What’s wrong with this miche? Absolutely nothing.
I’ve written about this high-extraction miche before. It’s one of my favorite breads, and this loaf I made yesterday did not disappoint. I used the same recipe, same method as always. But something differentiates this particular miche from the other high-extraction miches that have gone before it, and indeed from all the other breads I have ever posted here.
This bread was made with tap water. Not only that, but the starter that leavened it was raised from scratch on tap water too. Now maybe this doesn’t seem like a breakthrough to you, but it is to me.
We drink and cook with tap water. Tap water is, by most accounts, safer, cheaper, and more environmentally responsible than bottled. But until now I have always used bottled water for starters and doughs, because I had heard that chlorine or chloramine (chlorine’s more stable, longer-lasting cousin) would inhibit yeast activity. Frankly, I’m not sure why I bought into this without my eyebrows raising even so much as a flicker. I am usually the world’s biggest skeptic, and certainly the phrase “don’t believe everything you hear” is one my kids are sick and tired of hearing from me.
Then a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy (Stir the Pots) challenged me. Is bottled water really better for bread? It was a fair question; time to find out for myself.
Our city water is treated with chloramine. Unlike chlorine, chloramine does not break down if you allow the water to stand for a few hours, and is left largely untouched by home water filters. So I knew that the tap water I’d be using in my experiments would definitely contain chloramine. Our water softener has been out of salt and non-functional lately, so I also knew that softened water would not be a potentially confounding factor (I’ve heard that softened water isn’t good because yeast like the minerals in hard water).
I started two starters from scratch, one with my usual bottled water and one with water straight from the tap. They both did fine, but after four days or so the tap-water starter was a little bit more active than the bottled-water one. I eventually threw the new bottled-water starter away, and now have my new tap-water starter on the counter alongside my workhorse year-old bottle-fed one. They look, smell, and behave identically. I have fed the new starter with both filtered and non-filtered tap water, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Then I made some simple loaves with instant yeast. One dough with tap water, one with bottled. Again, no discernible difference.
And finally, yesterday’s miche with the new tap-water starter. It wasn’t a head-to-head trial against my old bottled-water starter, but I can tell you it was as fine a loaf as I’ve ever made.
The conclusion I’m drawing from all of this is that my chloraminated, unsoftened tap water seems to work fine for my bread baking. I’m not saying your tap water works fine; there are lots of factors in water that might make a difference. But if you currently use bottled water and have never tested the performance your tap water (because of what you may have heard from – ahem – some people), why not try it? You might be pleasantly surprised.
(I’m also not saying I necessarily endorse chloramine for municipal water treatment; I know there have been questions raised about its health and environmental effects. But it’s what my tap water is stuck with for now.)
I might try turning the water softener back on and running these experiments again. On the other hand, I’m more inclined to just leave it off; we don’t miss it all that much, and water softeners have their own environmental issues.
Thanks, Jeremy, for giving me a good kick in the butt about this. Until further notice, it’s tap water for me.
Ulrike aka ostwestwind says
Oh, I don’t have this problem, no chlorine in tap water allowed in Germany
Gosh I don’t know how our tap water is treated but it’s what I put in my filter pitcher and that’s what goes in my bread. The Miche is a beauty!!
Madam Chow says
Beautiful miche! We have a filter on our kitchen faucet – there is so much chlorine in the water that we can actually taste it in the pasta if we don’t filter the water first!
Thank God for Jeremy giving you a kick in the butt. lol. Susan, do you live in the hills of SV? I didn’t realized that the SV area had hard water. When I was in the Bavaria area, the water there is very hard, but I managed to start a rye starter with no problems.
I did the same last year. I’m always in a rush because of my family life (I don’t even like having to weigh things) and I also try to be ecologically friendly, so don’t like buying bottled water. One evening I decided to just use tap water…to see. The starter was happy the next morning. I kept doing it. Then I made several new starters without a recipe, just throwing some unmeasured flour, then some tap water, no sugar, nothing else. It worked every time. So, no bottled water for me! But then, I think sourdough can be sensitive to a number of different factors. Each person in their own environment has to find out what their starter will tolerate and remain active and happy.
As strange as it sound, I’ve always preferred drinking good tap water to any bottled mineral or spring water. To me, it tastes better!
What a beautiful miche!!! I’m glad that our water here is not chloraminated in the Netherlands. A few years back we filtered our water, but we don’t anymore. It’s just tasty water.
Thanks for the nod, I always use tap water or brita filtered tap, I have leaven that is always fed with tap, so unless you have a well or live in the Alps? I can’t really think that anything is that pure on our poor earth anyways as much contamination that humans have contributed!
