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The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Pineapple juice is a simple solution to a problem that many people encounter while trying to start a sourdough seed culture from scratch. Oftentimes, a new culture will appear to start off very strong, only to die a day or two later. The early expansion is caused by a prolific gas-producing bacterium which many mistake for yeast. Pineapple juice can be added to flour instead of water at the beginning, to insure against unwanted bacteria and the problems they leave in their wake. It doesn't change the end result, but it does seem to keep things on the track to finish on time. Part 1 tells the story of where the pineapple remedy comes from and how it was conceived. The rest of the story probes deeper into how it all works. But first, here is a recap of the key patterns revealed by notes and data collected during experimental trials:

  • When starters expanded significantly on the second day, a period of stillness followed, and the appearance of yeast was delayed.
  • Gas-producing bacteria stopped growing when the pH dropped to 4.5, but yeast growth didn't begin until the pH fell to around 3.5, accounting for the period of stillness.
  • Lowering the pH in the initial mixture, by adding ascorbic acid or by replacing the water with pineapple juice, kept gas-producing bacteria from growing and brought about a more timely and predictable result.

But it wasn't enough just to find a fix. The problem-solving efforts of my team were creating a buzz which we hadn't anticipated and this thing, like the seed cultures we were creating, was taking on a life of its own. Some were jumping to premature conclusions, and speculation seemed to be spreading as fact. It made me very uncomfortable, because I'd rather be dispelling myths than adding to them. I wanted to find some real answers, and find them fast, so I started making phone calls. I found two local labs that could help me out. One had the capability to identify leuconostocs, and the other to detect lactobacilli and other bacteria of interest. I submitted samples of a day two starter during the big expansion. Both labs found that there were three organisms growing. But there were no lactobacilli or yeasts found, which supports what I observed time after time on microscopic examination. My gas-producer was identified as Leuconostoc citreum. At the time, I couldn't find much information specific to this organism, although it seems to share many characteristics with other Leuconostoc species found in foods. Most will not grow below pH 4.8, and this one doesn't appear to be an exception.

Until recently, I could only theorize that the Leuconostoc may actively hinder the process, because the pattern supports it, and because it's not uncommon for microorganisms to produce substances which inhibit competitors. But in updating this article, a new search of the scientific literature finally uncovered the piece of the puzzle I was looking for. Who would have thought the answers would be found in kimchi and sake? It turns out that kimchi fermentation has a lot in common with sourdough development, and mirrors the early days of the seed culture process. Leuconostoc citreum plays a dominant role in the early and mid-phases of fermentation where it causes a slow and prolonged drop in pH, and retards the growth of other lactic acid bacteria.[1] In a study on sake fermentation, Leuconostoc citreum was found to produce bacteriocins (bacterially-produced antibiotic proteins) which inhibit the growth of similar lactic acid bacteria (i.e., lactobacilli).[2] It appears that these bacteriocins linger for a time even after the organism stops growing, although their effect is diluted through successive feeding. A dosage effect would explain nicely the apparent relationship between the vigor with which this bacterium flairs up initially, and the number of days the starter remains still afterward. The higher the rise, the longer it seems to take to recover.

In addition to Leuconostoc citreum, there was also a large amount of Aerococcus viridans. The first lab I visited found Leuconostoc to be in the greatest quantity, but Aerococcus was multiplying so fast that it soon passed the Leuconostoc in number. That is important, and could very well have contributed to the delayed progress. Even though Aerococcus doesn't produce gas, and so was not responsible for any of the expansion, it is not much of an acid producer either. So while it was using up a large share of the available sugars, it was not helping the pH to fall. Aerococcus is an occasional spoilage organism in unpasteurized milk, which is the extent of information that I have found on its involvement in foods. Its lower limit is not given in my reference books, but since pineapple juice seems to keep it at bay, I suspect that it must be in the same ballpark with leuconostocs. I'm still not sure how big a part each of these organisms plays in slowing the progress of a seed culture, but lowering the pH at the outset seems to be a blanket fix.

I mentioned in Part 1 that some of the bacteria were flipping, twirling and zipping around under the microscope. Those were Enterobacter cloacae. Enterobacter produces gas, but since it was present in only a scant amount compared to the others, I think it safe to say that the Leuconostoc was responsible for the majority of it. However, Enterobacter contributes to an unpleasant odor, as do Aerococcus and Leuconostoc. Because some people report a very stinky smell and others not as much, I'd have to say that even among starters that grow Leuconostoc, not all necessarily have the same combination of bacteria. There are others that can grow as well. Results vary from flour to flour and year to year, because the number and species of microorganisms are influenced by conditions relating to weather and grain crop production.[3] I wish I could have all the organisms identified at every stage, but there aren't any laboratories in my area that are equipped to identify wild yeasts or sourdough bacteria. And even if they could, the cost would be prohibitive. I was fortunate to be in a position to have two of the organisms identified as a professional courtesy.

With the additional information, and having watched the drama unfold under the microscope, I started seeing the seed culture process not as good guys out-competing bad or gradually increasing in number, but as a natural succession of microorganisms that pave the way for "the good guys" in the way that they transform their environment. There are bacteria in flour that prefer the more neutral pH of freshly mixed flour and water (like Leuconostoc and company). They are the first to start growing, some producing acids as by-products. This lowers the pH, and other bacteria begin to grow; they produce their acids, lowering the pH even more. It soon becomes too acidic for the first batch and they stop growing. One group slows down and drops out as the next is picking up and taking off. Each has its time, and each lays the groundwork for the next. It's much more like a relay than a microbial free-for-all. The baton is passed to the next group in line as conditions become suitable for them. The acidity increases a bit more with each pass, and the more acid-loving bacteria can eventually take over. The appearance of yeast seems to be tied in some way to low pH---maybe directly, maybe indirectly, but the correlation shows that it isn't random in the way that "catching" yeast from the air would be, or their gradually increasing in number.

In the late fall/early winter of 2004, I was coaching a group of women on Cookstalk, Taunton's Fine Cooking forum, and I noticed something else. My starters sort of liquefy the day before yeast starts to grow. Gluten disappears, which shows the work of proteolytic enzymes. At first I thought it signaled the appearance of lactobacilli and their proteases. But now I think it was simply an indicator that the pH had dropped low enough to activate aspartic proteinases, pH-sensitive enzymes abundant in wheat.[4] Because I prefer to seed a new culture with whole grain flour for at least three days, there are more cereal enzymes present than in a starter fed with white flour (most of them are removed with bran in the milling process). But either way, it is a good sign of Lactobacillus activity, whether by production of bacterial proteases or by the organism's effect on pH and activation of cereal proteases.

