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Yes and no. First of all, let’s recap about what a starter culture is. This is a preparation containing  a high concentration of desired microorganisms that will start and assist a fermentation by making specific chemical, smell and taste changes. Thus, the process becomes efficient, controllable, predictable and… safe!

Fermented foods were born as “happy accidents” when in the early times suddenly “spoiled” food turned long-lasting and pleasant-tasting. Such accidents were possible thanks to spontaneous or natural fermentation, an event in which you only rely on the microbes present in the environment or the food to colonize the raw materials. If you opt to go for this kind of fermentation, be aware of the risk of contamination. You should take extra care about many aspects such as: acidity, oxygen, temperature, moulds, etc. By not having a proper control over the fermentation, it is possible that you may have an outgrowth of non-friendly microbes in your food. These can produce off-flavours or even toxic compounds that can put your health in danger.

Using a starter is not a must but as you can see, it definitely gives you many advantages. This includes a fast acid formation that makes the development of non-desired bacteria much more difficult. What is also important is that, in principle, the quality of commercial starters is checked and you can get information if the microbes present can produce potential compounds that could lead to unpleasant effects including headache, diarrhoea, etc.