Cheryl in Kelso, MO says
My sourdough starter, created approx. six years ago, began with tap water (water softener) using Nancy Silverton’s recipe. My baking and cheese-making friend, created a starter with home-grown grapes and uses water, not from a water softener. We often compare texture and taste, and wonder if the difference comes from starter just one year old compared to a started six years old. Maybe it’s the difference between water softener water and tap? Now, you’ve made us curious! We’ll just have to try her starter with my water! This is such a great blog site…thank you! Cheryl
The loaf is beautiful! I always use tap water – but we have our own well and its not treated.
your miche is absolutely perfect!! thanks for doing these experiments on water and making bread. i just normally use tap water 🙂
I had been going to comment on the starter thread, but this is better:
Two weeks ago, I carefully followed your starter starting instructions (thanks BTW) and used tap water as I was anxious to get started 😉 and didn’t have any bottled handy.
After 4 days, I had a pretty good starter going — good smell and OK lift — my wife stocked us up on bottled water, so I figured I’d stop risking my starter and switch.
Day 5 the starter didn’t do so well, day 6 it was flat and day 7 it was dead.
Methinks there was more badstuff in the bottled water than in the tap.
Of course something else could have gone awry, but I’m pretty careful (anal-retentive) in the way I go about cooking, so I don’t think anything else changed.
Now I’m restarting with tap water and won’t be going near the bottle.
I had no idea that Toronto water also has chloramine in it until I read this post, Susan. I had assumed it was chlorine (just checked and see that chloramine is used). I’ve been using filtered tap water (either brita or GE filter that is on our kitchen tap). In spite of still struggling with sourness in my starter, otherwise it’s entirely active. (I would still be using unfiltered tap water if we hadn’t seen the results of a water test last summer, showing that our tap water has too much lead at 15parts per billion. By Canada’s standards, anything above 10 parts per billion is unacceptable – in USA, according to EPA website, anything above 15parts per billion is unacceptable.) But I don’t think I would ever use bottled water over tap water here in North America. Too much plastic….
I also wonder if some bottled water isn’t old. I was interested to see that Rose Levy Beranbaum in ‘The Bread Bible’ writes: “Make sure the water in the spritzer is fresh (it should not have been standing for more than 2 days).” She doesn’t say why this is necessary… so I did an internet search and came across some interesting information on ‘Health Canada’s Questions and Answers on Bottled Water’ http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/facts-faits/faqs_bottle_water-eau_embouteillee_e.html
(see “Are there bacteria in bottled water?” and “What is safe storage and use of bottled water?”)
How remiss of me… I neglected to say what a beautiful looking miche!
I brew beer using nothing but Texas lake, er, tap water filtered through a Pur filter (activated charcoal, ion-resin exchange, the usual) and the results are fantastic. No need for fancy bottled water. Use the stuff that comes cheap!
ummm…i recently made a bread starter…i believe it is right. i used regular flour and tap water…it smells yeasty and has a frothy look. i was wondering if anyone had a simple yeast roll recipe so i can test drive it. i am having trouble finding recipies including a bread starter
Our tap water is heavily chlorinated due illnesses that occurred when it was improperly managed with chlorine.
I have no trouble raising and maintaining starters on our tap water; I would never purchase a bottle of water that Nestle’s takes from the same aquifer that I drink from, 5 miles down the road.
Thomas J. Webb says
I more or less serendipitously discovered that tap water is fine for sourdough starters since I ran out of the machine water we use (not bottled water, but filling our water jug using those water machines they have in front of grocery stores).
Even if chlorine is a problem, you can always let the water sit for an hour or so and the chlorine will evaporate out since it has a lower vapor pressure than water. No doubt chlorine kills fungi, but if the levels are low enough, there shouldn’t be an issue. And there’s always home filters which take out the chlorine.
Ian Batra says
I recently found out that in my are (San Jose, CA), the City Water is treated more heavily with Chloramine in the Summer time due to an increase in bacteria activity in response to temperature increases. This would explain why my starter has alway been flatter and less active in the summertime when I would expect it to be at it’s best.
This would make sense in other areas too.
Paul R says
I’ve been using britta-filtered water for bread since I started experimenting with sourdough, and I’m wondering if it’s actually causing problems. Not because of chlorine, but because of its softening effect.
I live in NYC, where the mineral content of the water is already pretty low. I recently learned that Britta filters (which contain an activated carbon element and some kind of low-tech ion-exchange element) remove a significant amount of some dissolved minerals. And I’ve read that over-softened water can cause problems with dough structure.
I’ve been finding that my doughs are a lot more slack than I’m used to at any given hydration (65% hydration, using 50/50 KAAP and KA bread flour makes a sticky mess I find hard to handle). I don’t really know what’s going on—I used the same filtered water when using commercial yeast, so the starter is the bigger variable (and yeah, I’m calculating the starter into the hydration %).
Obviously I should experiment with this, but before I do, I’m wondering if anyone else has done so.