The starters were developing a little more slowly this time around, which inspired me to describe the different stages that a new culture transitions through, rather than try and pin it to a time frame. Room temperature is different from one kitchen to the next, as well as season to season. Sometimes rye flour finishes faster, sometimes whole wheat is faster. Sometimes a culture doesn't start producing its own acid for the first two days instead of one. Because this process involves variable live cultures under variable conditions, it doesn't always work in a prescribed number of days, but it follows a predictable pattern. While this has been a discovery process for me, it is not a new discovery:

"There has been nice work done in Rudi Vogel's lab on the microflora of a freshly started sourdough: first, there are enterobacteria (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Enterobacter), highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly. Then there are homofermentative lactobacilli (good lactic acid producers, but they don't produce gas or acetic acid), then acid-tolerant, heterofermentative lactobacilli that make lactic and acetic acid, as well as CO2. I think this took about forty-eight hours at 30ºC in Vogel's study. The stink at the beginning does not matter as the organisms will be diluted out or die eventually. No L. sanfranciscensis appears by forty-eight hours, though: these will occur only after repeated refreshments. Peter Stolz told me that it takes about two weeks of repeated inoculations to get a good 'sanfranciscensis' sourdough."[5]

That paragraph didn't have any special significance for me until I had gotten to this point. But when I read it again, I had one of those aha moments. Not only did this describe a succession, but it filled in some of the blanks, and I could see clearly how all these microorganisms related to the four phases I had defined. Here is the updated version marrying the two. You don't need a microscope for this, because there are outward signs which serve as useful indicators of progress.

The First Phase:
For the first day or so, nothing really happens that is detectable to the human senses. It doesn't taste any tangier or develop bubbles. It remains looking much the same as when it was mixed, except a little lighter in color if an acid was used, and a little darker if not. While nothing appears to be happening, the first wave of bacteria (determined by pH and the microflora in the flour) are waking up, sensing their new environment and preparing to grow. This phase usually lasts about one day, sometimes two.

The Second Phase:
The starter will begin producing its own acid and develop a tangy taste (although it might be difficult to distinguish from pineapple juice). Lactic acid bacteria are actively growing at this point. When using only water, this phase represents two waves of microbes---first Leuconostoc and associates, followed by homofermentative lactobacilli and possibly other lactic acid bacteria. By controlling the pH, you can by-pass the leuconostocs and other "highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly," and skip to the second wave. It will get bubbly and expand only if the pH is not low enough to prevent growth of gassy bacteria, otherwise there won't be much to see. There probably won't be much gluten degradation, and it may smell a little different, but it shouldn't smell particularly foul unless started with plain water. This phase can last one to three days or more. If it is going to get hung up anywhere, this is the place it usually happens, especially if it is put on a white flour diet too soon. If after three days in this phase, it still doesn't become more sour and show signs of progress, the best thing to do is switch back to whole grain flour. Whole grain has a much higher microbial count to re-seed the culture and get it moving again. If that doesn't do it, skip a feeding or two to allow the acidity to build.

The Third Phase:
The starter will become very tart like lemon juice---an indication of more acid production by more acid-tolerant bacteria. The gluten may disappear and tiny bubbles become more noticeable. These are signs that heterofermentative lactobacilli have picked up the baton. Once a starter becomes really sour, it usually transitions into phase four within a day or two. Note that lactic acid doesn't have much aroma, and so smell is not a reliable way to judge the level of sourness. If it gets stuck here for 48 hours or more, make sure there's still enough whole grain in the mix and give it more time between refreshments.

The Fourth Phase:
Yeast start to grow and populate the starter relatively quickly at this point. It will expand with gas bubbles all over and begin to take on the yeasty smell of bread or beer.

This pattern suggests that wild yeasts are activated by low pH. Or perhaps the activator is something else produced by lactobacilli, but it happens predictably at this point for me, as long as the whole grain flour has not been diluted out. There may be some variation among wild yeasts as to the exact pH or activating substance. I have been unable to find the answer in scientific literature, and my contact at Lallemand did not know. I have only found studies done with cultivated strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which don't seem to require much more than a fermentable sugar (and may explain why seed cultures take off much quicker in a bakery environment where baker's yeast is everywhere). The most useful information I have found on the subject is this, about microbial spores in general:

"Although spores are metabolically dormant and can remain in this state for many years, if given the proper stimulus they can return to active metabolism within minutes through the process of spore germination. A spore population will often initiate germination more rapidly and completely if activated prior to addition of a germinant. However, the requirement for activation varies widely among spores of different species. A number of agents cause spore activation, including low pH and many chemicals... The initiation of spore germination in different species can be triggered by a wide variety of compounds, including nucleosides, amino acids, sugars, salts, DPA, and long-chain alkylamines, although within a species the requirements are more specific. The precise mechanism whereby these compounds trigger spore germination is not clear."[6]

What this means is that for dormant cells to return to active growth (germinate), they need to break dormancy (activate) which is initiated by different things for different species. In the case of these wild sourdough yeasts, if all they needed were food or oxygen, which are there from the get-go, then they would start growing immediately. The fact that they don't, is probably why many people think they need to be caught from the air, or that large quantities of flour must be used to round up enough of them. There are enough dormant cells present even in relatively small quantities of whole grain flour, but it's like a game of Simon Says. You can try to coax them into growing, with food and all the things you may fancy to be good for actively growing yeast. But they're not active. They are dormant, and will remain so until they receive the right message from their surroundings. Compare this to the plant seed that sits in soil all winter long, waiting until spring to sprout, when conditions are most favorable. Is it a survival mechanism? I don't know, but waiting for the pH to drop does increase the likelihood that the yeast will wake up in the company of lactobacilli, with which they seem to share a complex and mutually beneficial relationship. It is also important to point out here that active sourdough yeasts thrive in a much wider pH range than what appears to be required for activation of dormant cells. The point to keep in mind is that active and dormant cells are physiologically and metabolically different, and so their needs are different.

This pattern of growth is not unique to the formula in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I have seen the same progression, in whole or in part, with all the starter formulas I've tried. And it doesn't really matter how much flour you start with. In fact this can be done with very small quantities of flour. All else being equal, it proceeds just as fast with a teaspoon as it does with a pound. Procedures that call for two or three feedings per day, or large refreshments before yeast are active, can actually get in the way of the process. Overfeeding unnecessarily dilutes the acid, which slows the drop in pH, and keeps it from moving through the succession of microorganisms in the timeliest manner. But while it can take up to two weeks or more this way, with Mother Nature as the driving force, things do fall in line eventually. It's just a question of when. Three to five days is about all it really takes to reach the yeast activation stage at average room temperature, somewhat longer if Leuconostoc and associates grow. The strategy is quite different from reviving a neglected starter, which is likely to have an overabundance of acid, and a large population of yeast and sourdough bacteria, however sluggish they may be.

So, what can we do instead to facilitate the process? Start by providing conditions for the first two to three days which are favorable to lactic acid bacteria. A warm spot if you can easily manage one (but not too much higher than 80ºF), and a reasonably high hydration (at least 100%). Use pineapple juice if you like, to bypass the first round of bacteria. (Or use water if you prefer, and don't mind the odors and delay.) Feed with whole grain flour until yeast are actively growing, not for the wider spectrum of sugars it may offer, but for its higher numbers of yeast and lactic acid bacteria to seed each phase in its turn. Don't feed too much or too frequently, so as to allow the acids to accumulate and the pH to fall more rapidly. The ideal feeding quantity and frequency would depend on the temperature, hydration, and how fast the pH is falling. However, I usually recommend once a day at room temperature, simply because it is the easiest to manage, it works, and the daily manipulation helps to keep mold from getting started. Mold is the biggest stumbling block for procedures in which a young mixture is allowed to sit idle for two or three days at a time. Turning surface mold spores into the center by re-kneading or stirring and scraping down the sides daily, is the best way to get around it. Mold is not inhibited by low pH or pineapple juice, and anti-mold properties don't fully develop until sourdough is well established.

