E-Ink Equipped Sourdough Starter Jar

One of the unexpected side effects of our this pandemic is a sudden growth in the global population of captive colonies of Lactobacillus bacteria and yeast. Also known as sourdough starters, they are usually found in jars with curious names written on top, living off a mixture of flour and water. They require close monitoring to keep them healthy and to determine when they are ready for baking. [Noah Feehan] has been working to instrument and automate the process for the past two years, and has created a high-tech jar to keep an eye on his sourdough starter.

For a sourdough starter to stay active, it must be kept within a certain temperature range, and performance is measured by how much the level inside the jar rises. Existing open source and commercial projects monitor these two parameters and transmit data out, but [Noah] wanted to include a few more features. The height of a sourdough starter rises due to the production of CO2, so he added an SCD-30 sensor module, which includes a temperature and humidity sensor. For level monitoring, an VL6180 time-of-flight sensor is mounted over a hole on top of the jar. [Noah] wanted to be able to see recent CO2 production and height stats right on the jar, a ESP32 module with onboard E-ink display was used. To draw air over the CO2 sensor at a constant rate, a small extraction fan was also added. Power is provided by a small LiPo battery. For long term logging, the data is sent over MQTT to a server running Mycodo environmental regulation software.

There are still several software improvements [Noah] would like to make, including battery life, user interface and alerts, but everything is open-source and available on GitHub, so feel free to jump in and build your own.

Smart Lid Spies On Sourdough Starter, Sends Data Wirelessly

[Justin Lam] created a wonderfully-detailed writeup of his Smart Sourdough Lid project, which was created out of a desire to get better data on the progress and health of his sourdough starters, and to do so more efficiently. The result is a tidy, one-piece lid that constantly measures temperature, humidity, and height of the starter in the jar. Data is sent wirelessly for analysis, but there is also a handy OLED display on the top of the lid that shows immediately useful data like how much the starter has peaked, and how much time has passed since it did so.

The PCB was optimized for size, and not designed with mounting in mind, so a hot-glued machine screw serves as a “button extender”. Issues like this can happen when enclosures are designed after the fact; it’s something to which we can all relate.

We really like how focused the design is, and the level of detail [Justin] goes into to explain his design decisions and describe how well they worked out. This isn’t [Justin]’s first kick at the can when it comes to getting data on his sourdough, after all. We remember his earlier work using computer vision to analyze sourdough starters, and he used what he learned to inform this new design; the smart lid is easier to use and handles data much more efficiently.

The project’s GitHub repository has all the information needed to build your own. The lid is ESP8266-based and integrates a VL6180X time-of-flight (ToF) distance sensor, DHT22 to sense temperature and humidity, and a small SSD1306 OLED display for data. A small custom PCB keeps the modules tidy, and a 3D-printed custom enclosure makes it one tidy package.

[Justin] also analyzes the results he obtained and talks about what they mean in the last part of his writeup, so if you’re into baking and interested in his findings, be sure to give that a look.

Engineering Your Way To Better Sourdough (and Other Fermented Goods)

Trent Fehl is an engineer who has worked for such illustrious outfits as SpaceX and Waymo. When he got into baking, he brought those engineering skills home to solve a classic problem in the kitchen: keeping a sourdough starter within the ideal, somewhat oppressive range of acceptable temperatures needed for successful fermentation.

A sourdough starter is a wad of wild yeasts that you make yourself using flour, water, and patience. It’s good for a lot more than just sourdough bread — you can scoop some out of the jar and use it to make pancakes, waffles, pretzels, and a host of other bread-y delights. A starter is a living thing, a container full of fermentation that eats flour and has specific temperature needs. Opinions differ a bit, but the acceptable temperature range for active growth is about 60 F to 82 F. Too cold, and the starter will go dormant, though it can be revived with a little love. But if the starter gets too hot, all the yeasts and bacteria will die.

While there are of course commercial products out there that attempt to solve this problem of temperature control, most of them seem to be aimed at people who live in some wonderland that never gets warmer than 80F. Most of these devices can’t cool, they only provide heat. But what if you live in a place with seasons where the climate ranges from hot and humid to cold and dry?

The answer lies within Chamber, a temperature-regulated haven Trent created that lets these wild yeasts grow and thrive. It uses a Peltier unit to heat and cool the box as needed to keep the mixture fermenting at 26°C /78.8°F.

Thanks to the Peltier unit, Trent can change the temperature inside the chamber simply by alternating the direction of current flow through the Peltier. He’s doing this with an H-bridge module driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero. When it starts to get too warm in the chamber, the fan on the outside wall vents the heat away. A second fan inside the chamber pulls warm air in when it gets too cold.

Trent says that Chamber performs really well, and he’s recorded temperatures as low as 60F and as high as 82F. He mostly uses it for sourdough, but it could work for other temperature-sensitive food sciences like pickling, growing mushrooms, or making yogurt. We think it could be ideal for fermenting kombucha, too.

Chamber works well enough that Trent has put further development on the back burner while he makes use of it. He does have several ideas for improvements, so if you want to help, check out his website and Github repo.

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