experiment: spiking my starter with 'Primal Defense'

day 3, around 4pm
day 2, six hours after refresh, from above
day 2, six hours after refresh
day 3, around 4pm, from above

 My six-year-old daughter takes a probiotic supplement called Primal Defense (purchased at health-food stores) in order to improve her digestion. It was recommended by a naturopathic doctor after she tested positive for many food allergies -- wheat, dairy, beef, chicken, soy, eggs. (Most of those are 'slow acting' allergies, i.e. no reaction other than general digestive issues, so it's not as bad as it sounds, although eggs is a severe aniphylactic allergy.)

I was skeptical about the supplement at first, a green powder that costs $65 for an 80g jar. But within a week we noticed huge changes, the main one being her saying "I'm hungry!" for the first time! She began naturally drinking more water and eating better meals. That was 1.5 years ago, my skepticism's gone and she still takes it every day (the scoop is tiny though, it lasts for 4-6 months). I bet if we paid for another allergy test she would score much better on most things.

Anyway, the other day I happened to be scooping it into her milk when I noticed the list of 12 species of "healthy soil organisms" that it contains:

Lactobacillus plantarum      Bacillus subtilis
Lactobacillus brevis     Bifidobacterium breve
Bifidobacterium bifidum     Lactobacillus paracasei
Lactobacillus salivarius     Lactobacillus casei
Bifidobacterium lactis     Bifidobacterium longum
Lactobacillus acidophilus      Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Interesting, I thought, lactobacillus are supposed to be what's in my sourdough culture. I googled them and found that several of these friendly microbes have indeed been found in sourdough before. See here for example: http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/whatisthemicrobiologyofsan.html

I'd also been reading some old forum posts on thefreshloaf.com, arguments about whether a homemade sourdough culture is as good as one that you order. Although I took it with a grain of salt*, one of the points seemed to be that while a homemade culture may have captured wild yeast and can thus leaven bread, it's the variety of lactobacillus species that will contribute to the flavour. So a homemade culture is unlikely to have as good flavour as one that's been passed down for decades.

*I made sure to keep the salt out of my starter - ba-doom-tsss! :-)

Well, you can see where this is going. I wasn't sure if I bought the above argument, but I thought, I'll experiment with creating a new starter by adding Green Stuff (aka Primal Defense) to some of my existing starter. In a separate container of course! Maybe it'll improve the flavour and possibly make the starter healthier too! (yes, I know the bacteria will all be killed in a properly baked loaf of bread, but I'm not so sure about the soft centre of my pancakes...)

Day 1: Took a small amount (1 tsp) of my starter, mixed with about 15g water. [Sorry, I don't remember the exact amounts -- the whole thing seemed pretty silly at the time] Then I stirred in 15g AP flour and one scoop of the Green Stuff, this is less than 1g but supposedly contains three billion active probiotic cells. Here is what it looked like:

Day 2: After 24 hours or so, there was very little activity. Several small bubbles but no sign of any increase in volume at all. I didn't take a picture (but it looked almost the same as above anyway). At least it did smell somewhat like hungry starter, combined with the still strong smell of Primal Defense (which smells like seaweed).

I threw out all but 12g or so, and added 40g water, 30g AP flour, and 10g rye. The rye was to help the yeast along, as my regular starter seems to really like rye.

Day 2 (Evening): Good news! About six hours later I checked the starter and there was definite activity. In fact, it had more than doubled in volume in that time, which is more than my regular starter usually does in 6 hours. I took some pictures:

You can see above the faint red line (a kid's marker) which is the level when I refreshed it.

 At this point I was happy there was some activity, although a little nervous at how much. The smell was still good, a similar but more complex aroma than my usual starter, with still a hint of the Primal Defense seaweed.


 Day 3: I refreshed the starter in the morning. 10g starter, 40g AP flour, 5g rye, 45g water. It had definitely reached the top of the container. I didn't take any pictures at this point as I didn't want to be late for work.

 Day 3 (evening): The starter ended up tripling or quadrupling in volume to reach the top of the container in about 10 hours. Wow! Here's the proof:

(faint red line, above, was the refresh mark from the morning)

 The faint trace of seaweed smell was gone, the starter again smelled like my usual starter but slightly more complex. I fed it again in a few hours.

Day 4 : By the morning it had reached the top of the container again! Very active for sure. My house temp is pretty stable, 72-74F during the day and 69-70F overnight. So I don't think temperature accounts for the increased activity. I should note that when refreshing the starter I was adding the water first, putting the lid on and shaking it up like crazy, as suggested by Ed Wood in Classic Sourdoughs. This is something that I wasn't doing previously, so it's possible my usual starter might show similar vigor if given the same treatment.

Unfortunately I was running late and couldn't feed it, so it had to wait until after work. I felt bad for neglecting it, hopefully it will spring back alright.



I think this pretty much ends the diary... the starter now seems pretty much like a regular active starter, although exhibiting some different characteristics to my usual starter.

