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.