Need a new starter? Techniques?

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Check out my new site for a unique starter from Pacific Northwest USA. All of the bread pictures on the site were made with the sourdough starter cultured here in the Northwest. I also have techniques, recipes and a store for sourdough items and books. I welcome you to my site! I have your wonderful sourdough site linked to mine on my links page.Thankyou for visiting!

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Graham's picture
Graham 2006 February 4

Hi northwestsourdough

The techniques area of your website is an excellent documentation of sourdough process.

I have not quite figured out if selling sourdough culture is a great way to motivate people to make sourdough or if it is a way of containing and selling something that does not need to be contained and sold, as it is essentially a free resource.

One obvious benefit is that bakers can get to try cultures from all over the world. However the downside is that it removes an important part of the sourdough process (ie capturing the culture) and makes the sourdough process (or at least the start of it) more like the commercial yeast process.

This is not intended to be a dampener on your project which is delivering fascintaing sourdough information. I think it would be helpful if you could show (scientifically) that your cultures retain their uniqueness after many weeks use in a non-native environment.

Do these cultures morph into the local sourdough variety? If so, how many uses can a baker expect to get of the unique culture before it takes on local characteristics?

Again, it raises a number of issues, which I hope you will talk about in this forum.


Anonymous 2006 February 4

I like your thoughtful questions. I have done some reading about sourdough cultures from all over the world by Ed Wood in his book. I think that getting unique vigorous or unusual sourdough starters from other places would be fun as would be the experimentation. Ed Wood states that cross contamination or just plain contamination does not usually occur because of the mutual relationship between the yeast and the bacteria in the area. They tend to be mutually beneficial in keeping themselves dominant. However, I think that it could happen especially if you let your culture get unhealthy by not feeding it or cleaning the container once in a while. The acidity of the culture also helps to keep it from being contaminated. If the original sourdough culture lost its uniqueness, well, then I guess it wasn't dominant enough in the area where you live and that is part of the learning process. I think sharing sourdough cultures from around the world would be fun and educational. I think you would have to be happy that you have found a really terrific yeast though. I have cultured sourdough several times over many years and have never had the results with them that I have with this starter.
I have had many others rave about it too. So I think it is an exceptionally nice sourdough culture. However, if you don't care for your starter properly and if you let it starve, let the sides grow with mold, and feed it things other than just pure water and flour, you could lose it anyway. Also using a good sourdough culture could never be like using commercial yeast, the sourdough is such a different fellow! The time and fermentation it takes to make sourdough condition the grain and ferment the grain to bring out a flavor and wholesomeness that you could never acheive with a fast commercial yeast. Thankyou for your compliment on my techniques page. How is your sourdough baking going?

Graham's picture
Graham 2006 February 4

Hi Northwestsourdough

I am glad that you have thought about these issues. Agree that the experimentation factor would be attractive to some bakers. I guess my hesitation comes from the chance that beginner bakers could see your starters and think "this is how you make sourdough".

And of course it is a way to make sourdough using a variation of traditional sourdough technique. The variation being to the first part of the process where culture is captured. So really it is going to be of benefit to folks that are happy making sourdough with alterations to traditional process, or are keen to experiment.

I know of Ed Woods site but have not spent time reading about his theory or process. Though it should be pointed out that the acidity you refer to will only deter yeasts that can not survive in environments as acidic as the original sourdough. e.g. Baker's yeast does not tolerate acidic environments, but there would be many sourdough cultures that can tolerate the acidity of your own sourdough(s) (unless yours is the most acid tolerent culture of all sourdoughs).

So it is really just a different approach, though I would personally recommend that beginner bakers learn the full process before they experiment with non-local cultures. Still, I remain open minded and wish you the best. It is great to have input from bakers with a different perspective.

My own baking? I am getting close to baking again but have not been active for some time. Later in the year I hope to be baking several times a week and doing lots of experimenting. Thanks for your interest.

Graham's picture
Graham 2006 February 4

I should point out that I have baked with a commercial variety of culture while baking at Demeter in Sydney in the late 1980's. That particular culture, called "Ferment" came from Germany and was a single-use culture i.e. it was used to make a liquid pre-ferment which was used once and not carried over in any way to the next days bake. It was a very "warm", lactic smelling and tasting culture: different to sourdough and different to baker's yeast.


SourDom 2006 February 5

I was also under the impression that starters gain local characteristics fairly quickly, and cease to be representative of the source. Hence a San Francisco starter transplanted to Melbourne, would be likely to become colonised with local yeast and lactobacilli. I don't know of any evidence of this though.
One advantage of a pre-prepared starter is that you don't have to go through the longish warm up phase, and can get baking straight away.

What are the customs regulations about importing starters? I don't imagine that quarantine would be terribly excited about letting through live cultures


Graham's picture
Graham 2006 February 5

It's funny you should mention possible import restrictions. Some of the bakers I visited had imported cultures from France and other places but were very candid about it. Of course I can not remember which bakers they were now. Originally I thought they were concerned about restrictions on intellectual property. But actually now I think it was more of an import issue, because the cultures were brought in in odd places like toothpaste tubes and as a layer of paste inside shoes. Actually I just made those places up because I do not know how they kept the culture out of view.

Is imported sourdough really a type of illegal alien?

Anonymous 2006 February 6

I haven't had any problems selling sourdough starters around the world, yet. I have the starter dried so it is not presently "live". It lasts longer that way and doesn't need to be fed. I only have to fill out a form of declaration to send it overseas. I don't know what you have to do for importation though. Does anyone know? This is an interesting thread and it would be nice if anyone else told about their experience with bought or imported starters. What is everyone baking? northwestsourdough

SourDom 2006 February 6

Does anyone know what happens to the organisms in a starter when they are dried?
Yeast spores would cope fine, but my guess is that lactobacilli would die out. Presumably they would then get replaced with indigenous bacteria?

It is hard to say that a starter is not 'live' if you are going to resuscitate it at the other end.


Anonymous 2006 February 6

In my research for selling my own product, I found out so far, that freezing kills of more of the bacteria, and to obtain the most bateria possible (produces the sour flavor) you must dry it 12-18 hours after feeding to obtain the highest concentration of bacteria for drying. Yes,it is live, but dessicated or dried out and awaiting moisture to start multiplying again. That is one reason you have to feed and culture a newly obtained dried starter for several days. However it is faster to work with a reactivated starter than bringing a new one to maturity( two weeks). I admit it is more "fun" to find out if you can obtain a good starter in your own area. Some of my customers said they just couldn't obtain a good one in their own area. I didn't obtain a good starter until I moved to the Pacific Northwest, here in the USA. I lived in mountainous areas before and hilly plains areas, but my sourdough was "mediocre". I feel really lucky! If you look at the pictures posted on my website you will see why I feel so lucky!

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