On Moisture

One of the big variables in the world of bread starter recipes is moisture. Some can be extremely wet, up to 60% water, others somewhat dry, in the realm of 35% water. Is there any practical difference between them?

For the purpose of getting a starter culture going, the answer is no. Though I’ve had better luck in my starter-making career with wetter starters (as I said, I prefer a 50-50 mix of water and flour by weight). However once you’ve got your starter going, the degree of moisture will impact taste.

How so? Well, while any starter you make at home will contain the same mix of microbes (and there can be dozens, even hundreds), the degree of hydration will affect their proportion. Some types of micro-life prefer a wetter environment, some a drier one.

Among bacteria, the prime movers behind a sourdough starter’s flavor, it’s been found that acetic acid producers tend to like things on the dry side, lactic acid producers prefer things wet. That said, if you like a tangier bread (which is what more acetic acid will get you) you probably want to keep your starter — as well as your finished dough — drier. If a mellower flavor is more your thing, keep the moisture high.

Of course all sorts of factors from hydration to storage temperature to the rate of feeding can have an impact on a starter’s flavor. Which is why I suggest lots of experimentation.

4 thoughts on “On Moisture”

  1. Hi Joe

    I was inspired by your post about pannetone in time for Christmas so I decided to go all out and begin a starter. I found that the top developed a hard crust when I went to do the first feeding. I removed the crust but I was wondering if I should be adding more water to counteract the dryness? Should I have left the crust? Ah, the excitement!

    Thanks,
    Kirsten

    1. Hey Kristen!

      You can do either, but maybe try some plastic wrap in top to keep a crust from forming. You can lay it right on the surface of the starter with no ill effects. Keep going and let me know how it all goes. Kudos to you for taking on the project!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  2. Thanks Joe! I’ll try the plastic wrap…it’s a bit slow so I’m going to bump up the feeding schedule as well starting tomorrow.

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