Can a sourdough starter really be 100 years old?

Can A Starter Really Be 100 Years Old?

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I get asked a lot of questions about sourdough and sourdough starters, particularly as people join my Facebook Group. One of the questions that gets asked is – Is a 100 year old starter superior to a sourdough starter that I started at home? And can a starter really be over 100 years old?

Is A 100 Year Old Starter Really Better?

Firstly, is a 100 year old starter superior to a sourdough starter that I started at home? You would thinks so … but actually not really. For starters, unless you know & trust the person giving it to you – how do you really know how old it is (I’m a bit cynical about these things)!? There are many sourdough starters advertised as 100 years old or from a certain part of the world … but … once you actually rehydrate it and start feeding it your own flour and water, then it’s really just your starter, right?

So can a starter really be over 100 years old? Well yes, it can. Imagine if I popped a vacuum sealed baggie of sourdough starter somewhere. Chances are, as long as it wasn’t damaged or unsealed in any way, you would be able to revive my dried starter in many years to come – but once you revive it with your own flour, water and feeding techniques, it would become your unique starter.

Mature Sourdough Starter vs An Old Sourdough Starter

Now, you know that I always say that a sourdough starer “matures” and this is true – it’s ability to rise bread and its flavour does increase over time. But eventually it does plateau and hit a peak. So with that being said, your 12 month old starter could be just as good as your friend’s so called 100 year old starter.

Flour actually plays a big part in the microbes and yeast colonies that inhabit your sourdough starter (and it’s even said that the temperature and feeding time/routine can change the microbes in your starter too). So if you want to be true to that 100 year old starter, you need to feed it with the same flour & water and the same feeding routine). Once you start feeding it with your own flour and water the microbes will change and the colonies within your starter will actually evolve – cool right?

This also means that buying a San Francisco starter for example, will not guarantee you a certain flavour profile – because again the microbial colonies will change as soon as you start feeding it in your kitchen, with different flour, water and temperatures than when it was created.

So, an older starter is not necessarily better than a younger starter, as long as the younger starter has reached its peak in flavour and rising abilities. 

A Little Note

I do want to say though, that there is nothing wrong with carrying on a tradition – if your starter has been passed on through generations or purchased from your local bakery for example then the history that goes with that starter is still very important and provides community and connection – and let’s face it – that is something to cherish in these uncertain times.

Want to build your own sourdough starter? This step by step guide will get you off to a flying start.

Ready to bake sourdough bread? Check out my beginner’s guide to baking simple sourdough.

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