Do small changes in the composition of a starter lead to changes in flavour?
I'd welcome the thoughts of any members/readers on this question: can small changes in the composition of a sourdough starter lead to changes in flavour?
I've had a starter on the go for several years but have altered its make-up over time to get a blend that works as the basis for most (well, nearly all) recipes and that gives a good, subtle flavour to bread.
My preferred mix for this base/mother starter is:
33.3% strong white flour
33.3% wholewheat flour
33.3% white rye flour
mixed with c.83.3% water
I keep a small quantity of this starter on the go all the time (typically c.45g in total), and use it as the basis for the levain required for any particular recipe.
Now, about two to three weeks ago I ran out of white rye and not being able to find any in my local organic groceries (wholewheat rye is much more common round here), I've substituted wholewheat rye.
The standard everyday loaf that my family likes is a sourdough made with 95% strong white and 5% wholewheat flour. The levain for this bread more or less mirrors this blend: for a typical loaf using 500g flour in the final dough mix, I make up a levain with 10g from the mother starter mixed with 45g white flour, 5g wholewheat and 50g water, using 100g of the mix when mature in the final dough.
What I've noticed in the past couple of weeks is that since I substituted wholemeal rye for white rye in the base starter, the flavour of the finished loaf has changed, becoming more complex, with a hint of greater sourness. The change in the composition of the starter is the only alteration I've made to the process of making the bread (timings, percentages etc. have stayed constant).
Now, the actual amount of rye that ends up in the loaf is very small; if my maths is correct, I think it works out at 1.8g in each loaf, i.e. about 0.36% of the flour in the final dough.
I can't believe that that minuscule amount of rye by itself would change the flavour, so is it possible that the switch from white to wholemeal rye in the starter has 'tweaked' the complex chemistry of the starter to produce a new flavour, even if only a small amount of this starter ends up in a loaf?