Starter - Sponge - Leaven - Barm ....

carla's picture

Reading english, american, australian and other recipes in english, I find it quite confusing what an array of words are used to describe a sourdough.

So I have googled around and found the following explanations (the last two come from this site here!):

barm: A leaven or starter, sometimes implying one made from brewing sediment. (English)

chef: A piece of a previous batch of dough kept over to inoculate a new flour/water mixture, which will then become a leaven, starter, sponge (synonyms).

leaven: That which raises bread by producing carbon dioxide. In this context, it is a batter, sponge, or dough that contains a mixed culture of yeast and bacteria that has been continuously maintained by a a series of inoculations and incubations.

levain: French for leaven.

sponge: A thick batter or thin dough with hydration somewhere above 75% and a little less than 100%.

sponge leaven: A sponge that has been inoculated with a leaven culture, then incubated until it is ripe.

starter: Something that can be used to inoculate a sourdough culture. Essentially the same thing as a leaven.

starter sponge: A ripe leaven of sponge consistency.

starter leaven: Could be used to describe a new sourdough culture, being propagated from an infusion of flour (or fruit) in water.

storage leaven: One that is used to preserve the culture from one baking session to the next. Usually kept in a refrigerator.

SPONGE: In a method where the dough is mixed over several stages, a sponge is a stage where the ingredients are mixed to a batter-like consistency and left to ferment.

STARTER: A batter of flour and water left at room temperature to encourage yeasts naturally present in the flour to grow. Also known as a 'natural leaven' or 'sour' this is the most ancient form of raising bread.

Then I have also read about "white" starters and lots of other confusing starters. My question: Is this just different types of english or have different authors invented new terms? Or how come this array of expressions seems to be never ending?

In Germany where I learned the terms we just have 3 types of starters which correspond to the 3 sourdough stages plus a yeast dough. In addition there are old idioms like biga which came from Italy.

However the english proliferation is astounding.

262 users have voted.


Croc 2006 August 9

yeh tell me about it
i was asking same questions myself last few days after reading some recipes and when i try to google i just get more confused running in to even more twisted words

if we could have bakers dictionary that lines them all up that would be great

bianchifan's picture
bianchifan 2006 August 10

Hi carla,

you don'd need such confusion any more...look at [url=]this side[/url] and you'll find all what you want, incl. german terms, in case of having forgotten..

carla's picture
carla 2006 August 10

Welcome to yet another bread forum bianchifan. I thought these definitions would lure you down under

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