Why use a levain?


Why not just use mother or seed culture straight into the mix instead of taking the step to make a levain and adding that? What is gained?

I have searched quite a bit and found no answer.


221 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2016 October 5

Hello Geoffrey,

It is possible to do what you suggest but the making of a levain has a couple of advantages.

Firstly, it proves that your starter is actually still alive and active and so you are protected against wasting flour by using a 'dead' starter.  This is perhaps not so critical for the home baker making a single loaf with half a kilo of flour but could be disastrous for a commercial bakery making hundreds.

Second, the yeasts and bacteria are actively growing and not dormant as they might be in your stock supply and so there is a shorter 'activation' time when the dough is prepared.  So, either prepare the levain (overnight) or wait a little longer for your loaf to rise is the trade-off.

There are probably more but I think these are the most important ones.

Good luck with your projects.


GeoffreyLevens 2016 October 5

Thanks Farinam. I would definitely be doing that if making big batches as in a bakery etc! I make one loaf at a time only since they are just for me or occasionally to bring to a potluck of someone's house for dinner.

Does the balance of microbes change as it ferments i.e. adding more mature levain gives you a more sour making start vs a young, out of seed culture start which might have equal amounts or more lacto bacteria? Or would that make no difference in final product?

farinam's picture
farinam 2016 October 5

Hi Geoffery,

Weight for weight there would be a bit more acid in the 'aged' starter but it is also significantly diluted when mixed with the new flour and water and I doubt you would be able to detect the difference in taste of the freshly mixed dough.  Whether such a difference would translate into a different loaf character is open to question.

In terms of the possible presence of a higher concentration of bacteria to start with again I am speculating a bit.  There is a time lag between yeast and bacteria activity due partly to different reproduction rates at a given temperature and the fact that a lot of the bacterial activity is related to dealing with the waste products of the yeast.  So, until the yeast starts working and starts producing waste, there is little for the bacteria to do, so to speak, and they can only produce as much of their by-product as there is material for them to work with.

I think time is one of the biggest factors in changing the character of the taste profile of the finished product and hence the common practice of 'low' temperature pre-ferment and proving.  I have also read, but never really tried, that there is a difference when using a 'stiff' vs a 'batter' levain.

I think your best bet is to experiment and see what you reckon.  It will be fun and a great learning experience. And you can let us know how it comes out for you.

Good luck with your projects.


GeoffreyLevens 2016 October 5

Thank you Farinam! That is a lot of excellent info and advice. Just intuitively and probably out of laziness I like using a batter type levain as it will ripen a lot faster due to wetness than a stiff one. Have a 100% kamut loaf now proofing in pan on top of my water heater. Couple more hours and fridge overnight to bake in the morning.


Thanks again


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