Wet Starters, Dry Starters

Reader Kevin had a fascinating question. He writes:

Your rye starter is a little drier that some I’ve seen. Is there are reason why some starter formulas have more or less water? Does it change the flavor?

Indeed Kevin there are some bread bakers who believe that the wetness of a starter changes its flavor. There’s at least a theoretical reason to believe that might be true: some types of flavor-giving bacteria and/or yeasts thrive in wetter environments, some in drier ones. Changing the moisture level in a starter could indeed tip the balance of power in the starter bowl, causing one population to thrive and another to diminish.

I remember I once had a yeast doughnut recipe that called for a starter so firm it almost broke my stand mixer. Was it worth it? I have no idea, since I don’t have a palate sensitive enough to tell the difference. Truly I think any baker interested in this sort of bread biology would need to experiment with various levels of hydration in their own kitchens and see what happens.

3 thoughts on “Wet Starters, Dry Starters”

  1. When you’re inevitably trading types of flavor against each other, doesn’t this call for two (or more 🙂 ) batches of dough that are then combined in the end? This would average the moisture level and maximize the number of flavors the bread can contain.

    Some of our industrial pumpernickel here in Germany tastes like none of this was considered, but then again, I’m not sure if they have moisture in there at all – the taste can sometimes be hard to find, making me doubt they nurtured any populations properly…


  2. And somewhere I read that the temperature you store your starter at affects flavour, become some microbes do better at room temperature than at cooler ones. So the starter living on the counter may give a different flavour than the one living in the fridge. Any experience with that, Joe?

    1. That also is a factor, Ted. Some serious breadheads like to say that starters change with the seasons. I’m sure to some extent that’s true. Me, I confess I’m not attuned enough to those subtleties to judge!

      – Joe

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