Friday, February 5, 2010

Sourdough Starter

Isn't it adorable? Thursday's assignment for the 28-Day Real Food Challenge is to start or otherwise acquire a sourdough starter. No directions were included so, although I knew the basic idea behind sourdough, I hit the web for instructions. There are lots and lots of instructions out there and no two are the same! Ultimately, I stumbled into this article from Eric at (which, though I haven't fully explored it yet, looks to be a great resource for those who'd like to bake their own bread).
The method Eric demos, in both article and video form, is incredibly simple- but surprisingly includes pineapple juice. The purpose of the juice is to create the right level of acidity in the culture for the yeast to start working. If you are interested in the science behind that- and it really is fascinating- Eric mentions in his post that Debra Wink, the discoverer of this method (a chemist and baker), had sent him an essay on the topic that he would forward on upon request.

I didn't get my starter started until the middle of the day. Even so, several hours later when I stopped by to check on it there was already action. When I initially combined the ingredients, the starter looked similar to the picture above. When I checked on it later, the picture below is what I found. It appeared to have already started fermenting a bit as there was what appeared to be a bit of hooch (alcohol resulting from fermentation) on top. I stirred the mix (resulting in the above photo) and set it back safely on top of the fridge.
Starting sourdough starter from scratch is apparently a pretty tricky thing. The failure rate appears to be high. After reading Debra Wink's essay on the subject I have to wonder if perhaps many of those failures are not actually failures, but rather people tossing the starter before the yeast they want really get going. When not using the pineapple juice method, other bacteria get working before those desired by the bread baker. Ultimately, the initial bacteria turn the starter too acidic for their own survival, paving the way for our yeast to take off. It's an amazing journey that also happens work out beautifully for humans.


  1. Hi Maggie,

    I wanted to stop by and thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave such an encouraging comment.

    Great post! I knew that sourdough was tricky which is why I'm so happy my accidental starter has survived. Interesting about the pineapple juice and acid content of the starter, I didn't know that. Mine got started with whey, which I now realize would serve similarly, plus innoculate it with the lactic acid.

    Thanks, too, for the link to Eric's website! It's one I'll bookmark and resource often.

    Finally, welcome to the blogosphere! It's a wonderful way to record one's doings, keep track of projects, and share.

  2. Leigh, Thanks so much for stopping by! The blogosphere is amazing- so much information available. I'll stop back in at your place from time to time to see what you are up to.