is sourdough starter a waste of time, a critical thinking question
This is a serious question. I know there's a whole bunch of science behind this such that the knowledgeable folk of TFL can shed immediate light on my internal debate.
I'm a pretty hot and cold baker. I go through bouts. I'm torn between my love of Artisan Bread, my fear of carbs and my distaste at the idea of raising any more wild creatures in this house. The two tiny feral humans I'm legally and ethically required to keep alive keep me busy enough.
But oh, I've got the itch. It happens every 18 months or so and I just have to get a sourdough starter culture going again. Yes, I could have dried the last one...but I didn't...okay? After I scratch that itch for a month or two, my starters usually die a slow, neglectful death in the fridge and I just don't have the stomach for drying the stuff that looks black and decrepit, nor the patience to freshen it up. So, even if my particular "Fred" isn't 100% dead yet, it gets chucked.
Currently, I'm on day 3 of a new culture but I am also torn...cause...pre-ferments made from commercial yeast are awesome. And I'm all about the 80/20 rule. In this case, it's like 90/10. I can get to 90% of the result with 10% of the effort with a fine poolish. But let's not debate these numbers...I know you want to...because that's not what the question is about.
Here's the crux of it. How many of us spend all this time raising and keeping up a sourdough starter only to have it dominated by Saccharomyces cerevisiae (commercial yeast species) anyway? Well, if the Rob Dunn Lab Project is to be believed -- the answer is A LOT. I mean let's face it, it's kind of a crapshoot. Our particular yeast population is probably determined by the flour we started it with. I think we have dismissed that old wives' tale that the yeast are captured from the air, have we not?
Okay, so I know, there are sub-strains. I know that starter cultures are not all made up of one strain, necessarily. But looking at the RDLP, a heck-of-a-lot of them are dominated by the same species as commercial yeast. So, we've already started with the question of whether or not the flavor differences warrant the effort at all, and now we add to it the likelihood that we might just be raising the retail stuff anyway...it seems like the law of diminishing returns is in full-effect.
Of course, I know some people live for this and keep five starters at the same time, and I bow to you. But for us non-full-time-bread-nerds, those of us who aren't doing it for the love of keeping a starter pet, who haven't read Trevor Wilson's book three times (well, I read it three times but I only had one kid back then)...is it worth it?
Please, consider this an open question, not a statement. What am I missing here? I can't see why inoculating and building a levain from hand raised yeast species that is the same as commercial yeast would be different than using freeze-dried retail yeast of the exact same variety? Why would the LAB act any differently? Does sub-strain really matter? Does 2% of another strain make such a big difference? My instincts tell me that flavor is going to be more affected by how you build a levain -- time, temperature, etc. over whether or not you have 2% diversity of a different yeast strain in your mother.
If we're talking about digestive benefits, I suppose the question becomes why start a starter from scratch when you can just start one from commercial yeast and then maintain it like a starter...(again, assuming statistically, most of us are raising commercial yeast species anyway).
I've often said this is the nicest place on the internet. I think I might be testing that theory with this question. Let's see.