While you don't actually need a formula to do this, no article on making sourdough starter would be complete without one. This procedure was designed with simplicity in mind, to be efficient, effective, and to minimize waste. It was developed with the participation of four willing and very patient women whom I worked with online---DJ Anderson, Karen Rolfe, Deanna Schneider and the still-anonymous 'lorian,' whose plea for help is what renewed the quest to find a better way. I learned a great deal from the feedback they and others gave me as we worked out the kinks, and this formula is a tribute to them.

There is nothing magic about the two tablespoons of measure used throughout the first three days. Equal weights didn't provide a high enough ratio of acid to flour to suit me, and equal volumes did. Two tablespoons is enough to mix easily without being overly wasteful (and just happens to be the volume of an eighth-cup coffee scoop, which is what I kept on the counter next to the flour and seed culture for quick, easy feeding). If you insist on weighing, make it about 15 gm flour and 30 gm juice. These first few days don't really benefit from being particularly fussy with odd or precise measuring, so make it easy on yourself. Keep it simple, and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Day 1: mix...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour* (wheat or rye)
2 tablespoons pineapple juice, orange juice, or apple cider

Day 2: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 3: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 4: (and once daily until it starts to expand and smell yeasty), mix . . .
2 oz. of the starter (1/4 cup after stirring down -- discard the rest)
1 oz. whole grain flour* (scant 1/4 cup)
1 oz. water (2 tablespoons)

* Organic is not a requirement, nor does it need to be freshly ground.

On average, yeast begin to grow on day 3 or 4 in the warmer months, and on day 4 or 5 during colder times of the year, but results vary by circumstance. Feed once a day, taking care not to leave mold-promoting residue clinging to the sides or lid of your bowl or container, and refer back to the different phases to track progress---particularly if it gets stuck in second phase or shows no progress for 3 or more days. Once you have yeast growing (but not before), you can and should step up the feeding to two or three times a day, and/or give it bigger refreshments. Before yeast, don't feed too much; after yeast, don't feed too little. You can feed the starter/seed culture whatever you would like at this point. White flour, either bread or a strong unbleached all-purpose like King Arthur or a Canadian brand will turn it into a general-purpose white sourdough starter. Feed it rye flour if you want a rye sour, or whole wheat, if you want to make 100% whole wheat breads. If you're new to sourdough, a white starter is the best place to start.

This is the point at which I generally defer to the sourdough experts. There are several good books on sourdough which address the topic of starter maintenance and how to use it in bread. There are many different approaches. Just keep in mind that the first days of the seed culture process have nothing to do with developing flavor or even fostering the most desirable species. The object is simply to move through the succession and get the starter up and running. The fine-tuning begins there. Once yeast are growing well, choose the hydration, temperature and feeding routine that suits you, and the populations will shift in response to the flour and conditions that you set up for maintenance.

One more thing I have found is that with regular feeding at room temperature, new starters seem to improve and get more fragrant right around the two week mark. Maybe this coincides with the appearance of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis mentioned previously, or another highly adapted sourdough species. A Fifth Phase, and beyond? Obviously, there is still more to learn.   -Debra Wink

References

1. Choi, In-Kwon, Seok-Ho  Jung, Bong-Joon Kim, Sae-Young Park, Jeongho Kim, and Hong-Ui Han. 2003. Novel Leuconostoc citreum starter culture system for the fermentation of kimchi, a fermented cabbage product. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  84:247-253.

2. Kurose, N., T. Asano, S. Kawakita, and S. Tarumi. 2004. Isolation and characterization of psychotrophic Leuconostoc citreum isolated from rice koji. Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi 82:183-190.

3. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains, p. 135. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

4. Katina, Kati. 2005. Sourdough: a tool for the improved flavour, texture and shelf-life of wheat bread, p. 23.VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

5. Wing, Daniel, and Alan Scott. 1999. Baker's Resource: Sourdough Microbiology, p. 231. The bread Builders. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.

6. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Spores and Their Significance, p. 50. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

7. Arendt, Elke K., Liam A.M. Ryan, and Fabio Dal Bello. 2007. Impact of sourdough on the texture of bread. Food Microbiology 24:165-174.

------------------------

This article was first published in Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Vol. 16, Issue 2, June 2008.

Related Links:
  The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1 | The Fresh Loaf
  Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough | The Fresh Loaf 
  Basic Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter | Cooks Talk

Comments

Rob1's picture
Rob1

I generally feed my starter every 12 hours at 18-20° room temperature, this is sufficient for the starter to begin to collapse and triple (with pineapple juice)..

I would like to focus the attention on what you wrote: "decrease the ratio of mature starter to fresh flour and water a little at a time."

I use a 1/1/1 ratio during refreshments, do you mean that I should modify the feeding ratio when the starter is more active? for ex. 1/2/2 to avoid "underfeeding" problems? or maybe 1/1,5/1,5..

I think that 1/2/2 slow down the speed of growth instead of 1/1/1 but this is not what I'm searching for..am I correct?

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

That's fairly cool for mother starters, but they adapt. Cool starters generally develop good leavening, but less acidity.

How much collapse are you seeing? That, and how it performs in bread are more important indicators than speed or getting a triple volume rise at 18-20ºC. When is it arriving at peak?

So two questions for you today:

1. How many hours until it reaches peak?

2. How much collapse are you seeing at 12 hours?

This is a process :-)
dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

1. How many hours until it reaches peak?

Ii generally peaks after 10-12 hours from refreshement..at 18/20°C


2. How much collapse are you seeing at 12 hours?

The starter has a long time of "latency" when it reaches its peak, and after that it slowly collapse. Sometimes I mix the starter when it is at its peak and it grows again very fast until it peaks in few hours.
It has an alcoholic smell, its flavor reminds me a bit of lemon juice and it looks alveolate.

Too much of wild yeasts established? The behaviour seems a bit different from what I can read around..I think that the lactic acid is not well produced..

I use a mix of 50% WW and 50% AP flours..

Bread made with this starter has an "honeycomb" structure.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Rob, I'm not sure what you mean by this:  "The starter has a long time of "latency" when it reaches its peak, and after that it slowly collapse."

This makes me think that it is generally underfed:  "Sometimes I mix the starter when it is at its peak and it grows again very fast until it peaks in few hours."

Are you saying that when you feed it early (less than 12 hours), it becomes more vigorous?

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Sorry Debra,

What I wrote is not clear.

This is schematically what it happens:

1. I do a 1-1-1 refreshement  than I wait;
2. after 10-12 hours (18°C) the starter reaches its peak;
3. the starter does not collapse soon after its peak, but very very slowly..
4. sometimes when the starter reaches its peak I take a fork than I mix the starter without adding new flour or water. A simple mix to aerate it and degas it..
5. after this "simple mix" the starter grows very quickly (generally 2 hours at 24°)...until its peak; And it looks very vigorous!

So my doubt is that my starter has a predominance of wild yeasts..But I would like to have more lactic bacteria...
It smells to much alchoolic instead of fruity.. :/


I use a mix of 50% WW and 50% AP flours..

Bread made with this starter has an "honeycomb" structure.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Okay Rob, now it all makes sense. From 1, 2 & 3, it sounds like your refreshments are adequate, so we'll set that aside for a moment.

What's working at cross-purposes to your goal of promoting the bacterial populations is the cool temperature. If you can, the best thing to do is keep it warmer. Try 4º higher for a few days and see if you get enough of a change. Keep bumping it up by a couple degrees at a time until you get the effect you're looking for. As you raise the temperature, you will need to increase the refreshment rate accordingly.

