“Is local bacteria making my sourdough starter go off?” That's the question on today's #AskWardee. I'm sharing my answer below!
Connie L. asks,
“I have tried wheat sourdough a couple times in the past, and it eventually went the way of the dodo bird because the taste went off. My theory is that the local bacteria up here in Northern Ontario aren't conducive to good sourdough. Is that possible? I thought that perhaps next time I would buy a San Francisco starter culture or something, but it seems to me that it would eventually be overpowered by the local bacteria with the same end result. Am I correct?”
#1 – My Sourdough Starter's Story
Several years ago, I started with a New England sourdough starter from Cultures for Health. Then my daughters started their own spelt starters. Mine took a nose dive. It smelled bad and wasn’t as active due to the competition next door.
After a few days of TLC, mine bounced back to a “new” normal. We combined all three of our starters and it worked great — albeit it had changed a bit.
Finally, I now feed it with einkorn, and it adjusted through that.
My starter has been through many changes, and that makes it what it is today!
Prior to all this, we lived in the Central Valley of California, where, for the life of me, I could not get a starter to start without going moldy. It was very frustrating!
There I concluded it was geography and gave up.
So yes, it is possible that geography can cause a sourdough starter to go off.
Yet, it could also be other things (see my story above) and not necessarily fatal influences.
#2 – Before concluding that local geography is causing your starter to go off, first make sure:
Are you giving it regular feedings?
Is the room temperature not too hot and not too cold?
Is your starter away from other ferments (cheese, Kombucha, other starters)?
Is your flour fresh, whole grain?
Is your water pure/filtered without fluoride and chlorine?
If you answered yes to these, then you might say it’s local geography, but you also might try a few more times during a different season (like spring instead of winter, or fall instead of summer, etc.).
If you answered no to any of these, first try improving these conditions to see if your starter does better.
You can also simply “wait it out” and see if the “off” will go away as the starter achieves stability and maturity.
#3 – Will local bacteria overpower an acquired, mature starter?
Yes, local bacteria can affect your starter; though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s finding a new normal.
Usually an established starter will weather these changes better than a brand-new starter that you’re still getting going.
San Fransisco starters have a very strong bacterial component (lactobacilli). That’s why SF starter and breads are so, so sour. They actually are hard to change, especially the bacteria balance. The lactobacilli culture is very strong. Other starters without so strong a mother culture will certainly change.
#4 – What instructions are you following?
Here are the instructions I recommend: Free Sourdough Starter Instructions 🙂
- Free Sourdough Starter Instructions
- Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter (donation-based)
- Einkorn Baking eCourse at Traditional Cooking School
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