The Fresh Loaf

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Is it the water?

TheMadWookie's picture

Is it the water?

I have had, for several years now, a white flour based starter. Over the last year or so, the sour has dropped to practically nothing. I have recently changed my feedings from 100% white to 20% rye , 80% white. Just to be clear, my percentages are based on weight and the hydration is 100%, thats is equal flour and water by weight. The white flour is a high protein unbleached flour. The rye is an organic rye from a local grocery's bulk foods section.

With the 100% white feedings the starter would double within about 4 hours and my bread rose just beautifully, but they had loss the sour I had. With the change to adding rye flour, my starter rise has slacked a bit to about 8 hours or so and the bread doesn't rise like it used to. I'm less concerned about this for the moment because of what I am about to ask next.

Here's the real question. The starter seems to be coming back on the sour note, but it's not what I would have expected at this point. When I feed my starter I use tap water filtered thru a Brita filter, however my concern is the chlorine level in the tap water. Is it possible that the Brita filter is not removing enough of the chlorine and the remaining chlorine is killing off the bacteria that produces the sour flavor? Should I be letting the water stand a day or so before using it with my feeding flour?

I do have another question and it's not related to water, opaque or transparent? The container I amusing to keep my starter in is a clear glass bowl. Can sunlght be affecting the bacteria? Could it be either stifling their growth or, worse, killing it off?


don.sandersg's picture

I'm not sure about chlorine. I've just recently started using tap water and it seems to be working fine so far. I had used spring water before. I imagine that water in some regions could be an issue while others wouldn't.

As far as clear glass, it should be fine as long as it isn't in direct sunlight. That's what I use for mine and there is plenty of sour.

I'd be curious to know your feeding and storage procedures that you were following for the last year when you lost the sour. I've generally found that sourness is mostly affected by the ratio of starter to fresh flour and how long a starter is aloud to ferment between feedings. Rye and whole wheat seem to speed up the process and allow for more sour.

phaz's picture

I also lost my sour about 2 weeks ago.  the only change I've made has been temperature. When I created my starter about 6 weeks ago, temps were in the low to mid 50sF, and bread had a strong sour tang.  Last 2 weeks or so, temps are upper 60s and while the starter is still very active, there is no longer any tang to my breads.  It is starting to return, slowly, but the only change is temperature. I figure I have a change in critters that needs to balance out. 


 Water -  how often do you change the filter in your britta?  That's about all that comes to mind as far as water goes.  If in a city, chlorine and other chemicals should be relatively constant.  Rural town water, if treated, can vary more.   But if you've  been using this water for 2 years, I can't see  it having an effect now.


 Sunlight -  careful -uv light is used as a disinfectant in some places, and sunlight had a lot of uv. I do hear of others " sunning" their starters, but I'm not sure I would do that. A long time in direct sunlight can have a effect on the little beasties.

TheMadWookie's picture


The filter is changed about every 3 weeks or so. My wife and I go thru a lot of filters as we make iced tea from the filtered water. We don't like the city water that we have and the filter certainly makes difference.

We also have a Kinetico R.O. system, but I don't use the water from there because it's basically mineral, and everything else, free and the SD culture does need some of the minerals.


cranbo's picture

Direct sunlight is no good for yeast, not sure about bacteria. Ambient light shouldn't hurt it.

I don't think your water is significantly affecting your sour. More than likely, it's the food you're feeding it, your hydration, ambient temps, and your feed schedule. Whole grains & lower hydration will produce more sour. 

For greater sour, try 100% whole wheat feeds, 65% hydration, fed once every 24 hours, 8-9% starter retention during feeds, always kept at room temp (70-75F). This has resulted in the most sour starter I've ever built, and I use water filtered with only an on-spigot Pur filter. 


TheMadWookie's picture


I think you might be on to something here. Lately I've been using less of my starter to propagate forward. This results in a higher starter to food ratio. As to hydration, I'm still using 100% hydration, I might give a reduced hydraion a try, but I've always kept my hrdation at 100%. As to feeding, I feed with 50% rye and 50% unbleached high-protein white flour. I have organic whole wheat so I may try that as well.

For the last couple of weeks I've changed to using less starter with from the existing starter into the feeding process. It has certainly picked up in the sour smell so I'm hoping to try to make a couple of loaves this weekend and see how it's doing.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I park mine in the sun but not directly, the rays have to go thru two layers of tinted glass and the starter jar to get to my yeast, it is also May in the southern hemisphere 37° latitude and the sun is very far north now.  It comes into my room at a 45° angle and not straight up.  Not enough uv. but it does give some warmth.  

I would never park my starter directly into the sun, the water, yes, I would do that because it helps the chlorine dissipate quickly.  


dabrownman's picture

water that I leave out for 24 hours before using so that any chlorine in it has dissipated.  Minerals and other impurities give bread and starters better flavor, not just sour, in my book.  White starters kept a room temperature will lose their sour.  Keep them in the fridge and they won't.  Labs will reproduce 3 times faster than yeast at 36 F so more sour results.  Labs adn yeast  reproduce at the same rates at room temperature.  Yeast also love the wet so a starter with more water in it will be less sour too.  I keep 80 g of 60-65% hydration rye starter in the fridge at all times except when feeding it when it gets down to 10-20 g.   It is always nicely sour.  

A rough rule of thumb:

White flour - not sour.  Use rye and WW for the starter

wet starter - not sour.   Store starter at 65% hydration

room temperature - not sour. Store starter at 36 F.

Labs also reproduce at 3 times the rate of yeast above 85 F too.  So building levains, starters and doing gluten development and final proof at 85 F will result in more sour - with a long cold retard after gluten development and before final proof

Happy baking.