If you can't increase the temperature, the next best thing might be to reduce your refreshment frequency to once per day. In this scenario, you'll also need to increase the refreshment rate accordingly (or decrease the ratio of mature starter to fresh flour and water). I'm not sure by how much, but probably 1:4:4 or higher.

50% WW is fine for LAB either way, but that is probably the source of the smell you mentioned earlier rather than leuconostocs. The pineapple juice was probably covering it up. If you find it too off-putting, you can always take out the whole wheat and use all AP. But try changing the temperature or the feeding frequency first and see how it goes. At least you're starting from a healthy starter.

Please let me know what happens :-)
dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra,

things seems to go fine now since I've increased temperature to 25°-27° C.

When ripen It smells fruity with few alcoholic notes , not tested yet on dough.

But I noticed something strange....

1) When I do a refreshment with 1-5-5 ratio  the starter generally triples in volume, when I do a 1-2-2 or 1-3-3 it generally double! :/

2) I don't see to much difference  between 1-2-2 and 1-3-3 ratio considering time to reach the peak.

Can you explain me why?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

To answer your questions about the ratios, I need you to read these posts, preferably in sequence:
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-99010
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-105719
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-116222
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-121037

The answer to question 2 is in the last one --- the number of generations growth that your feeding rates represent:  (1+2+2)/1 = 5x, and (1+3+3)/1 = 7x
As number of generations go, both feed rates fall between 2 and 3 generations of increase to maturity. So not that much difference time-wise, especially since they're still ramping up to speed, with 1:3:3 having a little more speed-up in the end.

The 1:5:5 can get even more speed with (1+5+5)/1 = 11x increase. That's more than 3 generations, and that extra generation is like reaching cruising altitude in an airplane, as opposed to just climbing and descending because landing is so soon after takeoff. The plane can reach a higher speed when there's enough distance to go.

I think the answer to question 1 can be explained by that higher "speed," the faster metabolic rate of a more vigorous population. If you were to plunge a straw to the bottom of a thick liquid and blow through it, the liquid will bubble higher the harder you blow, no? Up to the limits of the liquid anyway, and if you blow more slowly, it won't rise as high. Same with the starter. All else being equal, it has to do with how vigorously the microorganisms are generating CO2.

Are you happy with the changes so far? I guess you'll have to bake with it and find out :-)

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra! Thank you for the helpful informations!!

And yes, I'm happy with the changes, I've tested the starter on a dough yesterday and it was workable, still now after the rest in the fridge, no problems with folds. I've some experience to judge if the dough has problems..so thank you again.Temperature (25°-27°C) was probably one of the main "factor" that helped me.

I'm interested now in creating a "vigorous" starter, one that can easily expand the dough!

From what I can understand 1-5-5 seems to be more suitable for starters that are fed once a day, the population has sufficient "time and nutrients" to grow before reaching its stationary phase. But this is not probably the best way to make a vigorous starter..

I think that 1-1-1can be more suitable for increasing the activiy of the starter "Feeding at the end of growth phase/beginning of stationary phase several times in succession". I think the only problem adopting this method could be the rise of acidity so there's no space for mistakes instead of 1-5-5 ratio.

1. Am I corret?
2. What do you suggest for making a vigorous starter?

Thank you for the support!

P.S. you said that a starter must adapt itself every time we change a factor (flour, water, temperature, hydration....) but often a starter is mixed  with different flours , hydrations, temperatures...probably compromising the result!! Because the starter has no time to adapt properly to the new condition!! Is it better to create a pre-ferment instead of using the starter directly into our recipes??

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Temperature (25°-27°C) was probably one of the main "factor" that helped me.

Super!

From what I can understand 1-5-5 seems to be more suitable for starters that are fed once a day, the population has sufficient "time and nutrients" to grow before reaching its stationary phase. But this is not probably the best way to make a vigorous starter.

Actually, 1-5-5 twice per day is probably the best place to start at your new temperature of 25-27C. The higher temperature speeds up ripening. The best way to maintain a vigorous starter is simply to feed enough to keep it active. So the right amount to feed depends on the temperature, hydration, your schedule and your goals. You want your starter to be within the window of ripeness at feeding time. Not too over- or under-ripe. You can adjust your feeding rate or other parameters until you find the sweet spot.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1#comment-181531

I think that 1-1-1can be more suitable for increasing the activiy of the starter "Feeding at the end of growth phase/beginning of stationary phase several times in succession". I think the only problem adopting this method could be the rise of acidity so there's no space for mistakes instead of 1-5-5 ratio.

1-1-1 in succession is great for increasing leavening power and reducing acidity, which I don't think is exactly what you were wanting. You would probably need to feed 3 or 4 times per day because the temperature changes everything. That's great when you wish to bake lighter, milder breads with little or no acidity, but if you want more acidity, the larger feed/longer ripening makes more sense. It will increase the bacteria to yeast, but the yeast will be active.

a starter must adapt itself every time we change a factor (flour, water, temperature, hydration....) but often a starter is mixed  with different flours , hydrations, temperatures...probably compromising the result!! Because the starter has no time to adapt properly to the new condition!! Is it better to create a pre-ferment instead of using the starter directly into our recipes??

I think it's best to be consistent in feeding the mother starter, although that doesn't necessarily mean every feeding has to be equal. I often do smaller 6-hour refreshments during the day in summer to knock the acidity down, and a larger 12-hour one overnight when it's a few degrees cooler, for example. But the more consistent you are from day to day, the more stable and predictable your starter will be. Having said that, yes, change up the pre-ferment to suit the bread you want to make. Just keep in mind that a liquid starter made into a firm pre-ferment will not be the same as a mother starter that is maintained firm. Or any other major change that you're making to adapt your starter to use in formulas where the starter called for is different from yours.

 

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra!
It's me again!! :P

Things are going well now, sometimes better than other but with not too much difficulties..

I would like to focus you attention on the therm "Time at peak" which I found here: https://www.questforsourdough.com/blog/how-good-your-starter

The "time at peak" of my starter seems to be "variable", sometimes it lasts a long time sometimes it lasts a very short time...

And this is very strange for me because I'm consistent in feeding the sourdough at the same temperature with the same flours (1-5-5 / 100% hydration / 25°-26°C)

1. Is there an explanation why a starter begin to collapse early or late keeping all the factors (flours, temperature, feeding ratio..) equal?

2. Is there a way to increase "Time at peak"?

Thank you
Rob

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Rob, so happy to hear things are going well for your starter now.

1. Hard for me to speculate on why you're seeing a variable time at peak. It takes a few weeks in a new maintenance regimen for the populations to sort out and settle in, particularly when going warmer. They tend to stabilize faster going the other way around. Also, minor fluctuations in temperature will have more impact in the higher temp range than the low. These are just a couple of thoughts.

2. Increasing time at peak, probably means edging the dial back towards yeast and leavening power. Fine tuning. One way is to lower the temp back down a little. Maybe 22-24ºC. If you prefer your new temperature, I would recommend lowering the hydration instead. Or some combination of the two. But give your starter at least two weeks to stabilize after making changes before the final assessment.

Have you baked with it recently?

dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Have you baked with it recently?

Yes I Have! Two loafs..not very extraordinary but two loafs.

