I always use the terms “natural yeast” and “sourdough” interchangeably on social media and to categorize recipes on my blog. This is because most people recognize sourdough, but the term natural yeast might be new. And there is a difference between the two that I get asked a lot about. So I decided to quickly get a post in the archives of the differences for future reference!
A typical sourdough starter is kept in a crock or other container on the countertop. Because it is at room temperature, the starter grows more quickly and has to be fed more often (usually every day). Hundreds and even thousands of years ago, this wasn’t an issue because that sourdough starter was used and fed as part of the day’s chores. The bread/pancakes for that day were made with it. The result was a noticeably ‘sour’ starter. In case that wasn’t obvious with the term, ‘sourdough.’ This traditional sourdough is most likely what your grandmother used. And if you are lucky enough to have inherited her crock, you are in business!
Natural yeast was coined by Melissa Richardson, who wanted to develop a method of using sourdough without the high maintenance. When she began storing her starter in the fridge and feeding only every 3-4 days instead of every day, Natural Yeast was born. She wrote two cookbooks on the subject, and this is how I was introduced to the Natural Yeast method that I know and love.
Natural yeast is much milder than traditional sourdough. Most times, my family and friends can’t even tell when I feed them baked goods using my starter. It does have a slight tang, but nothing overpowering. If you leave your natural yeast starter out and get it warmed up, it becomes more sour. Also not feeding it frequently enough will result in a more sour starter.
Why does it matter? Quite simply, it doesn’t. It is a personal preference more than anything. I love the mild flavor and low maintenance of my starter. To be honest, if I had to use/feed it every single day, I don’t know if I could put up with it!
My starter is very forgiving and bounces back even when it has been neglected. I used to think (when I first began this journey 4 years ago) that I was killing it all.the.time. I kept getting new ones from my sister-in-law because I was sure I was doing something wrong. In reality, I don’t think I have completely killed one yet, but I wasn’t used to the way it behaved and didn’t give leniency for it to adjust to my home and my flour.
These little starters are living things. They need attention and care (that is why I call them your little pets or my “grandchildren”). I know it is overwhelming at first. TRUST ME when I tell you I HAVE BEEN THERE. I have turned out dozens of flat, splitting, doughy, rock-hard, disgusting loaves of bread!
When I say it’s a skill to be learned, I am not saying that lightly. It takes time. Patience. Lots of patience. But the benefits are oh so worth it.
I hope you all feel that you can ask me any questions you might have about this. It’s something I love dearly and want to spread to all the world! It excites me when you succeed! So keep the e-mails and comments coming. Good or bad, I want to hear it all.