I think the real test now will be to bake with it and see if I can tell a difference in leavening ability, texture, or taste. I will report back then!


 - Mike Lucas


182 users have voted.


mlucas 2010 April 14

This morning (day 5) I checked it before heading off to work, as I was worried about having neglected it the day before (waiting until 10 hours after it peaked to feed it).

No issues, it had more than tripled in volume again overnight to reach the top of the container! Keep in mind this was at 70F, with 10g starter, 47g AP flour, 3g rye, 50g water. So I quickly fed it again, just white AP flour this time (no rye) as it seems active enough!

I'm excited that this probiotic spiking has definitely increased the activity of my starter. But as they say, the "proof is in the pudding" -- we'll see what happens when I bake!

toni55 2010 April 19

Okay...we can't give your science project a score until we see results...I feel like I'm watching a cliff hanger movie,


abuelita23xxx 2010 May 6

I am following your post and have been waiting to see and read what your results were with the primordial mix. Any word yet?

mlucas 2010 May 7

Hey guys

Sorry to not have reported back in so long. Honestly I didn't think anyone was paying attention since there weren't any comments on the thread!

I think I will get poor marks for my science project, as it wasn't really a proper experiment (too many uncontrolled variables). But this is what happened after the posts above:

  • As per the above posts, I definitely felt that the starter activity had increased.
  • I thought about doing a "bake-off" between them, but I didn't really have the time to make two separate doughs, so I just used the spiked starter for my next several bakes.
  • In each case the starter performed very well, rising the dough nicely and the resulting loaves tasted great. I would definitely say that the spiked starter did a better job of leavening, and that the flavor of the bread was superior, to previous loaves I'd baked with my non-spiked-starter.
  • HOWEVER, there were so many variables at play here, that it's impossible to say for sure that my probiotic-spiked starter is any "better" than my previous starter. The procedures I followed weren't the same as previous loaves; some of the recipes were different; also even just the process of spiking the starter and refreshing it daily for several days afterwards would have affected its activity. Not to mention that I'm pretty new to sourdough baking, so with each bake I do my technique improves, making it hard to justify comparing new loaves to previous ones.
  • I ended up getting rid of my non-spiked starter, since I didn't have any need for it anymore as the spiked one was doing so well. And I didn't want to maintain a starter I wasn't using. (Of course this means I won't be able to do a bake-off, oh well!)

For myself, I do believe that adding the Primal Defense did improve my starter. It probably added at least one or two species of lactobacillus that weren't there before. Previously, I would have described the tang in my sourdough bread as tasting a bit 'off', whereas now the tang just tastes 'good', more like it cooperates with the flavour of the bread. I also believe it improved the leavening ability somehow, as I'd never seen it triple in volume before, but it does so regularly now, under the same conditions as before. But it's impossible to prove either of those beliefs!

If I ever create a starter from scratch again, I'll definitely add some Primal Defense to it. (Maybe I'll even create a control starter from scractch at the same time, to see how they compare.) But for now I'm too busy baking bread!

Happy baking,

P.S. There is an example of some of the bread I baked with the spiked starter, at the bottom of this thread: http://sourdough.com/recipes/light-rye-light-wholemeal-rustic-pain-au-le...

panfresca 2011 April 29

Hi Mike

I know it's a year since this thread was active, but it's an area of interest to me too.

My wife and I recently visited India, and took the advice of a frequent visitor to India who is also a GP with links to alternative medicine - to dose up on some specific probiotics for a while beforehand. As we stayed well, they might have worked (impossible to say for sure!). A family member also has health problems which benefit from probiotics... all of which is a preamble to saying that if there's another way to culture these, instead of paying their horrifically high prices, it would be fantastic to be able to do so.

There are of course a couple of important questions in relation to sourdough... is there any way of knowing if the relevant probiotics survive or die in the starter - and even more important, even if they do, is it all moot because they would be completely killed off by baking temperatures? How far did you go into this side of things?


CaperAsh 2011 August 31

Kym, I don't know the answer in terms of how many survive. I do know that I bake until the middle is 195F or higher and have read that most of these organisms die off at around 130F.


But also: my vollkorn Rye and vollkorn Spelt especially change flavours with the passage of days after baking, specifically the sour flavours. They mellow. Something is happening in there, whether it is more dying off, or others coming forward or what. I don't know. But it suggests to me that some sort of processes are continuing otherwise there would be no change in flavour.

Countrygirl 2011 October 9

Those bacteria would do well in a milk culture, as the list looks very similar to what I recall is in Kefir (a yogurt like drink). I would guess you could make a homemade yogurt or cultured drink with it. I am sure it would taste yummy. If plain yogurts are not your thing you could add fruit and things to it as well. I am currently reading some information on GAPS (gut and psychology syndrome) and the GAPS diet, which seems somewhat like what your daughter is dealing with. Look it up at www.gaps.me. It is well worth looking into and may give some further ideas to help you.

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