who get to walk around and be chickens instead of live in a box.  The whole gestault of the food is then so much more appealing and fun and comforting and noble to me.

:-Paul