The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

About purchasing powdered starters

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

About purchasing powdered starters

I have a couple of good starters going.  I don't seem to have trouble getting them up and running but what I have been thinking about is the flavour provided by a starter.  If I understand it correctly the starter or culture will be characteristic of its environment.  Is there any point in buying a "genuine" sourdough starter? Like a San Francisco one that would need to be re-constituted.  Or some other exotic starter "starter"?  Would I  notice a difference?  Would it start out tasty and just take on the same characteristics of my environment as I use it?

Maybe  I'm overthinking this?  Anyway I'd appreciate hearing anyone else's experience. 


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

My suggestion is to get the free sourdough starter from thr Oregon trail (carls friends) and see if it is any different.  I have the powder but never used it because my own seemed to work fine. 

DavidEF's picture

I can tell you that at my house, the Friends of Carl starter did change characteristics. However, I think my handling of it has had a tremendous influence, possibly more than the environmental characteristics. I was abusive to my Carl's starter at first, because I didn't know what I was doing. I thought my tap water would be okay to use, because I couldn't taste any chlorine when I drank it, nor smell any when I ran the tap. But, the starter died and I had to start again from the dust of the bag in came in. At first, before my abuse took its toll, the starter was very active and the bread had a pleasant sourness to it. After all the abuse and neglect it's been through (the water being only the first of many things) it now is very mild flavored and not quite as heavy lifting as before. It still works fine for the bread I usually make, but it certainly isn't the same starter I started with. Carl had instructions for helping a sick starter, which are in the brochure, available on the website. I haven't been maintaining my starter like he says to do anyway, so I haven't tried the fix-it tricks either.

From what I've read on this site and others, the way you maintain the starter does have a lot to do with the characteristics of that starter. To keep a monoculture, for example, it is recommended to keep a majority inoculation when you feed it. So, for 1 part active starter, you would add 1 part or less of flour and water. I guess that's fine if you're baking all day long to use up the starter as it matures every couple hours.

Anyway, I guess the general consensus is that your starter will change over time, but how it changes, and how limited those changes might be or not, will depend on a lot of factors. Whether it will stay noticeably different from your other starter or keep its unique characteristics from its homeland, I really don't know, and I don't think anyone else does either, until you've tried it. In which case, a free starter like the one from Friends of Carl would be a great way to experiment, as David Esq. already said. Well, it's not entirely free. It costs you an envelope and postage.

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Thanks for the input.  And for the good suggestions.  I think your comments reinforce my thinking. 

But I did find the idea of different starters having different lifting power interesting.  I consider that I have a good starter but maybe I don't. I haven't really tried anything else.  I will write for Carl's starter and try it out.  That's a very good idea. 

 This wknd I'm trying the Vermont sourdough with starter that has been fed to 125% hydration.   I'm interested to see how that reacts.