Starter flavour

Hi there, I am a longtime visitor to this site but never posted. This is really more of an observation than a question but am curious to know if anyone else has ever experienced this: lately my bread has developed a very subtle but distinct change in flavour, a faint sweet or spicy note, reminiscent of Lebkuchen. It's very faint, and not unpleasant. I was just wondering if anyone else has ever noticed anything similar, and has any ideas about the likely cause. I know that the flora in starters can change over time, so am guessing this is the most probable reason? Flour, water etc haven't changed; the only other thing that springs to mind is that the weather's been colder than usual, so maybe this is subtly affecting the fermentation process - I've found I need to leave the dough in a warmer spot than usual, though the timings haven't changed significantly.
Anyway, will be interested to hear if this is unique...
208 users have voted.


Graham's picture
Graham 2009 January 3
Fruity acids (acetic) develop in cooler and or firmer conditions. This could account for the sweet, spicy note. Keeping your starter at a cool temperature, and then using warmer temperatures for proofing dough, is a way of developing more complex the warmer proofing temps add lactic acid formation which smell/taste warmer and can contrast with the fruity acetic acid.

Acetic acid formation is very noticeable with cool, firm starters (eg. 50% hydration, left in the fridge). Prooving bread dough at cool temperatures (10-15C) does not always result in an overly acetic final bread. A lot of bakers on this site proove in the fridge at 4C or would be interesting to do a survey to find out how they rate the acidity of their bread. Your observation about the characteristics of different flora is probably a factor...rather than temperature alone.

I wonder, do cooler temps encourage acetic acid because existing flora changes its behaviour, or is it more a case of cooler conditions favouring new types of flora that are acetic acid producing. Do lactic-acid producing flora slow down in cool conditions?

Lebkuchen...I have not ried or made this bread. But it does look like you have evolved the perfect starter for use with nutty, spicy breads like this.
Jeremy's picture
Jeremy 2009 January 3
I have been desiring a decent loaf of sourdough after 10 days of softic Ecuadorian rolls!
Lebkuchen is one of my childhood favorites, will send you some recipes when I return from "the international confectioner", a wonderful book of several master bakers.

Happy new year!

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 January 3
Do tell Jeremy. Glad to hear you had a good time in the sun. I'm interested in your Lebkuchen...maybe it will give some clues on how to make a decent sourdough gingerbread.
Jeremy's picture
Jeremy 2009 January 3
You wouldn't believe the lousy  bread here, it sounds like the bread TP describes in her part of the world, soft, and when I say soft, flaccid, no body nor taste, it must be the fact they eat rice and plantains like bread here?

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 January 3
Is there room for a maverick? An independent baker with a heart of crust? Or would they end up crying in their leaven 'cause nobody would buy their stuff?
kit 2009 January 4
I use a Bertinet method starter (pretty solid) which is kept in the refrigerator all the time and tends to produce a sweeter loaf. When I have kept it unchilled it is much sourer for some reason. I also find that the salt I use makes a difference - recently I have used Maldon sea salt, which is itself faintly flowery and sweeter than normal iodized salt.
LV 2009 January 6
Thanks to all those who replied.
On reflection I think Graham is right and the change is due to a combination of both temperature/timing and a variation, perhaps seasonal, in the starter flora. My starter is about 2 years old, and I use a (roughly) San Francisco style baking process - a teaspoon or so of starter goes into a couple of ounces of wholewheat or spelt flour and a couple of ounces of water, fed once or twice, then after 24 hours added to the dough which proves for up to 24 hours, before a final proof for the shaped loaves while the oven heats up. So I am guessing this means that the original starter, which lives in the fridge and has a relatively slow turnover, stays fairly static, while the small amount of starter put into the sponge makes that part of the process more open to a change in flora - whether from the variation in temperature favouring one strain over another, or from different flora in the environment (or the flour?) at one time of year from another.
On the other hand, I occasionally use a different method: the same small amount of parent starter added straight to the dough, which then takes up to 72 hours to prove. This is useful if I'm going to be madly busy or away from home for a couple of days because you don't have to do anything at all to it in the meantime, but it does, compared to the first method, give a loaf with a very pronounced sour flavour, rather like a pumpernickel - presumably a result of the longer slower fermentation.
I do seem to recall reading that warmer temperatures favour the yeast organisms in the starter, while cooler relatively favour the lactic bacteria, which are what give the sour flavour. However this seems to be the opposite of what Kit has experienced?
Anyway... I didn't have any plans to try making Lebkuchen, but maybe this is what my starter is telling me! (If you have lemons, make lemonade??) Or at least perhaps it's time to make a panettone!

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