K-State food scientist describes differences between a sponge and a starter By Emily Halstead K-State Research and Extension
Nothing beats the smell of fresh bread, but what gives different breads their distinct tastes and smells?
Karen Blakeslee, a food scientist at Kansas State University, said many bread cookbooks use terms such as sponge and starter interchangeably. But, she says, they are not the same.
“In bread, a starter is a form of yeast,” Blakeslee said, “it’s usually a combination of flour and water that’s exposed to air to attract wild yeasts such as bacteria. lactobacilli, to create fermentation.”
Blakeslee explained that these harmless yeast organisms create fermentation and eventually unique flavors in bread.
“Many home bakers have bread starters that have been active for years and passed on to future bakers,” Blakeslee said.
A sponge, on the other hand, is an additional step in the bread-making process. Bakers combine yeast, some flour, and water to create a sponge that can ferment from 30 minutes to several hours. After fermentation, the bread making process proceeds as usual. A longer fermentation gives the bread stronger flavors.
“A yeasty aroma and sour flavors begin to develop, adding more flavor to the finished bread,” Blakeslee said.
Some bakers choose to take the extra step of making a sponge in order to add a slight sour and tangy flavor to the bread.
“Not all sourdough bread tastes the same,” Blakeslee said. “It’s due to the different microorganisms and the way the dough is handled.”