2 questions about my starters

I have noticed in the last 3-4 weeks that my starter, a white starter at 100% hyrdation, that I keep in the fridge, is becoming more liquid. I find it quite bemusing, as I haven't changed anything to the way I feed it or keep it. I feed it about once a week and keep the hydration at 100%. It always develops hooch, which doesn't smell bad at all, and which I simply mix back in. It used to be more of a thick paint consistency, and now is more of a liquid paint. I am still able to use it to create my leaven (using about 100g of starter and feeding it 200g of flour, 200g of water the night before), as it bubbles up nicely and leavens my dough well. I wonder is this is going to be short lived though. Has anyone any idea of what is happening to my starter? should I decrease the hydration? I should say that my starter is now 7 months old.

 

The second question I have is about the bacteria growing in the starter. How do I know it's the right type of bacteria? My starter never developped a strong smell, always smelling pleasant and lightly fruity. None of the yeasty beer smell I have read about in books. Do I assume that because the yeast is evidently growing in the culture I have the right bacteria?

 

Many thanks for any answer,

 

Olivier

3 comments

The main question is ... how does the bread taste? Hydration of the starter may affect the flavours slightly.

So, your starter seems to be fine.
You can adjust the hydration if you wish, but I would do this only if you want try a different flavour. If you are concerned, then you can dry out some to keep as a backup. Pretty much just smear it out on some plastic wrap or baking paper and dehydrate/ dry it then you can collect the flakes.

The yeast and lactobacillus produce some water as they consume the flour, so 100% hydrated starter will get more liquid. I use about 65% and store in the refrigerator for about 1 week, but I never measure the flour when feeding it. I just add flour then adjust water to get a stiff dough. I take it out early the day before (its always quite liquid), make the preferment in the evening, and bake the next day.

Answer to the second question is the same. If thebread rises and the flavour & texture are good, then your starter smells "right". Only time to be concerned is if the smell changes!


Hi Olivier.  I think the water produced by the micro-organisms would be extrememly tiny and undetectable based on consistency, so I doubt it is that.  The only possibility that I can imagine is that the lactic acid has accumulated to a point where it is denaturing more of the gluten, altering the consistency.  This would be a bit like if you've ever overkneaded dough in a machine and it just suddenly goes watery and limp, even though no extra water was added.  Perhaps you have left the culture longer between feedings or it is so well established now that it is hungrier and growing faster?  If this is the case, it doesn't really matter.  I use rye flour for my starter which has very little gluten to start with and find it has no detectable impact on the final bread.  If you do feel the bread is suffering, you could try an acid dump where you use up most of the starter and gradually build it back up again.  But as long as the bread tastes good, I would just continue to make bread and be bemused!

As for the bacteria, there really is hardly such a thing as the 'right' type.  Each starter will be a unique mix of S. cerevisiae yeast (just like the packets from the shop) and many types of bacteria.  The only requirement is some sort of lactic acid producing bacteria (most commonly Lactobacilus) to provide the acidic environment that keeps contaminant organisms from spoiling the starter.  As long as it doesn't smell rotten, indicating something like E. coli has successfully contaminated it, or have lots of black mould on the top, I wouldn't worry.  As for the yeasty beer smell, I'd be curious where you read that.  Sourdough starter should always smell sour, only bread made from pure yeast will have that type of smell.  Sourdough can have a wide variety of normal smells and when it goes bad, you will know!

Thank you indeed. My main concern was that though the bread is still good, it may become less so if I didn't do anything about the starter. It seems that everything remains in order. I had noticed that the starter recently fed faster than a couple of months ago, even though I keep it in the fridge.

Olivier