But the problem is always the same here, at some point the "stinky smell" comes out..probably due to Leuconostocs or other bad bacteria. No way to solve the problem effectively so I decided to change type of flour, using only white flour. And the smell seems to be a little more pleasant..(by now!).

I know that it's a question of "time" to have a stable sourdough starter, but I think that the starter should get better day after day....but this is not what happens to me!!

Flours? Contaminations?
I really have problems trying to keep my starter stable, Yeasts and Lactobacillus seems to be active only for a short period instead of a long one :(

Sometimes the starter expands very fast...without any particular smell..not acidic, not fruity...I really cannot find an answer for this behaviour.

When I finally have an active starter I use it..than it starts to get worse day by day apparently without reason!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

But the problem is always the same here, at some point the "stinky smell" comes out..probably due to Leuconostocs or other bad bacteria. No way to solve the problem effectively so I decided to change type of flour, using only white flour. And the smell seems to be a little more pleasant..(by now!).

Rob, as long as you're refreshing your starter often enough, undesirable bacteria are highly unlikely to be a problem. But whole wheat flour will bring a stronger and less pleasant smell. Of course, pleasant is a subjective thing and that is my opinion. Do you have any previous experience with whole wheat starters to compare this smell to? It could just be you were expecting something different than what it is. I also think that whole grains increase the difficulty for sourdough beginners, so white flour in the mother is easiest to start with.

I know that it's a question of "time" to have a stable sourdough starter, but I think that the starter should get better day after day....but this is not what happens to me!!

I know it seems like that's the way it should be, but that has not been my experience. They sometimes seem to not change much at all for several days, until suddenly they do. It takes a little time and patience to reach the tipping point. :)

Flours? Contaminations? 
I really have problems trying to keep my starter stable, Yeasts and Lactobacillus seems to be active only for a short period instead of a long one :(

Is the temperature stable? I can't speak to the flours as I don't know where you are, but if you're using the same flour, same source, same bag, then it's probably not the flour causing variability in your results. If you're changing the flour source and can clearly attribute performance changes to that, then there could be differences in enzyme activity or gluten quality to consider. But maybe your starter is fine given the parameters you've settled into, and you're expecting it to behave like someone else's.

Sometimes the starter expands very fast...without any particular smell..not acidic, not fruity...I really cannot find an answer for this behaviour.

Sounds like the yeast are flourishing during those times.

When I finally have an active starter I use it..than it starts to get worse day by day apparently without reason!

Oh, there's always a reason ;-)  Keep practicing and noticing, and your sourdough skills will improve.

dw

Rob1's picture
Rob1

Hello Debra!!!

First of all thank you for all the time you spent for me!

Now i have more awareness of the mechanisms that regulate sourdough behaviour and I think that I will surely have a stable starter thanks to all the informations you gave me!!

Thank you again Debra. 

Rob :) 

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Wishing you the best, Rob
dw

Preu's picture
Preu

Hi Debra, I stumbled upon your article and it was the best thing ever! I loved how you looked under the microscope and see what’s happening and the reason why they act they’re acting. I’ve tried several ways to make a starter here in the hot and humid climate, nothing seems to work, I normally kept and fed them until they’re mouldy 😅

 

I was hoping by following your instructions, it would eliminate some of the unknown and be more surefire. I am on day 4 right now, and unsure whether it’s doing well or not, I’ll attach my journal for the monsters, would you mind seeing if there’s a misstep somewhere or if it’s actually alive with yeast instead of the first CO2-producing strand of bacteria? 

 

I tried all combination of pineapple juice, orange juice, rye flour, and wholewheat flour.

 

Here is my journal up to now.

 

Day 1 Starting with pineapple juice and orange juice, wholewheat and rye flour. Started with 20 g of juice and flour

 

Day 2 All OJ mixture were bubbly and developed the most gluten in comparison to the PJ mixture. There was discolouration in rye and PJ mixture, the surface darkened. WW and PJ had the least gluten development.

Added 20 grams of juice and flour to all mixture.

 

Day 3 Both OJ mixture had risen and fallen, with a lot of bubbles. Gluten is still very strong, the starter was clumping together and it was difficult to mix.

Both PJ mixture had risen and became rather bubbly, but not nearly as much as OJ counterpart, with the rye rose more than WW. Gluten was diminishing, it was very easy to mix.

 

Day 4 OJ mixtures started to lose its gluten, not as tart as yesterday, but seems like it’s still in phase 3. Smells really sour, like fermented juice. OJ rye didn’t rise as much as everything else.

PJ mixtures were bubbly, not much gluten, smell sour like fermented juice, and tart.

All mixtures had risen and fallen.

For PJ mixtures, added 20 grams of flour and juice again.

For OJ mixtures, added 18 grams each for rye mixture, and moved on to 50% WW - 50% bread flour for the whole wheat mixture.

 

So, I’m unsure if they’re developing early, or the early bacteria were also developing due to different pineapple/ orange juice in tropical countries, such as higher pH level, or the humidity could cause the pH to rise.

 

Thank you so much!

Preu's picture
Preu

Just to be clear, on Day 4, I did 2:1:1 that’s starter : flour : water. Whereas for previous days, I kept adding to the mixture without taking any out.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Preu, and thank you :)

And thanks for giving the important details. A few things jump out to me:

  • ... here in the hot and humid climate
  • Day 1  Started with 20 g of juice and flour
  • Day 2  All OJ mixture were bubbly... There was discolouration in rye and PJ mixture, the surface darkened.... Added 20 grams of juice and flour to all mixture.

Equal volumes, rather than equal weights were intended for the first 3 days because equal weights may not keep you in the safe pH zone, and the precision isn't necessary at this stage. For those who insist on weighing, what I recommend is 15g flour and 30g juice. Whole grain flours have more buffering capacity, so more juice is needed to overcome that.

The telltale sign that you didn't have enough juice starting out is darkening of the surface. There's an enzyme in the flour that causes this --- same as how some fruit will darken after cut surfaces are exposed to air. But when you add an acid like lemon juice, ascorbic, or citric acid, browning is at least slowed, if not stopped. With plain water starting out, the whole grain flour mixture will darken. But with enough juice, the mixture will get lighter and brighter.

Day 1, 0 hours  (water on the left, pineapple juice on the right)

Day 1, 24 hours

I don't know where you are in the process at this point, but if you stuck with the day 4 routine long enough to verify it was rising consistently, then all should be well no matter how it started out. Surely your hot, humid climate helped move things along :)

Preu's picture
Preu

Thank you for the reply Debra. 

I didn’t think the weight vs volume thing would matter. But it’s now at day 17 and it’s alive and well. I’ve been baking with it and it works! 

Haven’t had a chance to try out your latest advice, but both the pineapple juice and orange juice worked beautifully. For me, it seemed like the orange juice starter worked faster at the start, but then the pineapple juice starter excel in the last week.

Thank you thank you thank you! You’re a superstar!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

 

I didn’t think the weight vs volume thing would matter. 

Hi Preu,

Every single detail is a result of troubleshooting problems with feedback of hundreds of people (including not starting with enough juice). There is a method to my madness, and a reason behind each instruction :)

But it’s now at day 17 and it’s alive and well. I’ve been baking with it and it works! 

Wonderful, that's what we like to hear.

