The science of mail order starters
Posted: 20 February 2008 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The logic that regional starters quickly lose their distinctiveness to dilution is fairly compelling to me.  But there are people selling specialized starters—San Francisco, etc.—online who claim that the cultures are sustainable. 

Are there food scientists or biologists who have done research on this?  I’m open to convincing, but only if someone with a microscope has counted which sort of bugs are left after a couple feedings.

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Posted: 21 February 2008 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I have a bachelors degree in biology, but by no means I specialized in microbiology or food science, which would answer your question more scientific and accurate.

I would say, you can buy starters from specific varieties (San Francisco, France, etc), reactivate it at home by feeding, you will get the taste of that variety perhaps for a month, after that your starter should have mixed with your local bacteria thus no longer be a true strain.  You can always keep buying thought.

Also, it is very hard to duplicate other variables in sourdough bread baking, like the water used in San Francisco for example and the weather.  It is similar to making espresso!

I recommend everyone to make their own starter according to The Bread Bible, it is yours and always yours.  It isn’t that hard to birth, and almost all issues has been discussed on the blog.  Why buy a variety name starter if it eventually mixes into your own?  Maybe for fun, flavor, experimentation, or habit.

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Posted: 21 February 2008 06:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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oh, one more thing.  You can always add more of the variety bought starter onto your feedings, that way it remains more true to variety.  So keep buying!

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Posted: 21 February 2008 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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and one more, it can’t get any easier to have starter made from bought varieties, so the option is available and also explained in The Bread Bible.  Perhaps this is a business so people can make sourdough bread the quickest way possible without having to work a month or so on your own birth one.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 12:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Hi Hector,
You got me started on sourdough. As usual I have to blaze my own trail. From Nancy Silverton’s book I got the idea of using grapes to inoculate the starter. Well I didn’t have any grapes and I didn’t feel like going to the store so looking around the kitchen I settled on orange peel. I figured there had to be some good bacteria in an orange grove. I put two cups of flour and two cups of water in a quart mason jar added about 1/4 the peel of a medium orange. 1 week later I baked my first bread. Nice sour flavor and I got good rise. The starter has been very active. The first loaf has a little hint of citrus smell but that seems gone from the starter now that I have started regular feedings. I figured I could maintain a twice a day schedule so my plan is:  Dump a little flour and water into the jar morning and night… Shake the jar… When the jar gets full Bake. I may even try a batch of sourdough pizza this weekend.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Gene, the only starter I use is the stiff starter from The Bread Bible.  It takes a few weeks to a month to “birth” from plain flour and water, and after that it takes just once a week feedings.

This starter is very active, and what I love most is that it isn’t sour at all, but instead flavorful.

Welcome to the sourdough world, one of the few sour worlds that are fun-tastic!

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Posted: 06 March 2008 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’ve worked with quite a few starters over the past 10 years, some that I bought and some that I started myself.  For quite a while I maintained (and used) about 6 different starters.  I was able to maintain each starters individuality.  It took some care and time in order to do that. 

It required keeping each starter in the refrigerator as a “mother” starter, adhering to a schedule of feeding the starter regularly each week so that it never got “old” in the refrigerator, maintaining only a small amount of starter, keeping the “mother” starter tightly covered so that it didn’t get contaminated either from the air or from the other starters.  When I wanted to bake bread, I’d refresh the mother starter then remove part to use for the bread and re-feed & refrigerate the mother starter. 

I used to run a bread forum on the internet and heard from many who were able to maintain their starters’ characteristics.  Others have not been able to.  Starters are not expensive to purchase online so it’s probably worth it for you to take a chance with one, if that’s what you want.

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