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Feb 26, 2009 04:20 PM

SF Sourdough Starter Question


I am looking for a starter to making authentic San Francisco Sourdough because my husband loves it and says I've never tasted real bread because I've never had it! I realize I need to have the specific culture with the Lactobacillus sanfrancisco. From a search on this site I found Sourdoughs International, a company that sells starters/cultures.

Here's what their website says about their Sourdough starters(under Fermentation Tab):

"the famous San Francisco culture, was extensively studied in an attempt to simplify the sourdough process for commercial bakers. This simplification could not be achieved. There was no way the flavor could be maintained unless the lactobacilli had ample time to multiply and produce flavor compounds and acidity. Some important information did result from this research: it was determined that sourdough cultures are symbiotic and stable. They do not change if taken to another geographical location, nor do they change from contaminates in the air. (This synergism can be destroyed by adding bakers' yeast.


We are often asked "how much do I get in the package?" This really can't be answered, since what you get are microscopic organisms. The quantity of these organisms, even if it could be measured, is not important, since they are living and multiply after the culture is activated. They are in about an ounce of flour. With proper care, you can bake for years with the contents of one culture package.

Only dry, or primarily dry, cultures can be shipped, as a moist culture would become active, expand and destroy the container. You follow the enclosed directions for activation.

Once the culture is activated and in a liquid form, it is placed in the refrigerator where it will maintain its properties and contamination is no longer a problem. It should be "fed" and proofed every four to six months to keep the organisms viable."

Here's my question:

I've read on other posts that the original culture will be taken over by the wild yeast in your area eventually, which contradicts what Sourdoughs International says about their starter!
So, who's right?

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  1. I dunno who's right, but my sister's sister-in-law has a started she got in San Francisco about 15 years ago and has kept alive since here in the Midwest. She claims the bread tastes dramatically different from what it used to be like.

    I've had her bread, and it is truly delicious -- but there's no way to do a blind test on it, so I think everyone has to punt. Then again, you're going to get different results every single time you make a new batch of almost any bread, especially a cultured one.

    1. The yeasts should stay the same, according to this article on Discover what changes are the bacteria present, and even that's disputed.

      1. Everything I've ever read indicates that it will be taken over my local yeast too.

        I guess if you could keep it in a sealed container so that local flora and fauna were excluded you could prolong the time when the Lactobacillus sanfrancisco dominate. But you're still going to be opening the container to take starter out, to feed it and it simply *has* to be aerated from time to time. Each of those activities includes exposing the nutrient mass to the local guys who are better suited to the local level of moisture, temp and god-only-knows-what else is in that local air along with them and the oxygen.

        I can understand that the purveyor of the Lactobacillus sanfrancisco wants to assure you that the product is worth buying.

        If the real thing is very important to your husband maybe it will be worthwhile to buy some new starter every 4 or 6 months...

        1. To my mind, based on my experience, the first quoted paragraph of your initial post says it all. I have formed the opinion that "San Francisco Sourdough" is more a result of fermentation (in many cases, over fermentation) than anything else. No denying that the lactobacilli contribute to the flavor, that's true of any yeast bread, but I don't accept the claim that is has much to do with the "sourdough" taste. Of course, IMHO, some of it is so sour as to be absurd ... but that's another show.

          1. And the in Bay area, where would one go to buy a starter? Or out near Sacramento?

            2 Replies
            1. re: shallots

              In the Bay Area one does not need to buy starter. Just make your own. Can't get more authentic than that.

              Ok, I think I saw some at Rainbow Grocery once.

              1. re: shallots

                I'm in Daly City and could give some starter away if you'd like. Alternatively I've heard that some bakeries will give starter away if asked.