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Numerous starter recipes talk about capturing wild yeast from the environment.

Many recipes, as well as questions and answers here, directly say or imply wild yeast is better and that deliberately added yeast is counter productive, but the explanations (if offered) seem to be vague handwaving more than fact.

The most reasonable sounding argument against (to me as a lay-person) is that the yeast will not live long, but that seems specious to me. After all, that commercially available yeast was just grown somewhere a few weeks before it made it to the shelves.

It frankly makes little sense to me to gamble on the contents of the local environment at the point in time of trying to make a starter, when known safe and effective yeast exists that could be introduced.

(The question is not about safety or efficacy of wild yeast, not about substitution of yeast for a starter, and not about mixing yeast and starter at baking time; the point is to predictably, safely, and effectively make a starter.)

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    Are you talking about adding yeast to a starter that's already showing signs of life (as your title implies), or about trying to create a starter from commercial yeast (as the body of your question suggests)? The answers will be different, as you could fairly easily keep a starter culture of commercial yeast going, it just wouldn't be sourdough. – Chris H May 23 at 7:44
  • I updated the title to be more precise per Chris H's question – Phil May 23 at 14:57
  • If you don't want to take on the risk and hassle of capturing a wild starter, you can get some of a great long-pedigreed starter instead. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- May 23 at 17:48
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Don't do this. A sourdough starter contains several strains of yeast and bacteria in a fairly delicate balance. These consume sugars and produce CO2 and a range of byproducts. Commercial yeast is a different species of yeast, engineered to eat and reproduce much faster than any of the wild yeasts in your starter. Adding commercial yeast to a starter will lead to the commercial yeast outperforming the wild yeasts and gradually replacing them. You will end up with a commercial yeast culture, rather than a sourdough culture.

Edit I realise I have somewhat misunderstood your question. The answer still holds, though: you cannot start with commercial yeast and expect to create a sourdough starter. The commercial yeast would prevent any wild yeasts and bacteria from colonising the starter. You can keep a culture of wild yeast (to some extent), but as @Chris H's comment states, it won't be sourdough.

If you want a better guarantee of success, your best bet is to somehow obtain an offshoot of someone else's starter. Some bakeries will be happy to give/sell you some, or you can try buying a starter online.

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    I agree about that the commercial yeast will out-compete the natural yeasts. But my experience is that the starter retains its bacterial population, so you still get some of the sourdough tangy flavour. – Mark Wildon May 23 at 10:53
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    @MarkWildon That would happen if you would introduce commercial yeast to the starter. With the updated question (asking about creating a starter from commercial yeast), I am not sure this would still happen. – LSchoon May 23 at 15:16
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    @LSchoon Short term the commercial strains absolutely out compete, but my experience is that long term they cannot sustain and slowly are replaced. If initially they are introduced too heavily, they will simply burn out. Use all their energy and fade and the starter will fail. Though they are more vigorous and consistent that wild strange, they are also more delicate and tend to be replaced. For reproducing and multiply beyond short term, the commercial strains seem far more prone to thrive in controlled lab settings. Not for years in a starter. – dlb May 24 at 0:47
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It is certainly possible to culture commercial yeast using the same method as a sourdough starter, but adding the yeast at the first step: see e.g. Culturing Yeast in Dough and Baking lots of bread - keeping a yeast starter. Your starter will also pick up natural bacteria, giving it some of the sourdough tang.

The commercial yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, will, at least in the short-term, out-compete any wild yeasts that drift in, so your starter will not have the diverse strains of yeast in a sourdough starter. (See the section on yeasts in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough and http://microbialfoods.org/yeast-profiles/.) I expect you will still make good bread, but it may not have the same depth of flavour as sourdough bread made with a mature wild yeast starter.

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There are many instructions that tell you to begin sourdough starter exactly as I think you are suggesting, to add commercial yeast to the initial water and flour to give it a jump start. It gives you a jump start and you can begin using your starter much sooner. It is not a true sourdough, yet, as a sourdough is normally defined as a self sustaining living starter which is from local wild yeast balanced with the complementary bacteria which give a distinct texture and taste. You will not have that. But note, in the early stages of using a new sourdough start, you also have not achieved that balance yet either and the results are still pleasant if not as nice as they will be later.

You absolutely can do this. The results will be a little harsher and faster acting rise than the subtle, slower action of a mature sourdough. You will be more prone to early success and then a start that dies. If you use too much yeast to begin, it will quickly burn out, use too much of to feed and then starve, or your environment might not be right for it to sustain. The commercial strains tend to be very reliable for immediate use, but less tolerant of long term environmental variation, so fail more often when using them to create a sourdough starter from all reports I have seen and from my experimentation. If it works, your sourdough will change over time as your local wild strains will slowly be captured and replace the commercial strains as they are more suited for your local environment. If you keep it going long enough, you will eventually end up with exactly the same starter you would have had you only captured wild strains to begin with, it will simply take longer because it will be slowed by the wild strains needing to displace the domesticated ones. They will, it just takes time.

Some will say nonsense, you just can't do it, but I personally have and have seen others. I kept a starter begun that way for about 4 years. I would not do it again myself unless I lived in an environment that I had repeatedly failed to get one begun "correctly". From memory, I think it took almost 2 years before that starter was at the same place a wild strain started one made it in maturity in about 3 months. From that point on though, you could not tell the difference between the two. Myself, I would not want to wait 2 years for it to mature to that level, but others might. For those who say no though, I would point that common advice given to boost a slow initiated starter is to add things like rye or other whole grains. This works by adding a boost of yeasts from the whole grains. These are still outside, introduced yeasts. They may be a lot closer to your local strains, but unless that whole grain was grown in your location, they are not the same strains, so exactly the same process occurs. You artificially boosted the yeast colony from outside sources to get going, and then that outside original colony is slowly displaced by local. In this case, you are starting closer to the final colony, and the transition is much easier and quicker, but the process is the same. Starting with a fresh or dry sample of someone's start from another area, again, exactly the same process.

I like getting the the final balance sooner. But when I lived in the desert and got discouraged, I used the technique and it worked. What I could bake after a month I thought was OK, after two years was very good. When I tried again and started the more traditional way, what I had after a month was good, after 3 was very good.

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    I never heard a definition of sourdough that requires local wild strains. Where I am, sourdough starter cultures are something you can buy if you like (just like you can buy a wine yeast starter culture). If you like, you can even get the lactobacteria and yeast separately... – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 24 at 17:50

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