Haven’t had a chance to try out your latest advice,

No need to at this point --- you are past that now.

but both the pineapple juice and orange juice worked beautifully. For me, it seemed like the orange juice starter worked faster at the start, but then the pineapple juice starter excel in the last week.

Orange juice has a higher pH, so it makes sense that you saw more gassy bacterial growth in that one. It only appeared to be working faster, but that was probably a bigger "false start." The pineapple juice was ahead of the orange, even though the activity was less visible. Ideally, all will be still for the first 3-4 days. I know that frustrates many who just want to see something happening, but early rise usually comes at a time cost.

Thank you thank you thank you! You’re a superstar!

You're very kind, thank you :)

Preu's picture
Preu

It has been almost 3 months and the starter is alive and well. I combined your method and Full Proof Baking on youtube to achieve 3x volume at its peak with 2 feeds in a day, it has been fantastic!

I can’t say thank you enough for your research and your detailed explanation. Literally 2 days before I stumbled upon your name and experiments, I was in despair trying to understand sourdough starter and was wondering if I should  delve into microbiology to understand the science behind it. Imagine my joy when I came across this post.

You’re doing amazing work, thank you! I hope you can publish a book or something to dive deeper into the science behind these things, I’d love to get one ☺️

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

So glad it's working out for you :)

Turbosaurus's picture
Turbosaurus

What a fabulous article! I want to kiss you, but I also want to maybe strangle you just a tiny bit for calling it the pineapple solution, lol.  

My mantra is: The plural of anecdote is not data.  I have been scouring the library and the internet and respected bread baking books for this exact type of information for YEARS.  I didn’t think it existed.  I’ve given up on sourdough time and again after following advice that kept turning into stinky swamp muck.... I only opened this thread on a lark.  I couldn’t believe my luck. then I  thought... a very clever and devoted bunch of microbiologist bakers had done experiments, recorded observations, collected a data set, shared it with the world, but FILED THE INFORMATION UNDER “PINEAPPLE”

It’s catchy, but maybe adding a subtitle such as  “The pineapple juice solution: a biological investigation of wild sourdough starters” would help frustrated science geeks like me find it? 

thank you again for the wonderful article. 

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I'm sorry for your troubles. I'm surprised that in years of searching, this, or a reference to it has never come up. But you're welcome for the information, and I hope you're enjoying your sourdough now.

My best,
dw

Kinasih's picture
Kinasih


First of all, please let me thank you for the article! Like so many people before me, I tried the water and flour solutions from gaaarp but was freaking out on day 4 (ha!) and decided to try the pineapple juice after stumbled upon it here. So yes I have two starters in the making with two methods just to see how it goes (planning to use one as ww and the other as white starter). 

I have a few questions, below is my diary with Honni the pineapple juice starter.

  1. Day 1, followed the instruction and made a mixture from 2 Tbsp pineapple juice + 2 Tbsp Rye flour. 
    Approximately 27-28C during the day. Cover and store.
  2. Day 2, no activity and no foul/stinks smell. I stir and added 2 Tbsp PJ and 2 Tbsp Rye. Skin was slightly darker (hydration or is it the flour?) Stored approx. 26-28C during the whole day. 
  3. Day 3, it doubled the size with fresh PJ smell. I stirred and added 2 Tbsp PJ and 2 Tbsp Rye. Cover and go back to the counter. 24C-ish
  4. Day 4, smells okay and didn’t stink like its’ cousin Skippy. I stirred it up and take 50 gr of the starter, feed it with 25 gr Bread Flour and 25 gr plain water. Rinse the jar and put Honni back to a clean house, cover and store at 25C-ish. (After 6 hrs it doubled the size, and sunk by 1/4 of the total height after 8 hrs)
  5. Day 5, nothing really change since yesterday. I did as advised, take 50 gr of the starter and feed it with 25 flour (70% bread flour 30% rye flour) and 25 gr water. Rinse the jar and put it back to storage. It’s a bit hot 26-27C again today. And it doubled after 6 hrs, sunk by the 1/4 pf total height after another 2 hrs just like yesterday.

Now.. I am not sure if what’s happened was the kind of false start OR I in fact have yeast activity going on here. Do I need to refresh it more or should I continue doing the once a day refreshment?

I like the size of the starter right now, it is manageable and I didn’t feel like I threw out whole lots of flour. But since I can’t really set the temperature of the surrounding that much (I can try to keep it around 24-25 during the day) I would love to store it in the fridge eventually (after the two weeks period you say?) The available fridge can go between 4-9C.

i am also a new mom (yasshhh) so, i think max is 2 feed/refreshment per day otherwise I’ll stress myself out (that happened last year and I gave up. But now I am back and determined!)




Can you give me a suggestion or a clarity on what I can do?

To think it’s yeast activity, I just couldn’t believe it. Not this simple?! 

I am posting photos here, but since I’m posting from iPhone please forgive me if the picture rotated itself. 

Ps. I live just on the outskirt of Jakarta, Indonesia. On daily basis it’s very humid and temp around 27-29C. I can’t afford to turn on the AC all the time but I followed Mini Oven from TFL trick to make a box and put cold bottles inside. Aside from the need to replace the bottle quite regularly, It’s working okay but I’ll eliminate this over the option to use cold water or lower hydration. 

One other thing, do you realize it’s been slightly over ten years since you published the articles? That’s like WOW. Can’t wait to hear from you.

 

greets,

K.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Now.. I am not sure if what’s happened was the kind of false start OR I in fact have yeast activity going on here. Do I need to refresh it more or should I continue doing the once a day refreshment?

You described the perfect scenario. Couldn't have gone much better, really :)  With the warm temperature you got there a day or two earlier than most. And so now, yes, you do need to refresh it more. But you can keep it small and not stress yourself. Try carrying over smaller amounts of ripe starter in your feeds. Maybe start with 1 part starter to 5 parts each flour and water (100% hydration), twice a day and see how that is going after a few days.

If you find it still ripening too soon in your climate, I'd recommend reducing the water to 4 parts (80% hydration), or even 3 parts (60% hydration). Take it one step at a time. Whenever it gets to be too much, park it in the fridge until you can tend to it again. You might want to stick with white flour, as whole grain will make things more difficult to manage.

Some examples of what these feeding scenarios might look like:

100%:  5g starter, 25g each flour and water

  80%:  6g starter, 24g water, and 30g flour

  60%:  7g starter, 21g water, and 35g flour

I used these numbers because I always like to have around 2 oz. You can scale up or down as you see fit.

Yes, it's been a very long time ago that this was written (2006, actually), and even longer ago that I started the work (2000 or 2001). Feels like a lifetime ago now. The internet was a very different place then :)

My best to you,
dw

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

 I tried your method and it seems to be working - it's day 5 and my starter is starting to smell yeasty. However, it doesn't seem to be rising all that much. A good number of bubbles form within minutes of me feeding it, but it doesn't seem to rise. Given that, how often should I be feeding it? (I'm adding 1oz each of unbleached flour and water to 2oz starter). How long do you anticipate that it'd take to be ready? I only have unbleached and AP flour and have no way of getting whole wheat flour at the present time. 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi jenche2012. Am I understanding right that you have used only AP from the start until now? If that's the case, it usually takes longer --- sometimes 14-30 days or more when feeding once or twice daily. It's a bit unpredictable because the yeast count in white flours is so much lower. If it isn't rising by now, you probably aren't smelling yeast just yet. But you can improve your chances of quicker success by reducing your feeding frequency to once every other day or even every third day. You still need to manipulate it daily by stirring and scraping down the sides to keep mold from growing.

