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Five starters compared (not very scientifically)

GaryBishop's picture

Five starters compared (not very scientifically)

I went crazy back in fall and bought 4 starters from Sourdough International on a buy 3 get 1 free deal. I chose the Finnish, Russian, San Francisco and Tasmanian. The 5th starter in this comparison is the one from King Arthur (KA below).

I activated them according to the instructions and they all work wonderfully. Activation took 6 to 8 days for me rather than the 3 to 5 they suggest but otherwise worked very well. I have maintained them using Doc.Dough's system and I've been baking small loaves using Mariana's suggestions. 

Baking and eating them one at a time I couldn't really tell much difference so I decided to do a side-by-side comparison. Over a couple of weeks I baked and immediately froze 5 loaves. I made my daily bread which is 70% WW 30% BF with 10% sunflower seeds, 20% oat soaker and a little honey and olive oil.

The loaves were virtually identical in appearance. I used the same process on each only varying by a few minutes when I got distracted.

While my daughter was visiting from Oregon we did a taste comparison. I thawed the loaves and cut one slice from each into 16 small 1x1 inch squares about 1/2 inch thick and placed them in 2 piles of 8 each. So we had 10 piles (2 for each starter * 5 starters) of bread squares in 2 rows. 

My wife, daughter and I tried to match the pairs; that is identify squares that tasted/smelled the same. My daughter (38 years old) got 2 correct matches (Russian and KA). My wife and I (both > 65) completely struck out.

I have noted two differences.

  • The Finnish starter is a strong riser and keeps going for several days in the refrigerator. It will blow the top off my small container if I don't burp it.
  • The Russian and KA starters produce slightly sourer loaves.

Of course this experiment has many limitations. 

  • The differences might have been clearer with a simple white bread but I mostly don't eat white bread.
  • Longer fermentation might have allowed more differences to develop.
  • Freezing might have changed the smell/flavor.
  • It is common for the sense of smell to fade with age especially over 60.
  • [EDIT] Cross contamination is a very real possibility.

I had fun doing the comparison and learned that, for me, there is no good reason to maintain all 5 of them. I'll give away 3 or 4 to someone nearby. 


albacore's picture

Well done Gary - a very interesting and useful experiment. It's almost a shame that you didn't find any decisive flavour differences; perhaps we fret too much about our starters?


Benito's picture

That was a fun experiment to do.  I suspect my palate is too dull to be able to perceive anything but the most dramatic of differences.

Sugarowl's picture

You say KA, which one is that? It would be interesting to know if the non-sour ones soured over time vs the already sour ones (I assume were the San Fransico and Tasmanian)

GaryBishop's picture

That is my oldest starter. 

The sourest in our test were the King Arthur and the Russian.