The Sourdough Journals, Under the microscope
Comments 6

First look at wild yeast sourdough starter under the microscope

One of the first images I took of microscopic yeast on a slide

 

Under the microscope logo

Ever wondered what yeast looks like under a microscope? Every time I feed my starter or knead bread, I wish I could see what happens to the yeast. In fact, I’ve been so curious that, thanks to my loving and generous family, I now have a home microscope.

These are my very first microscopic pictures of yeast. I can’t tell you the magnification. The people who wrote the manual that came with this instrument assumed the user would already know more about a microscope than the bit she learned fifty some years ago in high school biology class. I will learn! But it’s going to take some time.

Until then, I’m playing with my new toy and grokking on the beauty of the invisible made visible, however imperfectly and grainy.

Yeast in my first microscopic photograph!

Yeasty mash in my first microscopic photograph!

Yeast in my first microscopic photograph! To get the photo above, I took a butter knife and smeared some wild yeast sourdough starter on a slide. My starter is a thick levain, so it made a gooey, smudgy mess. These first photos are from that slide. Theoretically, since this is living wild yeast sourdough starter, there should be living yeast organisms, a lactobacillus which with it has a symbiotic relationship, flour and water.

Now I have to figure out which is which and what is what!

Here we see little yeast buds forming on larger yeast cells

Here we see little yeast buds forming on larger yeast cells

In this photograph, we may be seeing yeast budding. That’s where the yeast cell shoots a little bud out one side of its skin. The bud grows and eventually breaks off from the mother. Or we could just be seeing bubbles. Since I mentioned budding, though, I had better explain it.

Budding is one of two ways yeast makes baby yeasts–or propagates. The other way is a little like we humans do it. Two yeasts mate and become one new organism that makes spores, which then grow into new yeast cells. If you’re interested, you can learn more about yeast propagation in How Stuff Works: Yeast.

In this next photo, I came across an edge, with lots of clear bubbles. I don’t know if they’re yeast cells, water bubbles or gaseous bubbles. So much to learn! Thank goodness, I have a few decades left, because it may take a while.

At this stage, I'm not sure if these are gluten-encapsulated gas bubbles or yeast cells

At this stage, I’m not sure if these are gluten-encapsulated gas bubbles, water bubbles or yeast cells

On this, my first experience with the microscope, I experimented a bit with the settings. At times, something totally unexpected happened. This next image is from one of those moments. It seems almost as though we are looking inside some of those larger cells, doesn’t it? But are they cells?

Another edge of bubbly, this time in totally different light

Another edge of bubbly, this time in totally different light

Exploring the tiny world of this slide, I feel mounting excitement and equally mounting frustration. What are they? What are the little specks? But my goodness, aren’t they beautiful?

Are these chains of yeast, chains of bacteria, or just bubbles?

Are these chains of yeast, chains of bacteria, or just bubbles?

Throughout this micro-landscape, I run across changes in color, like that pinkish bloom in the upper right corner, below, or the straight red line near the bottom. Could they have something to do with the whole wheat flour in the starter?

Don't you want to know what that straight red line is?

Don’t you want to know what that straight red line is?

There you go. Images of my home-grown, wild yeast sourdough starter, under the microscope. I’m overwhelmed by how much I have to learn about microscopy and identifying the critters I find under the lens. But I’m excited as I haven’t been in a long, long time.

What do you think? Ready to travel with me to Tiny Space and see what we discover there?

6 Comments

    • How exciting! I invested in an OMAX 40X-2500X Trinocular Compound LED Microscope with 14MP Digital Camera. It’s loads of fun and totally addictive watching tiny things wiggle and squirm and divide.

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