Another thing to consider is any other raw whole grains or grain products you may have access to. Any wheat berries, oat groats, millet, etc.? Or raw wheat bran, seven-grain cereal, that sort of thing. Preferably something that hasn't been steam-treated. You could try something like that to seed your starter in lieu of whole wheat flour to kick start it. Just mix with your AP, maybe one part to 3 parts AP, and use the mix until you see some real expansion. Then you can go back to AP and increase feeding rate and frequency. In times like these, we get creative :)

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

Thanks! I don't have those other raw whole grain options so I'll give reducing feeding frequency a try. I've been using unbleached AP flour if that makes a difference. Do you have a rule of at what point do you scrap it and start over? Thanks!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I wouldn't think of starting over unless it becomes overrun with mold or something slimy and colorful. In the past, whenever I have grown weary and set one aside to decide on later, it starts growing on its own after a few days of letting it be, or right after resuming refreshments. Sometimes it just needs more time to get good and sour before the yeast take off. Have you tasted it?

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

Ah, I see. Not sure if I can bring myself to taste it knowing that it's a culture to grow yeast...and likely other microorganisms...loll But i'll try giving it a few days. 
For future reference, is the hooch something that's better to be stirred in or poured out?

Thanks!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

At this stage it's not really hooch because you don't have yeast yet performing alcoholic fermentation. If liquid is pooling on top it's because the flour solids have settled to the bottom from too little CO2 production to bubble and keep it all mixed up. If you pour it off, that will change the hydration. That's ok when the hydration is too high, but generally 100% hydration or higher is what is best for starting a starter.

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

What about in other instances? When making my last attempted starter, It smelled grossly cheesy for a week and had what I assumed was hooch on top (mildly discolored) . In the case something like that happened, would you still stir it in or pour it off?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

If it's an established starter that's been neglected for a while, I sometimes pour it off (if it's easy to do so) because the flour is typically broken down and looser than normal, and the liquid is full of off flavors and aromas. But it doesn't really matter since it will need extra refreshments to bring it back to health anyway, and those refreshments will flush all that out.

When making my last attempted starter, It smelled grossly cheesy for a week and had what I assumed was hooch on top (mildly discolored) .

That's all pretty normal when starting a starter. No need to pour it off --- you can just mix it in and keep going.

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

Thanks for the help!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Let me know how it goes

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

Hi Debra, 

Shortly after, I got it to work! But I've tried several sourdough recipes including

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/19830/36-hours-sourdough-baguette-everything-i-know-one-bread

https://www.weekendbakery.com/posts/san-francisco-style-sourdough-bread/

but neither have come out sour.. I'm limited to only AP flour and unbleached AP flour; I don't have a dutch oven either, so ive been baking them in an oven with a pan of boiling water underneath. Is there a way you would suggest modifying these recipes (or others) to make it more sour? The more sour the better!

The only time I made a sour bread was when I made the mistake of mixing all the ingredients from the first recipe and leaving it at room temp overnight instead of mixing flour/water before adding the starter the next day. My dough essentially became a massive sourdough starter... so it had little structure and was very dense. I'm not sure which "rises" I can make longer without causing the gluten to breakdown too much. 

Any advice would be very much appreciated! :)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Congrats jenche -- so glad it worked out :-)

Ah, the elusive sour bread (that's worth eating). Sour and light. I honestly don't know if both are possible in the same bread with nothing but AP flour. Not enough buffering capacity. Not enough gluten to spare to the breakdown. But at least there is also less proteolytic enzyme than in higher extraction flours. On the other hand, it's more than enough enzyme to break down the dough, given enough time, no? And it takes time to build the sour. Time is both friend and enemy.

The real San Francisco Sourdough French Bread Process (the one studied in the 1970's) uses no cold retarding or whole grain flours. The starters were kept warm (80-ish plus or minus a couple degrees), very firm (about 50% hydration plus or minus) and fed at least 2x-, but more often 3x per day, every day with a high inoculum and a strong flour (probably something like first clear which has a higher ash content). This regimen supports the characteristic microbial profile. From there the process involves white flour (patent or high gluten depending on the source), warm temperatures throughout, and a relatively firm dough by today's standards.

From my own limited experimenting, warmish temperatures and higher ash flour in the starter were key to sourness. But a stiff starter was the key to reducing proteolysis of gluten, and high gluten flour has some to spare. Of these things, you can at least play with hydration and temperature. Reduce the former and increase the latter.

Let me know if it helps :)

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

Thanks so much for your reply!

That makes sense.. I think I'll try for the lower hydration. My apartment is already quite warm (~80F) so there's only so much I can do with that. That said, do you know how I could go about that?

The SF recipe I previously linked begins with a starter (126g flour, 83g water, 24g culture) which is left at RT x 9h and refrigerated for 34h. That's added to 314g flour, 204g water, 9g salt -> S&F and resting for total of ~1.5h -> fridge 15h -> warmed to RT, proofed and baked (455F x 45min).

To achieve the lower hydration, would that be adjusting the water in the recipe's starter or the final dough? Would you be able to ballpark estimate where's a good starting point of how much to lower the water content? My guess is literally a shot in the dark, so you'd definitely know better than me. Also, having changed the hydration, would the times for rising/proofing change? 

I'm rather new to this so I still don't have a great handle on how to tweak these steps.. Thanks!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

My apartment is already quite warm (~80F) so there's only so much I can do with that. That said, do you know how I could go about that?

No need for a proofer then. 80F is great for sour bread --- just go with it.

To achieve the lower hydration, would that be adjusting the water in the recipe's starter or the final dough?

The starter for sure, but that may also change how much you put in the final dough. Maybe not. Check your messages, there should be one from me.

Would you be able to ballpark estimate where's a good starting point of how much to lower the water content?

60% or lower in the starter, assuming you'll be fermenting it at 80F.

Also, having changed the hydration, would the times for rising/proofing change?

Yes, but you'll have to play that part by ear. If that seems too daunting at this point, you can try other recipes that claim sourness until you find one that works for you.

 

jenche2012's picture
jenche2012

Just replied to your message.

Once again, thank you so much for your help! You're amazing!

Uzbek's picture
Uzbek

Debra, 

Being a complete newbie I keep reading your study again and again, and the same scientific facts stimulate my curiosity, not least because you honestly say "I don't know" on a number of occasions unlike many that act as sole possessors of ultimate truth.

I have a couple of hypotheses that I want to run by you.

I speculate as follows:

1. Wheat contains all kinds of bacteria and yeast in varying quantities, and starter development is indeed a balancing game. At the end of the day we want to reach a solution where Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and some kind of acid-tolerant yeast are the dominant species, in quantities that prevent any other bacteria from living in the starter. 

2. Specific feature of L.sanfranciscensis is that unlike other bacteria, it feels happy in acidic medium while below certain pH level most or all of other bacteria stop growing. All bacteria, including stinky Enterobacteria (they are responsible for the funky smell) and Leuconostocs (I suspect they are not "bad" guys, they simply generate lactic acid helping reduce pH), are found in abundance in flour, and they develop faster than L.sanfranciscensis, this is why they are dominant in the freshly started starters. Leuconostocs, as I see them, are the kind of bacteria that we happily consume in yoghurts and kefirs and love the taste of). But Leuconostoc and most other bacteria generate acidity as byproduct and contribute to reduced pH where L.sanfranciscensis feels best of them all and will soon push everyone else out. 

