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Apr 6, 2012 09:59 AM

Sourdough Starter: "Bad"?

Q?: I have recently begun using a 100 year old starter given by a friend; I don't have that much more history on where it's been. Problem: My wife & I both have lower GI tract disturbances from this: She from the bread; I from tasting for salt & flavor in the dough before baking, not the bread. I have only since learned to pour off the 1/4" hooch, which does include some brown color. The rest of feeding seems simple: equal weight flour/water, plastic container, every week or so, feed before baking. Starter smells fine, not bad; rises & falls properly. Anyone else experience GI disturbance?

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  1. I bake regularly with sourdough, and have never had the GI troubles you're having. I would definitely not continue tasting for salt before baking. You can figure out from how your bread turns out whether you need to add more or less next time.
    Do you keep your starter in the fridge or at room temperature? If you keep it at room temperature, it should be fed daily; If you keep it in the fridge, you can feed it once a week or so. I keep mine in the fridge, and if it's been more than a week since I last used it, or if it smells especially "funky", I take it a couple of days before I plan to bake and feed it as you describe. I keep mine in a loosely covered mason jar (I try to avoid storing food in plastic).
    From my understanding of starters & wild yeasts, the age of the starter shouldn't be an issue - with a few weeks of feeding, a starter will take on the local wild yeasts. (this info from Daniel Leader's "Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers")
    I hope this is helpful; hopefully you'll be enjoying your bread without a bellyache soon!

    1. A lot of people have some trouble when they start eating fermented foods for the first time (sourdough uses Lactobacillus for fermentation.) If you haven't eaten a lot of lacto fermented items (real kefir, homemade sauerkraut, beet kvass, etc.) start slow and eat small amounts at a time. Uncooked fermented foods are very high in probiotics and that can cause GI distress if you eat too much at a time to start with (and a very small amount can be too much to some people's systems.)

      1. I bake sourdough almost exclusively and about once a week.

        I'm curious to know what rationale you were given for pouring off the liquid from your starter...?
        Other than altering the hydration to some unknown, it serves no purpose. It's just slightly brown because it's oxidized.

        Starter doesn't ever really go "bad".

        I'm would tend to agree with weezie that there could be a learning curve to eating fermented foods, but once the bread is baked there's nothing living left in it--the culture is dead at that point so that theory isn't entirely sound.

        FWIW, I always end up consuming some raw dough and I've never had a problem.

        Are you using a new kind of flour or more whole grain than you are accustomed to?

        2 Replies
        1. re: splatgirl

          You pour off the hooch so the alcohol content doesn't get high enough to kill off the organisms. If you're baking once a week, you won't need to.

          1. re: jvanderh

            Once the food supply has been exhausted and the has been pH altered to the point that "hooch" could separate out, the starter is basically dormant. The cycle is self limiting. You never need to.

        2. I have used Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail starter for several years with no problems. I've never intentionally tasted the raw dough or starter, however. It is so vigorous I can make sourdough in a bread machine without any additional yeast.

          You can get some of the dried starter for free from the address on the website link below by sending them a self-addressed stamped envelope.

          Carl Griffith started sending out dried starter from the sourdough that had been in his family for generations. After he passed away at the age of 80 in 2000, his friends continue to send out the starter.

          Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter

          3 Replies
          1. re: Antilope

            Thanks for this info and link! I've had a starter going since around 1976 or so, but am definitely going to give Carl's a try.
            I bake bread both in the oven and with a Welbilt bread machine (when I can't attend to the manual process); what volume of starter do you use when baking in the bread machine?

            1. re: The Professor

              Here's the recipe I use: (I have a Welbilt Y2K1 and a Sunbeam 5891 bread machine. I used both to make sourdough bread)


              I use the King Arthur Flour recipe, but I leave out their recommended instant yeast. They add yeast so the sourdough can be made using the bread machine French Bread cycle.

              My starter is Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter, quite vigorous, and I use separate DOUGH and BAKE cycles on my Bread Machine. This allows the sourdough to rise at its own rate without using any yeast.

              I take the sourdough starter out of the fridge, add a cup of starter to a mixing bowl, add 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of bottled water. I use bottled water because chlorine in my tap water seems to slow the starter down. Add a little more water, if needed, so the mixture can be stirred with a wooden spoon. Mix well. Cover bowl and place in an OFF oven with the oven light on for warmth. Let it sit until it is bubbly and vigorous (maybe 4 hours). Stir it down and measure out 2 cups for the recipe below.


              For 1 1/2-lb. loaf

              2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose or Unbleached Bread Flour (I just use any all-purpose flour that I have on hand).
              1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
              1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar (I usually leave this out)
              2 cups active sourdough starter
              1/2 cup lukewarm water (I use bottled water)

              Place ingredients in bread machine in order given above.

              Start bread machine on DOUGH cycle.

              I use a rubber spatula to help the bread maker, if needed, for the first couple of minutes of mixing by pushing any dry lumps into the mixing blade. Adjust dough to proper consistency with more flour or water as needed to make a firm, non-sticky dough that could be kneaded by hand.

              Let the machine bread machine complete its DOUGH cycle kneading (about 1/2 hour) and rise (about 1 hour more).

              Immediately after the kneading stops, I remove the kneading paddle and press the dough evenly into the bottom of the bread machine mixing pan.

              I now monitor the dough and allow it to rise to the top of the mixing pan (It takes about 2 or 3 hours).

              When the dough has risen to the top of the bread pan, I start the manual BAKE cycle. My machine bakes the bread for 1 hour.

              Remove from machine immediately, slice off fresh baked pieces, spread with butter and enjoy.

              Makes one 1 1/2 lb loaf.

              1. re: Antilope

                Many thanks for that. I'm definitely going to give it a spin!

          2. I have been baking with starter for several years, and never have had lower GI problems from the dough - however I know that my gut does not like raw bread dough something to do with the yeast (it varies from person to person, my Mum is a notorious raw bread dough lover and aside from ruining the proofing can go through half a loaf with no ill effects) so if you have problems I would stop eating the dough.

            As for pouring off the liquid and feeding cycles, my knowledge of using starter comes from a commercial baking course where they had to follow certain standards/rigid times and discard rules to ensure consistency - I on the other hand am just baking for family and friends and completely ignore all the rules about discarding liquid, feeding times, et al. Never had an issue!

            Although I am wondering why you are getting liquid to pour off? How often are you feeding your starter? and how wet is it? I only have liquid after I have forgotten about the starter in the back of a very cold fridge for a week or two. PS. I tend to keep my starter on the drier side, it just works better for me.