How good is your starter?

We're more than happy to welcome Guy Frenkel as guest contributor to the Quest For Sourdough blog! Guy is a Los Angeles based, amazingly passionate baker. He joined our Quest For Sourdough from the very beginning, in the Center for Bread Flavour in St. Vith. With his sourdough 'Elizabeth', Guy creates the most outstanding, creative breads. Have you ever wondered if your sourdough starter is any good? Keep reading! In his first blog, Guy is shining a light on the evaluation of sourdough starters. Guy, the floor is yours!

Capturing wild yeast and bacteria, and nourishing them into a stable and thriving colony, is one of the most gratifying aspects of sourdough baking. Often, bakers develop a (dare I say emotional?) connection to their doughy pets. Perhaps because just like a Tamagotchi, your starter needs your careful, often daily, attention in order to survive. If you named your starter you understand. The importance of a good starter is often overlooked. The starter will affect the crumb structure and texture, the oven spring, the crust and most importantly the flavor of your finished loaf. The sourdough starter is the soul of your bread, yet all starters are NOT created equal.

With thousands of yeast and bacteria strains and countless combinations of each in starter ecosystems, your options are almost limitless, and it is only logical that some starters are better than others. So for the sake of superior bakes, it is important to keep an objective eye and develop the skills for evaluating a starter’s potential to give you great bread.

But how do we define better? Well, like most things in baking, it depends. There is no one best starter, but rather starters have qualities which you can evaluate and form opinions on, per your preferences and goals.

the parameters

  • Time to peak - how long does it take your starter to peak? Is it fast and eager to rise or slower and lazy? Does speed matter to you?

  • Hight at peak - some starters double in hight before collapsing. Others triple or even quadruple before they fall. Does your starter struggle to double or does it try to escape the jar if you look away?

  • Time at peak - some starters are quick to collapse and others maintain the peak for a long time before finally giving in to gravity. This quality can prove important, especially for novice bakers. The longer the starter maintains it’s peak, the bigger your window for hitting a good final proof. 

  • Bubbles structure - are the bubbles small and regular or bigger and inconsistent in size? All things being equal, the starter will create a similar hole structure in your crumb. Which do you prefer?

  • Smell and taste - smell your starter and note the aromas. Is your starter sweet? Sour? Vinegary? Alcoholic? Fruity? Is it pleasant? It really should be. Taste it... Yes I said taste it (It's probiotics - you will be fine). what does it taste like? Do you like it? You will be tasting hints of your starter in the bread you bake with it.

These parameters (you might think of additional ones) will help you evaluate your starters and help you find the right starter for you. To compare starters simply follow an identical feeding procedure (for example 30g starter at peak, 45g water, 60g flour) and note the results. In the next post we will learn how to manipulate and influence some of these parameters like peaks, taste and smell... stay tuned! - Guy Frenkel


Somebody has to be the first one as guest blogger. Happy it's you Guy. Who will be next?

Great start, looking forward to hearing more. I have a wet starter that rises slowly but very quickly passes a float test before it has even doubled in size. Can you comment on different ways we can see if a starter is ready to go. (I liked Karl's bounce test :-) )

My starter has been through all the above stages. You brought to my mind to keep track of how my starter was compared to the baked bread.

Nice to read your article. Does it make too difference if your flour is AP or bread flour? I mean should I be concerned about how much protein does my flour have, also for feeding my starter? Haha I think the answer should be yes. But I would like to hear from the profs :-)

Still waiting for that next post. I need a bit more knowledge on starter. Why can't a starter just be used unfed on a longer ferment? Wouldn't it just feed on the dough?

If you leave it unfed for too much time the yeast activity is decreasing while the lactic acid bacteria take over. It is not recommended. Fresh starter is better.

my starter doesn't double, is slow to rise . Is this not a good thing?

Try feeding every 6 hours prior to baking or before going into fridge.. Make sure it's filtered or spring water for feeding. You should be sure about quality of flour.
Add a touch of honey or non nutritional yeast. To give it a boost if necessary. Are you discarding a portion of starter before feeding?? Are you building by continually feeding until it gets stronger??

hello,suordough lovers. honerd to be here,if i can help beginners ask me any questions,

Many thanks to Guy for being the first Guest Blogger. I read his comments carefully and I realized that I do take my starter for granted too much.
Since I am a Guy Frenkel "groupie", I pay attention to the things he says. I will begin immediately to take better care of my starter! Thanks Karl

Hello to all , I hope this Blog is still active . I like to ask Guy Frenkel and or Karl De Smedt if they discard half of the starter before each feed? I am using Karl’s ratio mix of 100g water/120g flour from the tutorial. If you don’t discard half of the starter what volume do you build your start to?

Hi Gary. I only keep a small portion (20 g) in the fridge that I build up in 3 feedings to +- 600 g. From that I save 20 g for the next bake, Use 100 g to bake and use the rest to make pancakes. No discard on a regular base for me....

I experimented and added Hoegaarden instead of water to my starter, did that for a few days and then baked with it. Good texture, it bit denser than usual but sweet, mellow taste. I wonder: does this starter now have the living yeast of Hoegaarden in it, I wonder? Got a pic of the bread under my sourdough entry (name: NDG) on this site.

Hi Mikael, Good question. We can only tell by analyzing the starter and the beer on a microbiological level.

Je schrijft: "In de volgende post zullen we leren hoe we sommige van deze parameters, zoals pieken, smaak en geur, kunnen manipuleren en beïnvloeden..." waar vind ik die "volgende post"?

Guy heeft nog geen volgende post geschreven. Maar op mijn instagram pagina vind je waarschijnlijk wel wat je zoekt. Of kijk eens in op "WikiHow" pagina van deze site naar mijn video's waar tik uitleg geef over desem.