3. The vigorous growth on Day 2 may actually be yeast! There are multitude of yeast species out there, on the grain and in the flour. But not all of them love acidity. On early days, when the pH levels are high, the yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae starts fermenting the flour and generating CO2. This is the reason many people were able to successfully bake bread with Day 2 starter (although flavourless, because the sour bacteria are not there yet). But S.cerevisiae cannot survive in acidic environment and quickly stops growing as all other bacteria generate acids and kill themselves and kill almost everyone including S.cerevisiae. 

4. The resulting sour environment is conducive to L.sanfranciscensis. Actually, nothing prevents L.sanfranciscensis from growing from day 1, but there are many competitors munching on the same food, and L.sanfranciscensis is not the dominant one in the early days. On day 2, actually, the above acid-intolerant yeast is one of the dominant cultures giving the infamous x3 growth.  

5. Once solution becomes acidic, L.sanfranciscensis fluorishes and once it is in huge numbers, it won't let anyone else touch its food. So everything that we feed is now consumed by L.sanfranciscensis and noone else can survive. Except... beasties called Candida milleri and Candida humilis (let's call them Candidas) who are yet another type of yeast that doesn't need the same food as L.sanfranciscensis but rather can eat the byproduct of L.sanfranciscensis' fermentation. So, Candida (which, like all other organisms, was present in the flour at all times but was too weak to outplay the other, stronger and more numerous ones), suddenly finds itself in a situation where food is available and noone else is claiming it. And this is where we finally start developing the coveted sourdough starter with L.sanfranciscensis and Candida as dominant species, and noone is able to compete with them because they grow in numbers and become simply too strong. 

6. Every time we feed stabilised starter, all the original bacteria and yeast do still get introduced in those tiny quantities, but the whole volume of flour gets quickly consumed by the myriads of L.sanfranciscensis' and Candidas. So it doesn't matter much what type of flour we are feeding our starter with, it essentially is simply food for the starter. 

7. If my speculation is true then there are two important takeaways one should make:

a) There is no point in introducing rye from day 1, most of useful organisms will die because of stronger competition.

b) The key during first days is not to feed the starter too soon, while the previous bacteria are still there, better wait 48 hours. So second and third feeds are already generating less acid-intolerant bacteria giving way to L.sanfranciscensis' and Candida. By the 4th feeding (not day 4, the 4th feeding may be on Day 7 or 8) we shall be growing only these two species, provided we do not dilute the starter increasing pH and creating conditions for all other beasties to multiply. This is why it is essential that the feed volumes are as small as possible, with water volume being many times smaller than the volume of starter. That way we are introducing more food in wheat but not enough water to dilute. This is why your formula works so well, because for 3 days we are introducing a lot of liquid, but it is sour, and doesn't affect the resulting mixture's pH. And the Day 4 feedings at 2:1:1 that you recommend are again spot on, little water and enough food. 

c) Most important conclusion is that yeast we need is not dormant, it doesn't require activation, it simply is introduced with 4th, 5th feedings and start growing from there. It is all about availability of food. It was there before too, but did not survive. It is therefore better to introduce rye (that is richer on everything including the variety of yeast we need) for a couple of feedings on 4th-6th feedings rather than from day 1. 

Of course this is all speculation, which I am now testing with a couple of experiments. Will report back )

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

"I have a couple of hypotheses that I want to run by you."

Hi Uzbek,

Thank you for your thoughts. Some of these theories -- not new by any means -- were considered in one form or another, and dismissed when the evidence didn't support them. Perhaps you didn't see Part 1 where I described what I saw under the microscope and how I came to this. Can I assure you that I am well-trained to recognize the difference between vegetative yeast and bacteria? And my findings were verified by two other laboratories. Unfortunately, your presumptions about L. sanfranciscensis and other named species simply don't match what is found in real life.

It's never that simple with living things.

My best,
dw

Uzbek's picture
Uzbek

Debra, thank you very much for the inspiration. I conducted a little experiment entirely based on your leads, and it was total success.

Here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/63151/very-active-starter-three-feedings-and-5-days

ELearn's picture
ELearn

@DebraWink I really have enjoyed reading your work, thank you very much. 

How difficult is yeast and bread/flour bacteria identification? Do you think we might eventually get to the point where amateurs especially home bakers will be able to identify their beasties, by digital microscopic cameras & apps (or lab subscription services) or by tes kits or staining or something? 

Along with the suggestions, a hope: may any such techniques remain in the public domain. 

What can we do now, along these lines? 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi ELearn. Unfortunately, these microbes require more sophisticated technologies than microscopes have to offer. There's so much variability within, and similarity between the species in sourdoughs that scientists rely on genetic testing to sort them out, and most laboratories aren't equipped for it. Even if a test kit were available like 23 and Me, your sample would only represent a moment in time of an ever-changing community.

Since the advent of PCR in the 1980's, and various genetic testing methods, many of the sourdough microbes have been reassigned and renamed --- some multiple times. Looking at their DNA (genotype) has revealed more about their rightful place in the classification system than just their physical traits and biochemical patterns (phenotype) alone, which was how they were classified before that. And it's probably not over yet.

So what's in a name? As the great Richard Feynman would say, knowing the name of something isn't the same as knowing something. What can you do now? Be content in the not knowing, because names are subject to change, and more importantly, they don't do anything to help you make better bread :-)

My best,
dw 

ncgeib's picture
ncgeib

Very interesting, I appreciate the post. The whole pineapple thing has eluded me for more than a decade, apparently.

I am somewhat confused, though: I can totally understand that starting a sourdough with an acid mix is beneficial (it favors exactly the microbes that should later live in the sourdough). However, I always thought this is the reason one should use rye flour as it has a lower pH than wheat (google gives me pH 5 for rye as compared to 6 for wheat). You do not mention this anywhere, I think? Did you see no effect due to the choice of flour?

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I did side by sides with whole rye and wheat, and found no real advantage of one over the other. Sometimes rye worked faster, sometimes wheat. I chalked it up to statistical variation of microbes in the flour (which vary from year to year with weather and cultivation practices, storage, milling, etc.). If I did it 100 times, one might come out slightly ahead, but probably not enough to worry about in practice. Use whichever you have on hand, or buy what you're most likely to use up. The microbes will fix the pH regardless :)

BeansBaxter's picture
BeansBaxter

I need help troubleshooting my (non)starter.

I've tried getting a whole wheat starter going several times in the past month or so and nothing seems to work. My initial attempts showed a lot of activity at the beginning with what I have now learned are Leuconostoc bacteria (thank you for the education about that). Most recently I tried the pineapple juice solution and after more than two weeks there is still no sign of life. Here are the details:

– Whole wheat flour I milled myself
– Tap water left out to let the chlorine dissipate (no chloramine in our water supply)
– Dole pineapple juice for the first three days according to Debra's instructions
– Once-daily feedings initially
– When it appears to be stalled, I switched to feeding every other day to avoid reducing the acidity too much
– Room temperature has been between 70–76 ºF 

I would appreciate any thoughts about how to get a starter going. The only thing I see as an obvious change is to use bottled water. Other than that, I'm stumped.

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