Raising a sourdough starter is the rare hobby in my life that doesn’t require technology, save for my digital scale. It’s a simple, no-shortcuts process from which I extract a lot of joy (and eventually, crispy, golden bread). However, I’m also a sucker for a good gadget pitch, and Breadwinner has one. It’s a sensor-packed, Wi-Fi-connected cap that sits on top of your jar of starter, tracking its most important vital signs — growth and temperature.
It’s kind of like a Tamagotchi-meets-Fitbit for your beloved sourdough starter. It tells you when it’s ready for a bake, so you don’t have to watch after it. For that convenience, Breadwinner costs $125, if you want to get in on its crowdfunding campaign. The product is expected to ship to backers in late May.
I’ve been testing out a preproduction unit, and so far, I’m willing to let Breadwinner ruin my tech-free hobby. That’s because it’s actually really useful, even in its early days. Each time I feed my starter, pressing down on the top of the lid tells it to register the feeding on my profile. I can enroll my phone number to get a handy text message when my starter has reached its peak ripeness, including how long it took to get there.
The experience can be as hands-off as that, or you can dive deeper. After personifying your starter with a name (mine is named Doug), and optionally, a profile photo, you can check out Breadwinner’s software component, which is a small, endearing, and in-browser social network. It’s filled with people who love their starter children and want to show off their accomplishments in bread form. (I’m a bit ashamed to say this, but Doug, your future isn’t as bright as the rest of them.)
You’ll inevitably build out your profile just by continuing to feed your starter. Then, when you bake, you can log it, accompanied with a photo of the bread-y results, as well as the recipe you used to make it, if any. It’s cool to see the progress that your starter has made, and through the data (and by checking out other people’s bakes and starters), you might be able to learn how to improve your own process.
Breadwinner will be fun for chart nerds. The main view tracks your starter’s growth over time, and watching that line go up is almost as satisfying as seeing the starter rise in the jar. As I mentioned before, it can tell you when your starter is ripe for the baking, how much it has grown in the jar, and whether it’s too hot to sustain a healthy culture. Charts are fun for generalists, too, but the Breadwinner’s sensors let you get granular, which is good for people who are trying to up their game.
As for whether the Breadwinner is an insta-buy for aspiring starter parents, it depends. Being able to remotely spy on my starter’s growth (or lack of growth) is useful, especially if I’m trying to perfectly allocate my time to start the lengthy bread-making process. If you don’t mind its $125 price, it could be a fun gift if the baker is tech-inclined, or willing to learn.
However, a couple of minor things I noticed during my time with this early unit are holding me back from recommending it for everyone. My biggest gripe is that, once your starter has done its job and you want to pop it in the fridge between bakes, the Breadwinner has no “off” button. Instead, you have to remove its four AA batteries, or else it’ll endlessly register that your starter has flatlined.
Next — this one’s more of a wish than a complaint — I’d love if the software leaned in more toward delivering a Tamagotchi-like experience in the future. For instance, letting you put a pixelated version of your starter on your phone’s home screen. Perhaps it’d grow or shrink to track progress, and display custom emotes when it’s ripe or wants food. The product packaging and website already have adorable bread and starter iconography (see above for Freddy and Fred), so the company is already off to a good start.
I don’t think anyone needs Breadwinner, even first-timers (raising and maintaining a starter isn’t as hard as it may seem). But beyond making it easier to monitor your starter to chase the perfect results, some bakers might see value in taking part in its growing microcosm of bread-obsessed users.